I wrote this post on Chai’s third day with me – April 9, 2023. I will keep updating it as I go. It is currently day 20 (April 26)and a lot has changed already! However, I’m publishing this post now because I only just got around to cleaning it up. More to come soon!
My approach to training with food with a dog who likes to eat
I try to train the puppy in front of me. That means I’ve done things a bit differently for every puppy I’ve raised for myself or for someone else. In Chai’s case, most food is for training (because training is fun and I want videos) or big scatters (the ritual I use to end sessions). Chai doesn’t get food outside unless necessary because I want her to really engage with the world and not be distracted from it.
I will use most food for training. Except from her single outing every day – usually the same park because we can walk there – we stay at our AirBnB. I’ve so far trained up all of her daily rations in marker cue discrimination and shaping stuff. She devours kibble, so that’s all she has seen so far in terms of treats (except for the hot dog I used to get her to eat her Bravecto).
Two food training projects for the puppy in front of me: Chai
For Chai, there are currently food training projects (there will be more as we get to know each other better and shift to different behaviors):
+ Stuff I want for my marker cue (and other skills) game that I’m planning to turn into some sort of class or workshop.
+ Shaping because I love teaching puppies about shaping and could do it all day long.
So far, I’ve used up all her food in that way every day. And here’s food for thought: in my experience, just not going above kibble value (if the puppy takes kibble to begin with) has a high chance of maintaining kibble as a treat the dog will take everywhere (that is everywhere they are able to eat – it’s an excellent gauge). In my case, this means … not exactly a closed economy (plenty in life is free), but it means everything is kibble, and everything is at least marker-cued. There are no table scraps, for example (they would make an open economy and devalue the kibble I want to use for training).
I will take a different approach with puppies who flat out refuse kibble. But Chai does not, so this is the route we are going.
My approach to making Chai permanent-home-able
All in all, these are the training projects I am focusing on to make Chai a dog who will be pleasant to live with for her future folks:
+ Being comfortable out and about in Mexico City.
+ Being comfortable with people coming into her space and visiting people in new spaces – I’m aiming for at least 2 visits a week (as soon as I test negative for Covid again) and at least one good out-and-about interaction a day on non-visit days. I’ll get strangers to play for the out and about interactions. Visits will be friends and strangers who follow my instructions about letting Chai take the lead and take the first step rather than reaching for her.
+ Maintaining her ability to stay home alone without whining (she stays home alone at least twice every day when I head out with Game. If I have a puppy, whenever possible, the puppy will get a separate walk. An exception would be if the puppy was extremely shy and needed an emotional support dog – this is not the case for Chai. Game gets her own walks too because she deserves them. I don’t want Chai to become dependent on Game – neither for staying home nor for going out.)
+ Maintaining her crate skills (the crate is in the car right now; I’ll be popping her in there for a bit every day.)
+ Car sickness: we’ll strart driving super short distances on an empty stomach and gradually extend the length of the drive, aiming for once a day.
Behaviors I am likely to get “for free” with this particular dog along the way
Things that will just happen along the way will be recall, leash walking and grooming. She’s not body sensitive, so I’ll likely get brushing and clipping toe nails for free by “just doing them.” Same with her harness/collar: put it on; no problem for her and no need for a slow introduction. While slow introductions and cooperative care are always worthwhile, I want to focus on other stuff with Chai and will safe her daily calories for these other training projects. Harness, leash, brush and toe nails will be announced rather than shaped. For example before I put on her harness, I will let her know what is about to happen by saying, “Harness!” Puppies pick up on this fast, which gives me an excellent way of gauging if she stays comfortable: if I say, “Harness” and she moves away, I know she’s having feelings. So far, this has not happened.
Outside of what I outlined above, we will just chill at home (if I can help it – training is fun!) I don’t want to turn her into an athlete (if someone wants to in the future, that option will always exist – she’s a Border Collie). I want to help her become a dog who is able to live in Mexico City, and with an “average” active family. This includes staying home alone and being ignored when I work or write rather than constant attention. A very easy solution to keep her from trying to get on the table is to reach for her head anytime she does: like most dogs, she finds this aversive. It’s what I consider a benign aversive. For example if I’m eating and she does this, I reach for her head about three times and she’ll lie down at my feet and stop trying to get food from the table, and it’s only day 3 as I’m writing this. She gets praise for this, but no food. Rather than consciously building a desired behavior here, I am making the undesired behavior disappear (yes, this is a euphemism for: I am punishing it with the consequence of reaching for her head and preventing intermittent reinforcement i.e. counter surfing). Intermittent reinforcement is relatively easy for me to avoid in this case because the kitchen in this AirBnB is a separate room and I shut the door when I go there, and I am the only person living here – so I control all the food on counters or tables and don’t leave it out. This is much, much harder to do if you have an open floor plan, cook more than I do or live with other people. But in Chai’s case, it should work out well. After two months of zero success at getting at food, she’ll be set off on the right trajectory and whoever adopts her can keep this approach or teach her a desired alternative behavior like hanging out on her bed when people eat.
That’s it for today! You”ll soon get real video and photo updates of what has happened between days 4 and 20 with Chai – I just have to find time to video edit. “Just.” I know, I know!