Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Food, Frogs and Cookies

Rugby's obedience match review brought about a discussion on the use of food in training. I thought that this discussion should not be left to hide in the comments to this blog since the questions and answers it will bring about is indeed a very interesting one.

For years trainers have been going back and forth on the correct way to train a dog, the pros and cons of the different methods. I will not address this topic here.

I would like to dedicate this post however to listing the experiences I have had training dogs that supports my decision to use the Koehler method (and the Bedrock Method developed by my trainer - Margot Woods) since it goes further than the few titles Rugby has earned.

Since I began working at Applewood's Dog Training in the summer of 2008, I have had the opportunity to work with a number of dogs.

  • I have trained and titled a Lab in obedience (a CD... I will be bringing him in the ring again this summer to get the CDX). Pete earned his CD in three straight trials in one weekend.

  • I am currently working with a Golden in obedience (for the CD and she will earn this title before the end of summer).

  • I have trained and titled Rugby who not only has qualified every single show he has entered, but has also never been in the ring without earning a first or second place. He will have his UD before the end of the year.

Beyond competitive obedience, board-and-train includes sit, down, stand, stay, place, come, heel, and miscellaneous manners work. It also requires that the dog be trained to a level of competency that they will work for multiple handlers and the training will be reliable once they are handed over to their green/novice owners. I have successfully completed board-and-trains on the following dogs.

  • Zed, an Australian Shepherd
  • Duke, a Doberman Pinscher
  • Rosie, a Jack Russel Terrier
  • Rosie (again), a Dobe Mix

ALL of the dogs listed above have been trained without the use of any food rewards. ALL of the dogs above are happy, enthusiastic workers.

I would also like to introduce to you some dogs past and present that have also been trained void of any food rewards.

First and most interesting is my trainers Chows. After much digging, we were able to find the above photos of Applewoods Ximena UD. The first picture was taken before she earned her UD, and was in The World of Chow Chow book. The third picture is of her, Margot and Bill Koehler himself. The last picture is her practicing fronts with Margot.

Second are some pretty famous hounds, owned by Paula McCollum. You may have seen Jeb in the AKC Gazette or Family Dog Magazines. If you didn't catch him there, he was also on the cover of Front and Finish with his podium NOI picture. Both he and Suzie have been featured in Front and Finish. These pictures are both of Jeb working. Very impressive alphabet soup he and Suzie have on their name's huh?!

OTCH UUD Smokin' Bullet Jebediah Blue UDX3 VER Bh (NAPWDA Cadaver/SAR Area/Obed)
OTCH UCDX Daugherty's Blazin Blue Suzie UDX4 OM2 Bh (NAPWDA Obed/Tracking/Area)

You can go see more at Paula's Blog or on Jeb's Facebook Page.

I mean, if this isn't a happy, steady, reliable working dog then I don't know what is!

I guess my point is that it is working for us... and for a bunch of other people too. The decision was not made on a whim to be cookie free.
PS- There is now a frog living in Margot's goldfish pond. :p


  1. It is obviously working for you! I did read a Koehler authored book long ago (probably 20 years ago) that made me cringe, but I honestly cannot recall the details and I'm not sure what my reaction would be today. I would love to be a fly on the wall for a training session. Like how do you train a dumbbell retrieve to a dog that has no inclination to even pick up toys? I find it so easy to explain it with a clicker. I think I would feel like my arms were cut off if I didn't have my clicker for that. Are you just rewarding with praise? Is your training based on avoiding corrections? I'd love to know more as I believe you can learn a little from everyone.

  2. I just did some research at the Koehler website and realized that the first basic obedience class I ever went to was Koehler based. She was indeed very well trained, but she did not enjoy herself and she is the dog that led me to try and fall in love with clicker training.

    All in all, Koehler states “Reliability off lead should always be the most significant criterion when evaluating and comparing training methods.” I totally agree and feel my greyhounds can hold up to that standard.

    Great topic!

  3. We teach using lots of repetitions to build up muscle memory. For instance, to teach the sit the dog is physically molded into the sit upwards of 300 times before the command is attached to the motion. Praise is the primary reward, both physical praise and voice praise. Only once the command/activity is learned and responsibility is switched from the handler to the dog do we use corrections.

    We teach the retrieve with a forced fetch, but it starts similar to the sit with 200+++ repetitions of us simply putting the dumbbell in the dogs mouth then taking it out again before we move on.

    Sorry to hear about your first dog! :p If you are ever in Maryland you should stop by and watch one of the group classes.

  4. Well, first about the book. The reason why the book made you cringe is because of the section about problem solving. People think it's very cruel, what people do not understand is that section was made for dogs that the only other option is euthanasia. In addition most people do not understand what aggressive dog really is. Personally I think he should have kept that section out of the book, as average dog owners have no business applying any of those techniques anyway.
    There is nothing cruel about his method. He treats dogs as intelligent beings that can learn great deal and make conscious decisions about right and wrong . And you know what the biggest complaint our trainer has about her students? It's not that we do not correct our dogs enough, it's that we are not praising them enough.
    Now about the retrieve. I have a Kerry blue terrier. If you know anything about the breed, you probably know that Irish didn't call them "blue devils" for nothing. After paying for patching up a few dogs in the neighborhood and ending up on the black list for local animal control I thought that it's time to put the end to it. I skip the story about idiots trainers that I worked with before coming to Margot. Here is where retrieve comes in play. When We are going out in public she has to carry something in her mouth. This is not an option! If I used food trained retrieve then I would have no way of stopping her for spitting out the toy and taking a bite out of the near by dog. Because that will always outweigh the food.
    In addition to that she had no play retrieve or any kind of desire to retrieve ever! Teaching the dog to reliably retrieve takes few months of work, with small steps forward. But as a result you have a dog that will retrieve reliably and not just the dumbbell. I find working retrieve as a very useful skill!
    Of course you can say that most of the dogs will be just fine with food rewards. Another beauty of this method of training is that it works successfully on any dog, of any size and any breed. Isn't that nice that you can use exactly the same method for any dog? That's particularly important for people like Sam who trains all kind of dogs.
    This had been a really long comment, more like a post on its own, I hope Sam doesn't mind.:-)
    The last thing I can say is if you want to see the retrieve in action with a reactive dog go see the post dated June 28th

  5. Thanks for more details, Samantha and Yuliya. I honestly am not not sure what it was about Koelher's book, so I certainly don't want to argue against something I'm not fully informed on. I consider myself a moderate trainer. I love the clicker for teaching/training, but I will nip something in the bud and will not tolerate harmful behavior.

    Yuliya, thats interesting about about your KBT that has to carry something. I had a VERY high prey greyhound that would grab other dogs that didn't resemble greyhounds.... fat, hairy, and/or small. One of the things that really helped him was carrying an orange bumper. He would hike for an hour easily carrying that bumper. He is a good example of a dog that I had to be really tough on his inappropriate behavior. He was clicker trained, but had to force him initially around other dogs. Once he decided it was best to focus that drive on obedience, agility, and swimming.... Travis was awesome!

    Again, thanks.

  6. You've certainly peeked my interest, I'll have to look into this more. I'm guessing it would be hard to switch to Koehler method after having used food for the last year. Brutus sounds like some of the dogs mentioned below, where his inherent drive is not always so hot (as I would imagine is the case with most bully breeds - he's kinda in it for himself). He's not always terribly food motivated either, and nothing about him is soft. Want to make sure I start of my new little Frenchie on the right foot (and she is smart, as well as and much more motivated/animated than Brutus), think it's time to do some reading!! Thanks for the thought-provoking info!

  7. I have to admit that I have zero exposure to the Koehler method that I'm aware of. I've found this post and the comments from this post and the one before it really interesting. Would it be possible for you to talk a little more about this training method and how you've applied it to the dogs that you've trained and especially Rugby? And any good links or reading material that you could suggest would also be really great. I enjoy learning about other methods of training and I think it's always useful to take helpful tips from all sources.

  8. I was thinking more about what was said  on a subject of giving dog a treat as a way of paying for the job. I thinking would agree that I see the treats as something equivalent to money.
    While it's true that I would not go to work if I am not paid, I do have to make a living after all. If I get any satisfaction from work it is not derived from the paycheck. I get satisfaction when I know I did something very well. On the other hand I have a lot of responsibilities outside of work that I have to do without being paid and even if I do not enjoy it.
    I will not pay my kids for cleaning up the room, doing laundry or getting good grades. I Will tell them they did a great job. I would take them out for ice cream, but no cache. Its imporatant for them to learn to get satisfaction from getting good grades without being paid. Why dogs are any different? 
    Dog does not need to earn a living. All his needs are provided by me. 
    While I think it's imortant to have a good attitude at the trials, if I need the dog to retrieve something for me, because I need it I do not give a damn about the attitude:-) the law says - you cannot go and eat other dogs. In human world if law is broken you go to prison. If my dog wants to be pissed at me  because she has to heel by my side while another dog is barking at us, i do not care. But i will prase her a lot if she manages to maintain self control. From the dogs I observed in our class, I see no attitude problems. Those dogs get satisfaction from the fact that they know that they are doing a great job. However , to some people they might not look very happy as they will not be spinning around and doing any other happy dances, they will be quietly sitting by the owners side waiting for instructions.

  9. Do you think I would be able too switch to this method with my Shepherd? I have been using food with her all her life, and so I don't know if it she could make the switch. She's pretty soft, and gets flat easily. And the slightest correction shuts her down. However, we do have a pretty good bond, so would that be enough? I don't know much about the method, but it might be worth looking into.