Years ago, we added a new canine member to our family who was 22 mos. While she appeared to be a gentle soul, she was never been taught to be gentle with her teeth (called bite inhibition or control), especially when she was highly aroused around toys and desirable food.

It was a fairly quick process to teach her how to handle her mouth, but then she's very responsive and wants to please. I think in the past, she didn't know how to communicate with her people (preteens, teens and adults) but now that she does, she's happy to oblige.

I believe it helped as I was explaining to her many different ways that she needed to learn how to use her mouth and control how much pressure and when it was not appropriate to put teeth on the human flesh. If the item is linked, there is more information or a video available.

If you dog takes food hard while training, it may help to offer food on a flat palm, like you do to feed a horse, while you are in the training process.

Here are some ideas I tried:
1. Teach her to nose target my hand. 
2. Teach her to nose target the end of a stick.
3. Teach her to nose to target several different objects (not dog toys). 
4. Use a metal spoon for delivering treats (to protect my fingers but it seemed to make her more careful)
5. Taught her how to follow a food lure (she used to just bite at it). (Hide food between your fingers and shape her only getting it when she progressively takes it more and more gently. )
6. Worked on food zen. (I plan to apply it to toy zen as well). 
7. Used a clicker to get her to release toy and either rewarded with low level food (cheerio) or a throw of same toy as reward.
8. I taught her to do a finger retrieve to show how much pressure she uses.
9. We will be working on fine-tuning her object delivery as in dropping a coin into a bottle or penny bank. This will help her to learn to use her tongue and front teeth and help her realize she can control her mouth to a very fine degree.
10. Teach her how to take and give objects, including a 'pick' or 'nibble' cue that uses only her front teeth.
11. Keep arousal levels low so she is not grabbing because of excitement. (Short training sessions that stop before she gets aroused help).

Do have other ideas of how to train a softer mouth/greater teeth awareness? Please pass them along and I will add them.

Great Book on Training Diabetic Alert Dogs!

I've heard excellent reviews and the author is an excellent trainer. 
All positive reinforcement approach as well, so it's a 
win, win, win!

Click here to see more about the book and author.

"I Can't Use Food for Training my Dog!"
I hear this comment occasionally when I get new service dog clients. For the vast majority, we are able to figure out why the dog does not want to work for the food they are being offered. Below are some of the most common reasons. 
 
Why Do We Want to be Able to Use Food?
Having a dog that enjoys working for food helps to speed the learning process as well as offer an alternative to using toys or interaction (like massage, play etc). In the training phase, a dog needs to know she is doing well and food reinforcements are a good way to communicate that quickly and eaisly. Food is something that has intrinsic value to a dog unless he has learned to not enjoy it. Eating is a basic survival need.
In the early stages of training, reinforcement rates need to be high to keep a dog engaged in learning (about 3 to 4 seconds per behavior repetition-Yes you read that correctly! One reinforcer every 3 to 4 seconds!) Giving your dog a toy to play with may slow the repetitions to 1 per 20 seconds or much more. Food is the fastest reinforcer there is. A dog can eat a piece of food in less than 2 seconds and be doing the next repetition soon after. This helps her to do more repetitions in a shorter period of time so she can learn the behavior more quickly than using other types of reinforcement.  It also helps to give you another tool to combine when dealing with high level distractions. Using food, toys and interaction together is a jackpot reinforcement gives you an edge for the highest level distractions!
Not to worry about using food forever, though. Once the dog has grasp of the basic behaviors, toys, play, massage and even other learned behaviors can become reinforcers for behaviors and service dog tasks. Eventually, once the dog fully understands the behavior and can generalize the to many public locations,  the use of the food can be faded except for special occasions. Over time, the value of working with you will build and the relationship and communication between you and your service dog will grow. At that point, you can then reliably use your relationship to reinforce trained behaviors for more dogs. 
 
There are several common reasons why a dog might not work for food: 
Handler's Philosophy
Probably the most common reason food may not work for a dog is the handler's own philosophy on what is appropriate to use as a reward. Some people believe that a dog should not be paid using food. They believe that the relationship they have with their dog is enough. That verbal praise combined with an ear scritch is motivation enough. 
While that may work for a few dogs, unfortunately, dogs that offer undying devotion for your love without you having to earn it are few and far between. For the vast majority of dogs, until you have taken the time to build a positive working relationship with her, you'll need to use other things in addition to your relationship to motivate her. 
Dogs, like humans, initially do what gets them what they want. Then over time as they learn to master behaviors and skills, they begin to enjoy the activity and interaction itself. In the meantime, food is an easy choice for most service handlers because the vast majority of dogs enjoy eating. Let's not overlook the fact that they need food to survive. 
Some handlers unconsciously undermine their success with food. They don't use the food correctly, or they skimp on the amount. In the early stages of training, it must come fast and be high enough value that the dogs deems it worthy to work for. There is a skill to using food for training. It pays to take time to learn it so you and your dog can succeed together.

Some people think they have to carry food around with them for the rest of the dog's life. Not so. If food is used correctly, it is used to train a behavior, then other types of reinforcers are substituted. Anything from toys and play with the handler to real life reinforcers are introduced to maintain the behavior. They might be as simple as getting to go through a door, going for a car ride, greeting someone and some of the trained behaviors can become fun or rewarding for the dog to do. Of course every dog, even well-trained ones, appreciate the occasional food reinforcer.
Unfortunately, there are some in society who say "Training with food is cheating." It becomes a voice that triggers doubts in your success. Whether that voice is from another person, or comes from within, if you want to change it, you are the only one who can.
Repeat after me: "Training with food is a useful tool that builds success!"
"Training with food is a useful tool that builds success!"
"Training with food is a useful tool that builds success!"
 
Free Feeding Practice
One commonly overlooked practice that people do to lower a dog's value of food is to free feed. Free feeding involves placing a full food dish on the ground and letting the dog eat what she wants when she wants how often she wants. While this is convenient for the handler, it removes the dog's motivation to eat and ultimately earn it.  That's why the dish sits there full for most of the day. The food becomes meaningless to the dog and the dog is eating and doing nothing in exchange for it. The food is available at all times. 
A tip to help with food motivation as well as potty issues in a dog of any age is to put the food bowl down twice a day. If the dog doesn't eat after 10 minutes, pick it up and try again at the second feeding of the day. By placing it down just twice a day, it builds scarcity for the dog so he will eat when it becomes available. Suddenly the food has more value. Do this for at least a week before you try the next step below. 
Next, measure out the dog's total daily ration of food. Remove the amount you need for training, and divide the remainder into two. So, if you plan to do 50 repetitions over 2 training sessions, take out 50 kibble and set those aside in a treat pouch.  Then twice a day, place the rest of the food into food puzzles and let your dog work for it. Getting dogs to work for their food builds value for it too. It also helps by giving the dog a job to do and burning off mental energy so you don't have to spend hours physical exercising her. Since most dogs enjoy having a job, this gives eating some meaning.
 
Using Food That is Too Low Value
Often people infer that their dog will not work for food because they use food that is too low of value for the distraction level of the environment they are training in or the level of difficulty or the length of time they are asking from their dog. Using hard or dried commercially made treats away from home usually isn't enough. If the task is too hard or the distraction level is too high, most dogs will  disengage. Use real meats like beef (cooked heart is very high value for most dogs, fresh or canned  tripe too (stinky but high in demand), pork, and lamb. Chicken and turkey work well but do fall apart in bits.
Adding sardine juice or beef gravy stock to other foods increase the value. Squares of hard cheese, cooked omelette squares are enjoyed by most dogs. Dogs with lactose intolerance is actually not as common as it is made out to be and fermented milk products like cheese and yogurt are more easily tolerated. Mashed potatoes or yam, yogurt, thick pea soup, and meaty baby food can all be put into a food tube for easy lickable delivery (try a camping store and look for either squeezable condiment containers, or re-useable toothpaste tubes). Even just adding garlic powder or mixing other smelly foods into a bag of kibble can increase their value enough to motivate a dog to work for it.
 
Dog will Only Eat "Human Food"
I am talking about dogs who won't eat their kibble but gobble it down if you add leftovers from your meals. Part of this involves your philosophy of not feeding dogs "people food". Let's look at this a little closer. The better "dog foods" are made from food that is leftover from processing human food. The soft portions of a chicken carcasses are removed from the bone and boiled. The fat is melted down. Leftover grain from processing cereal and other human foods is cooked and vitamins, coloring and preservatives are added back in to the mix. The food is then put into a machine, pushed out a hole and cut to make the kibble shape. Then it is cooked and dried. In reality dog food is IS refined people food,  but is it not as fresh or palatable and so often has lower value to the dog.
If your dog is refusing to eat it, she may be bored with the same food day in and out. Giving her a variety of food not only flavors but texture, moisture levels and shapes may help. Dogs developed as scavengers over the last 14,000+ years, eating whatever refuse they could find around human settlement. That involved variety. Like in human diets, it is the variety that gives us the breadth of nutrients we need to thrive. Check out other feeding options for your dog. There is commercial kibble, canned food, moist food, food rolls, raw food, cooked food and there is also the homemade option. All of these may be higher value to your dog an she will be willing to work for them. Do your research no matter what choice you make to ensure your dog is getting what she needs to maintain physical and mental fitness to work as your service dog. Note that not all veterinarians support all kinds of food.
If the refusal to work for kibble is new, check the food out for the best before date and take a sniff of the bag and look at a handful of kibble. Kibble can go moldy in a moist environment and dogs detect pathogens that make them sick. This causes them to refuse to eat. Trust your dog and return it to the retailer with the receipt. If that's not the issue, a vet check is in order. 
 
Allergies
Dogs who have food allergies may not enjoy eating since their intestinal tract is upset. They have connected eating to feeling bad and may refuse to eat. In addition, handlers may find it hard to find food of high enough value for training due to the severe limitations of what the dog can eat. If this is the case, the handler must be creative. Perhaps moistening a dry food with water or real meat juices or other real flavoring that the dog is not allergic to. Or if the dog is eating only soft food, it can be placed in a food tube for delivery (try a camping store and look for either squeezable condiment containers, or re-useable toothpaste tubes.)  Try dehydrating soft food to make a hard treat that can be tossed.
 
Inadvertent Pressure While Eating
This is one that a handler may not be aware they are doing. It can come in several forms. 
1. They are in a hurry to do something and after they put the food down, they put social pressure on the dog to eat. "Hurry up." And then get angry, drop the tone of their voice to tell the dog to hurry. Or, similarly, if the dog drops food on the ground, he is verbally admonished for it. Eating becomes a punished behavior. 
2.  During training, the handler gives small inadvertent punishers as they are delivering the food so the dog quits eating. The dog does what was asked, then is either too slow, or does something that the handler sees as undesirable (like jumping up and grabbing an object during training the retrieve) and then gives a verbal reprimand or pushes the dog out of their space. For sensitive dogs, the handler may not even be aware of the level of impact on the dog. In this case, the dog is connecting the punisher to the trained behavior, or even eating of the food, not her behavior at the end of the training session. The result is a dog that looks like she doesn't want to work for food or can't focus on any training activity very long.

A good test to see if your dog is afraid to eat with you nearby is to have a neutral person (ideally a good positive reinforcement trainer) try training the dog with food. The dog is usually more than happy to train with the neutral person as there is no history of positive punishment. They may also appear less subdued (happier) than with their usual handler. 
 
Building Value for Toys until Dog is Toy Obsessed
Toys and games are a great thing to have as part of your training reinforcement strategy. Using toys for training can inject enthusiasm, speed and joy into a less motivated dog.  But, some dogs will reject food when in the presence of toys while others can't think when they are within reach. 
Ideally, you want to build value for both so you have many options to choose from when training different behaviors. Some behaviors lend themselves to toys better than food and vice versa. Food can be used to calm an over-aroused dog in training.  Toys can put a dog with low impulse control into over-arousal (excitement level where they lose control).
After training is complete and the behaviors have been proofed, toys, like the food, need to faded.  They can be used when your dog is not working and during breaks in work for your service dog.
 
Stress
If you find that your service dog in training suddenly stops eating in some locations but will happily focus and work and eat in others, consider her stress level as a cause. Stress can be good or bad (distress or eustress). Arousal level may also contribute to not eating.

At a biological level, if a dog who can eat normally while training away from home, suddenly stops eating, this can be an indication of severe stress. In order to prepare for flight or fight, the stomach shuts down and the blood flows to muscles for running away or fighting. A dog that can't eat is a stressed dog.

Stop training and take the dog out of that environment or, at the very least, give her time to adjust before asking her to do anything. After a few minutes in a safe environment, she should want to eat again. If she can't, you will want to figure out if it is caused by fear or arousal and the impact this is going to have on her as a  service dog. If she cannot function, she will be of no help to you. There are options available (such as desensitization and counter conditioning processes) but consult a profession positive reinforcement trainer for help in creating and carrying out a plan to help your dog overcome the fear or stress.
 

Click here to listen to an audio file of this blog post.

An alternative to commercially prepared treats (perhaps since you know what ingredients go into them and because homemade ones are often much cheaper as well as better quality), is to make your own. Here are some suggestions.

If you want to add nutrition, dust meat bits with debittered Brewers Yeast and kelp powder. Soaked millet, rolled oats and cooked barley are good substitutes for other treat recipes requiring wheat since they are higher in protein and are more easily digested by dogs.

High-Value Heart
Probably the highest value treat and the best tolerated food I have found for most dogs is heart. Heart is a muscle meat and there is no gastrointestinal upset if a dog eats a lot of it. It is high in taurine and counteracts the effects of legumes in grain free kibble. 

Purchase heart of any species. Ideally source the meat from a local butcher who has access to grass-fed animals. 
Cut off excess fat (for the larger animals) and slice the heart into half inch slices and cook on a no-stick pan without oil. Cook on both sides until there is still a little pink in the middle. Remove from heat and cut into cubes the size appropriate for your dog.

If you have some left over, they freeze well but are not as tasty as if fresh-cooked. Thaw for a few minutes before feeding. BBQing can increase their value. I use this for high distraction environments and behaviours I need to be strong away from home like recalls. Avoid using in low distraction environments or you risk your dog refusing other lower value treats. They are that yummy! LOL!

Chicken Patty Treats
For probably the most economically priced and easiest to prepare healthy training treat, purchase frozen chicken patties, sprinkle liberally with garlic powder and cook until done all the way through. Cut into 1/4 inch cubes and freeze.

When needed, thaw for 10 sec in microwave and cut again into quarter inch cubes. (about $3 per kg or $1.50 per pound!)

Liver Treats
Cooked Liver (beef, chicken, pork or turkey)
garlic powder flavoring

Sprinkle powder on liver and use outdoor BBQ to fry up liver slices. This prevent smelling up house. and cut into strips, then tiny bits. Freeze in containers. This is very rich and should not be more than 1/6 of your dog's daily food intake. Most dogs will get the runs from eating too much. A few dogs get goopy eyes from eating cooked liver.

Moist Meat Treats
A bit more sloppy treat is slow cooked chicken, turkey, duck or roast. Buy the cheapest cuts and cook until meat falls off from bones. Separate bones from meat and freeze meat bits in containers, using wax paper or plastic to make layers that container enough for one training session. Freeze. Thaw or microwave before using.

For the cheap cuts of meats such as beef or moose roast, cut into 3/4 inch steaks.

Freeze until ready to cook separating steaks with wax paper or plastic. Drop bundle on the ground to break apart and remove as many steaks as you want to cook. Thaw. Sprinkle garlic powder on both sides and let sit for a few minutes. Cook (in a no stick pan or BBQ) until brown all the way through then slice in quarter inch strips and freeze in containers. Cut into 1/4 inch squares after thawing.

These meats also do well when ground up in a food processor and put in a food tube. 

Beef/chicken/turkey Patty treats
1lb lean ground beef, chicken, or turkey
2 eggs
1-2 cup quick oatmeal (add more or less depending on consistency-more for higher fat meat)
garlic powder to taste

Mix all ingredients into a giant patty (or several smaller ones) and flatten to very thin. Cook on a no stick fry pan until cooked. Flip and cook all the way through.

Cool and cut into strips, then tiny squares and freeze on cookie sheet. Then scoop bits into containers for freezing. This does have a somewhat crumbly texture so best used at home. This recipe is more work (and more expensive) than the chicken patty treats above)

Cheese Bits
Use a mild chedder or marble cheese and cut into 1/4 inch cubes. On hot days can get a bit mushy.

Hard Boiled Egg Bits
Hard boil an egg or two for 10 minutes and let cool. Peel the shell off and cut egg white and yolk into small pieces and freeze in a small container. Take a few out for training sessions and let thaw for a few minutes (or microwave for 15 sec). The yolk is usually highly prized by dogs. It is a bit messy but works well for in home training.

Egg variation: Make french toast and cook all the way through. Cut into quarter inch cubes and freeze until needed. You can also make a double egg omelet in a very small pan. Flip it over to cook both sides until dry. Cut into squares. Mixing in a bit of flour before cooking can help it stick together better. 

Kidney Bean Treats
Slow cooked kidney beans are high in protein and do not cause gas in most dogs. They are very cheap and make an ideal, if somewhat sloppy treat.

Place 2-3 times as much water as beans in a slow cooker, turn on high and cook until tender (about 4 hours).
Use a slotted spoon and lift beans onto cookie sheet in a single layer and freeze.

When frozen, remove from freezer, let thaw for about 3 minutes or run water over the back of the cookie sheet, then lift with flipper or butter knife and break into bits and freeze in containers. It looks like peanut brittle at this point. Place into containers and freeze.

Take them out of the freezer for a few minutes before using during training. Juice makes a tasty additive to dry foods.

If you mash them, you can use them in a food tube too!



Have other favorite recipes? Please share them with us!

Here is a list of behaviors that can be observed from the previous videos.
You may seen more than this!

1. Grinning Dog

Laying down
Head dip
Ears flatten
Front legs shifted
Tail wag
Straightens body
Smile
Fold left leg under
Looks at ground (or shoes?)
Licking lips
Shakes head
Stands up
Shakes body
Looks at owner (with eye contact)
Licks lips
Bows
Smiles
Shakes body
Blows his cheeks out
Dips his head
Smiles
Briefly stands still
Licks lips

(In case you are interested, many of these are calming behaviors meant to calm both the dog himself and the owner. The behavior context is that the owner just came home from being away at work. The dog could also be offering the behaviors in response to seeing the video camera.)

2. Dog Doing Nothing-Golden Retriever

looks at camera
turns head away
lifts head
sniffs
obvious blink
softens eyes
looks away
looks back
holds head still but looks at camera (so we can see whites of eyes called whale eye)
looks towards camera
turns ahead quickly to straight position
lifts head
drops head, looks to left and sniffs

That's just in the first 30 seconds! 

That’s a lot for doing nothing! 30 (or more) behaviors!

3. Papillon close up

Moves head to left
Rotates eyes to left
Moves chin down
Looks down
Looks back at camera
Moves head back towards camera
Sniffs camera
Opens eyes wider
Looks to left
Moves chin down to left
Looks back at camera (as camera pans away)
Lifts head slightly
Turns head to right away from camera
Rotates ears away from camera
Looks back at camera
Blinks
Looks down as turns head past and away from camera to left (avoids eye contact)
Looks down
Looks up past camera
Blinks
Turns eyes
Looks down and up


So, what did you learn from watching the dogs behaviors in these videos?

Hopefully, that dogs offer many clickable behaviors all day long. We trainers just have to improve our observation skills and our clicker timing to be able to capture them to use them to shape behaviors we desire!