Let’s Talk About Treats

Treats

When choosing food reinforcers it is important to make a strong impression with high value, high flavor items, especially if the job you are asking your dog to do is going to be challenging in terms of competing motivators. (Only use junk foods like Fancy Feast pictured here sparingly, however, and be careful that all commercially made treats are made in the U.S., not China. Fresh, home-cooked meats are usually best.)

Okay, let’s set the record straight once and for all.  “Treat” isn’t a four letter word. Nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing to hide. So, honestly, we really don’t have to be afraid of saying it out loud in front of grandma anymore. I, Sarah Owings, a professional trainer, with professionally trained dogs of my own, yes, even I still carry a pouch of treats with me on walks! Yes, even I still lavish my dogs generously with well timed yummies when they choose to pay attention to me rather than lunge at a barking dog, keep the leash loose when walking through a crowd, or respond to their names when a cat runs by. Even I still run to the fridge for an impromptu jackpot when they come in from the backyard right away when I call. Yes, even I, a professional trainer, still feed my dogs for not jumping on houseguests.  I even toss tasty morsels to them during dinner occasionally too–as long as they are laying on their mats or in their crates instead of pestering us at the table.

Zoë is eight. Maya is somewhere closer to twelve. Zoë in particular has had intensive, highly focused reinforcement-based training for most of her life. When I cue any of her known behaviors at this point, I’m so confident in her response I’d be willing to bet just about anyone $100 she will do it correctly. A few years ago on the outdoor patio of a dog friendly restaurant, I remember cuing her to lay down and she dropped to the ground so quickly the guy at the next table whistled in amazement. “That was scary fast,” he said. “How did you get your dog to do that?” …Well, although I do seem to be pretty good at my job and am deeply committed to this method of teaching and learning, it really isn’t rocket science. My dogs, particularly Zoë, do as I ask, behave politely in public most of the time, and are a joy to live with because they have a GINORMOUS reinforcement history for doing so. It’s that simple. They are reliable because I am reliable. I never ever take their “obedience” for granted. I never assume they are going to do what I ask just because I said so. Even for behaviors that they know well and have done correctly many times, I still do my darndest to pay up for great responses.  I don’t mess around with intermittent schedules of reinforcement either unless there is some specific reason for it, which there never really is.  On the very rare occasion that I don’t have food on me, food easily at hand, or some other type of reinforcer I know for sure will cut the mustard with my dogs in that particular moment, I either won’t say a cue at all or, in a pinch, I will at least try to provide something in exchange: usually a butt scratch and happy talk followed by a release to go do whatever it was they wanted to do in the first place; and if it happens that at my request Zoë or Maya have to actually give up something, and it ends up being a bummer for them, i.e. a withdrawal rather than a deposit in our trust account, I go way out of my way to be sure they get a pretty big paycheck the next time.

zoe kitchen mat

Zoe used to be a big counter surfer but now defaults to her kitchen bed any time I am preparing food or when we are eating dinner. She has a very large reinforcement history for doing so.

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It takes 20-30 minutes everyday to prepare my dogs’ food ahead of time, but it is worth it to have everything ready to go for quick and easy access anytime I want to stop for a training break, to reward good behavior on the fly, to deal with a challenging situation such as a guest arriving, or to go on a walk. This batch is a mix of Into the Wild kibble, boiled white meat chicken, and Deli Fresh turkey dog food. The tube is filled with Wellness canned food.

Granted, “treats” is a lousy word for so powerful an influence on behavior. When we humans think “treats,” we picture  unhealthy, rare indulgences that are not usually so good for us like candy bars or ice cream. This mentality ends up making it all too easy to be stingy with our dogs during training. That is why, unwieldy as it may be, the proper term I should be using here really is “reinforcement,” not “treat,” and not “reward.” If a behavior is maintained or gets stronger, it is being reinforced by something.  That is the law of learning. Period. Lots of things reinforce behavior besides food such as opportunities to do fun things, a chance to play with dogs, attention from a favorite person, freedom to move, a great feeling, an exciting event, a sensation of relief, etc. However, food is a primary reinforcer for all living things; so when you feed your dog a memorable treat, in his mind he’s probably not thinking: “Oh boy! I’m such a good dog I got a treat!” He is thinking: “Oh boy! I got food! I’m not going to starve today!” Dogs don’t mess around with survival. As the descendants of hunters and scavengers, they are hardwired to work for a living, and I for one tend to take things dogs are passionate about pretty seriously.

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Zoe earns a portion of her morning breakfast doing Relax on a Mat while I finish my coffee

However, for many pet owners, the effort of portioning food as reinforcement instead of dumping it in a bowl twice a day, and thinking in terms of reinforcement all the time instead of just during training class, is understandably daunting. “When can I stop using treats?” is the number one question I have to field during consults; and even after I’ve thought I’ve made it pretty darn clear that although certainly one can branch out to a wider variety of reinforcers besides food eventually, the answer really is NEVER, I still inevitably find myself cringing silently inside a few weeks or months later when these same, quite well-intentioned people say something like: “Fido does (insert difficult behavior here) now and I don’t even have to use treats anymore!” This usually makes me so sad to hear because  what the dog is being asked to do is often pretty hard such getting into the bathtub after years of being terrified of water, or choosing to ignore food left out on a low table, or passing another dog on a walk without barking or lunging. Why don’t people ever declare with equal pride how they remembered to jackpot with fresh salmon or beef that time their dog came away from a squirrel so darn fast? Where does all this shame, denial, and reluctance come from? …Well, people, I’m here to tell you, time to be free of this misconception once and for all. If keeping treats at the ready helps you live more harmoniously with your pet on a daily basis, you are in great company! Many of the world’s best trainers, including almost all zookeepers, marine mammal trainers, and a growing majority of top level competition trainers, professional pet dog trainers like myself, and liberated pet owners everywhere, have accepted food reinforcers–not just as a temporary training tool– but as a way of life. Using primary reinforcers on an ongoing basis does not mean you are a bad trainer, or that you don’t have control of your dog, it means you understand how behavior change really works.

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A Beluga whale at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago demonstrates her trained “bubbles” cue underwater before surfacing to get fish from her trainer as reinforcement.

Of course some jobs we ask our dogs to do grow resilient and remain so even without primary reinforcers, and many dogs will work equally hard for toys or play as they do for food. Some tasks we require of them are also conveniently reinforced by opportunities to go do other fun things that the dog wanted to do anyway such as sitting before being let out the door to play in the yard, or walking on a loose leash past distractions and then being allowed to go investigate afterwards. Dogs lock into these types of consistent reinforcement patterns very quickly. Other behaviors, such as sitting on cue in a quiet room with nothing else going on are simply so easy to do in that context that weaker reinforcers like praise or petting are sometimes enough to keep things going. However, eight times out of ten what we demand of our dogs in order for them to conform to our lives in ways that are more convenient for us is often much more expensive for them than most people realize. When we have expectations such as  coming when called instead of chasing a rabbit or deer, or to please not jump on aunt Tilly, or to walk at our sides instead of sniffing the bushes or pulling over to go say hi to that dog over there, what we are asking is for our dogs to basically give up being dogs. Want Fido to come away from play with a buddy at the park right away the first time you call? Ha! Fat chance unless you have diligently worked to build up a pretty powerful reinforcement history for that particular behavior in advance, a reinforcement history massive enough to trump all that the frenzied fun Fido may be having in that moment.

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Our little Maya used to never come when called from the back yard. But after some solid recall training, followed by ongoing jackpots for fast responses for the past few years, as well as lots of opportunities to go back outside and play some more after responding correctly, her reliability has improved exponentially over time.

Way back when Zydeco first came to stay with us, almost two months ago now, in my first z-dogs post I wrote about how I was excited to start fresh with a puppy because Zoë is now so easy to live with I’ve kind of forgotten how she actually got that way. Well, now I remember. Reinforcement made it happen. Years and years of consistent, dogged, unflinching reinforcement. Zydy was and still is a great guy at heart but he came to us with very few human-acceptable skills. To be honest, he was pretty much a wild man most of the time, jumping, mouthing, careening around, yanking at the leash, whining, barking, and scrabbling crazily in the car, stealing things, nipping hands, feet clothing, highly distractible, much more interested in the excitement of dogs barking, squirrels running, barking at visitors and other dogs, etc.,  than in listening to me. So, I got out my treat pouch and went to work. From the first moment he arrived, until the last day he left, I reinforced that boy non stop for ANYTHING he did that I liked. I watched him religiously for moments of calm, flickers of focus, fleeting instances of self-control, and all correct responses to cues. Sometimes in the middle of his bigger barking fits, I would have to wait until he took a breath–click! Yep. Half a second of quiet. Caught it! YAY! Was he or I perfect during this process? No. Is he perfectly behaved at all times now? No. But by golly Zydy did gain some better skills, and fast. How did I do it? How on earth did I convince him to do things like let go of that towel I was trying to put in the dryer, to back off and wait instead of chomping my arms or feet, or to sit calmly at the side gate until released, and then to walk calmly on leash all the way to the street instead of bolting and yanking my arm off? For an impulsive, high drive young dog like him, I knew that self-control is an extremely expensive behavior, so I PAID REALLY REALLY WELL FOR IT! I was never stingy. He got the best food, the highest value toys, and every opportunity I could give to release him to go “be a dog” and do whatever he wanted (within reason) after he did anything I wanted. My goal was for him to learn that it is worth it to listen to me every single time, and that listening to me is almost never going to be a bummer or disappointment for him. When working on key life skills such as recalls or Relax on a Mat, I did not mess around with low value foods either, but instead chose his favorite canned wet dog food to build the behavior up as strong as I could. Here’s what his first training session looked like. This is now one of his favorite behaviors to do. Can you tell why?

The world of dog training is filled with politics, polarized opinion, ethical dilemmas, philosophical debates, and controversy–and a surprising lot of it has to do with whether or not dogs should be trained with treats in the first place, or whether one should “fade” out the food later on once the behaviors are complete. But it really all boils down to this: when it comes to expensive behaviors, either you choose to use reinforcement to build and then maintain that behavior for the lifetime of your dog, or you have to use some form of pressure, punishment, or the threat of pressure or punishment to either suppress behaviors you don’t like, or build avoidance behaviors that look like compliance. Thanks to Zydeco’s great reminder these past two months, however, I can safely say without a doubt that reinforcement gets the job done–as long as the humans involved are willing to commit to the project.

Clear patterns of reinforcement build trust. Choose the path of trust wholeheartedly, without any doubt or stinginess, and you and your dog will eventually find yourselves standing together on more solid ground. Once you reach that plateau, stop and consider your progress. How did you get here? Look down. Beneath your feet there is now a shining brick road that you paved beneath your own feet treat by treat by treat. Take those first brave steps with your dog today, and before you know it, you both will be cavorting in the land where pets listen  joyously to their owners each and every time they call, and owners fully respect and understand their pets–not because either of them have to, but because few other pathways in life are more reinforcing to follow than this one.

(If you’d like to learn how to teach your dog this way too and don’t have a clicker trainer near you, I, along with Helix Fairweather and Lynn Martin, have an online pet manners class. www.cyberdogonline.com).

63 comments

  1. Gallivan Burwell

    Terrific article. I use the word “treats” freely and without shame, though I occasionally tell clients “..and by ‘treats’ I mean ‘rewards’ of course”. Or, “My dog never gets treats, she just gets lots and lots of ‘rewards’ for getting it right.”

  2. Tony Cruse

    Great blog! You got me thinking about reward schedules.
    I was always taught start with FR and reward after every behaviour and when the behaviour is reliable move onto a VR schedule. I have heard a steady grumbling against VR schedules lately.

    Do you ever employ Variable Reinforcement Schedules? And thinking hard about VR schedules…who really does?
    Some people say that by allowing the dog to play instead of giving the dog a piece of food is VR but it is not. Smiling at your dog instead of paying him with food could also be reinforcing, so once again, withholding or forgetting the food does not mean the dog has not been reinforced. Simply that a different reinforcer has been used but the schedule (FR1) remains the same.

    • Sarah Owings

      I pretty much never use VR on purpose. I use variety in reinforcement as you say. I use cues as reinforcers when I want a chain of behaviors with the reinforcement at the end. And I use duration behaviors to extend time worked before earning that click and treat. But all of that is still a 1:1 ratio of reinforcement really. Even the chains. I particularly don’t like the lack of clarity to the dog with deliberate variable schedules because normally I only withhold a click if the behavior doesn’t meet criteria. Imagine the confusion when the dog performs correctly multiple times and still gets no click. Most likely my savvy dog would immediately start throwing other behaviors to try and get back on track. Then she’d get frustrated.

  3. Linda Blauch

    Great blog and great validation for me that it is okay to continue to positively reinforce. Not only the dog called inside because of barking but also the dogs that never went out. I’ll share this one with my husband.

  4. Katie Midkiff

    Awesome! I am sharing this on my Facebook page! I often just carry treats around with me and with clients I ask them to just keep treats on them all day long and C/T their dog doing anything good! I’m sure they never do but that’s how I get it done and I love it. It really works. 🙂 thanks for writing this!

  5. Linda Trunell

    Reblogged this on MyPositiveDogTrainingBlog and commented:
    I love this post! I want to share it with all of my students. I still carry a treat bag on walks and reinforce the behaviors I like all the time with Max (who is now 4 years old). We are going to feed our dogs anyway so why not use food as a reinforcer? Food is to most dogs what money is to most people – a motivator. I often use the analogy of making deposits in the bank when we are reinforcing behaviors with food and caution not to let the bank account be overdrawn.

  6. Kama Brown

    I really like this article in many ways. I really like this quote” My dogs, particularly Zoë, do as I ask, behave politely in public most of the time, and are a joy to live with because they have a GINORMOUS reinforcement history for doing so. It’s that simple. They are reliable because I am reliable. I never ever take their “obedience” for granted. I never assume they are going to do what I ask just because I said so. Even for behaviors that they know well and have done correctly many times, I still do my darndest to pay up for great responses.”

    I think that is really important. However, I think there is a ton of merit in building up secondary reinforces and using them heavily, while using food less, after strong food reinforcement histories have been built with a dog and owner. I think people should also learn how to play and connect with their dogs past the point of relying solely on food to reinforce the behavior. I’m sure this is something many people ( and trainers) do naturally– but I also I feel that sometimes this can go too far. I’ve personally ( accidentally) ended up training people to be robotic food machines with their pets by sharing articles that speak to a similar principle of always carry treats with you for the lifetime of the dog.

    • Sarah Owings

      Great points Kama. Totally agree with you actually. I love the process of building and maintaining the power of secondary reinforcers for sure. It is just hard to talk about those more complex training principles in one article! I always write too much! 🙂

  7. Lisa McEvoy

    Sometimes when people see treats as a reward and for whatever reason are against rewarding behavior and don’t want to try to understand the concept of reinforcement, I like to explain treats as a way of giving your dog feedback. Why would you ever not tell your dog that what he/she did was right? What would be the benefit to letting them wonder if what they did was correct? We have subtle ways of telling other humans that we approve of their behavior. The treat is the best way to do that for dogs.

  8. Nigel

    Its called fear aggression not dog reactivity. A clicker is just marking a behavior. You can do that with the conditioned reinforcer or praise might as well throw that thing in the trash where it belongs. Youve written so much about a small part of dog training as a whole. Good job and stuff. Real professional. So if my dog doesnt listen for treats we can just say they arent “high value” enough. How do you desensitize a dog with treats? What if my dog is so worked up it doesnt want treats? Do we just deem it untrainable and euthanize it? You said you been doin,this for how long?

    • Sarah Owings

      Hi Nigel,

      Your comments are really negative, so I’m not sure if you are actually asking questions or just attacking positive reinforcement training in general. But yes, I’ve been training dogs for quite a few years now. I specialize in exclusively using positive reinforcement with difficult dogs. All my clients that follow through with the use of primary reinforcers to train foundation behaviors before taking on their dog’s aggression or fear issues do see success.

      “Fear aggression”, “dog reactivity”– neither of these terms are actually that accurate, and both are kind of outdated to be honest. They are labels not descriptions of behavior. So, yes, when I say “dog reactive” I agree that isn’t the best way to put it. I just use that as a shorthand for “dogs that bark and lunge at other dogs.”

      Yes, marker training can be done with a clicker or a verbal.

      Desensitization involves the slow exposure to a problem stimulus until the dog gets used to it and accepts it as normal. You can counter-condition a dog’s emotional response with treats as a part of a desensitization program by carefully pairing high value foods with things the dog is normally afraid of, but you can’t “desensitize with treats.” There are also other humane ways to work through aggression too, some of which don’t involve food at all–but all methods only work if the trainer has a strong understanding of reinforcement.

      As I said, food is a primary reinforcer for all living things, but yes, some dogs are unable to eat in high stress situations. Good trainers set things up so those high stress situations don’t happen very often and the dog can function, eat, think, play and be comfortable enough to learn new behaviors, and build new patterns. If I am working with a dog that is unable to eat at all, I find where that dog is most comfortable and start with the training of foundation skills there. Hope that clears some things up for you.

  9. TDH

    Great article, I will be sharing! As for Nigel, you are missing the point, which is that when we choose to reward proper behavior over a lifetime, the results are stronger, more reliable, and more authentically motivated than rewards given during a training session only (or not at all). It seems your comments are directly aimed at bashing the theories of reward-based training; this post is not your desired audience.

  10. cthebean

    I don’t know why people get angry about different ideas. Makes a person wonder why they write with such vitriol…I mean no one is forcing them to read the blog nor to take on this kind of thinking.
    All I know is that Zydeco is a new guy because of the positive reinforcement training and just general loving environment he got to have with Sarah while I was away. I deeply appreciate and respect the work she has done with him. I am learning how to use the clicker and giving treats with wild abandon when he does wanted behaviors. Also..setting dogs up for success seems the intelligent as well as compassionate thing to do.

    • Sarah Owings

      Thanks Bean! It’s a delight to see him so happy these days for sure! The really cool thing is the trust and reinforcement goes both ways! Zydy gets more wonderful and trustworthy every day. You enjoy him more and more each day and reward him. Those reinforcers build even better behaviors…and on and on! You can see why I’m a little addicted to it! 🙂

  11. Nigel

    You both have no clue wtf youre talking about not only that youd think someone that deals,strictly in treats would know a thing or two about dog health,and nutrition. Seriously fancy feast?a dog would do just as good on small doses of rat poison,as it,would on fancy feast. My dog listens for life because it takes about 30 days of consistent success on any certain command for that command to become a way of life. Youre way outta your league if you think youre,gonna bs me. If anything youll wind up learning something from me.

    • Laurie Campbell

      I just feel so sad for your dog Nigel. I hope someday you progress to a stronger, more healthy relationship with your dog than one based on fear, pain, or intimidation. You are training in pastels when you could have bright and vibrant colors. You might want to read a book by Suzanne Clothier called “Bones would rain from the Sky” to learn about what you are giving up in your training that could be experienced. Good luck in your journey. http://www.dogwise.com/ItemDetails.cfm?ID=dtb752

      • Nigel

        I dont train in fear or any of that. Calm confidence, patience, poise. Its a requirement. The attitude alone is a big focus in my style of training. My dog will work circles around yours and itll have its head up and tail wagging the whole time. the only place I use strictly positive reinforcement is in narcotics detection. If I gave my dog a correction its so s mall you wouldnt even see it or know what I was doing. You just tried to,label me as a yank and cranker but im actually not and where I came were about to set a standard in dog training so people cant pick up a book n think theyre dog trainers n start yankin n crankin dogs not knowin what the hell their doin n so that people can see how limited positive reinforcement is. Theres way more to it than treats. Pack structure is a huuuuuuge role cause if you cant show leadership to your,dog its un natural for it to listen or follow. Leadership is not dominance. I never yell hit alpha roll or any of that weird bullshit to my dog cause id actually get the opposite of what im looking for. Look up foundation style dog training. Check out what Mike D Abruzzo at K9-1 is doing cause The man is a gifted and very very good trainer.

        • Sarah Owings

          Nigel, I’m glad to hear you are not using harsh force with your dog and that you feel happy with the relationship you have with your dog. But you are using force with us in this comment thread and your contributions to the discussion are abusive. My post on treats is about the joy I have found with my own dogs working with them in this way. It is clear you really are unable to understand that. Why you feel threatened by what I’ve written I don’t understand. I’m happy to engage in a respectful discussion about how even clicker trainers really do end up using all four quadrants sometimes–not just positive reinforcement, and how to be aware of healthier food and treat choices, but if you cannot engage civilly in the discussion without insulting everyone, I’m going to block your posts.

      • Sarah Owings

        Laurie, please don’t engage with Nigel anymore. He’s someone who is just looking for a fight. Let’s not give him any more attention unless he can phrase his comments more civilly. Just go love your dog. Much better use of your time and energy. 🙂

  12. Nigel

    Also since I dont bribe my dog and it knows it has to listen it makes life very predictable and comfortable for the dog. Theres 4 quadrants of operant conditioning not one…. And besidesyou positive reinforcement ppl dont even know what youre doing causw you also use negative punishment. Duh

  13. Nigel

    Do you even teach,clients about pack structure or dog culture or you just gonna bump heads with mother,nature and throw your treat bag at it?

  14. Laurie Campbell

    Excellent. Thank you for letting me know I am actually a great trainer. I learned these skills under the best and often struggle with those who have no clue why I hand them a bag of Zukes as they enter my home, or make comments about overfeeding with treats, etc. And yet all of my dogs do outstanding informal recalls even in the presence of a reactive new dog. No leash. This is the best best blog post ever. Thank you so much!!

  15. Marty Strausbaugh

    Sarah, thank you for leaving those negative comments up. Your gracious replies to such an aggressive attacker has helped to teach me how to deal with those who would judge and criticize my passion and love of positive reinforcement training. This blog post is now required reading for all my current and future clients. I appreciate you taking the time to write and share on this subject. Happy Training! ps. I Love Zukes!!

    • Sarah Owings

      You’re welcome Marty. I’ve left a few of Nigel’s comments up but blocked the rest. He’s been getting progressively more abusive–kind of like an extinction burst don’t you think? 🙂 I set a limit with him and I mean to be clear about it. If he changes his tone I’m happy to continue the discussion with him.

  16. Sarah Owings

    Thought for the day: “If I’m okay with me, I don’t need to make you wrong.” We can engage in these dialogues about methodology without disrespect. We really can.

  17. Nigel

    Ohhhh extinction burst I like that one, very good use of t he terminology. 😉 you earned a smiley face. I really just dont understand tho why theres a plethora of tools and we only wanna use one tool for everything. Can I drive screws with a hammer? Sure I I can, is it practical does it look strange? Yes. Is it effective? Surely but it takes a long time to drive a screw with a hammer

    • Sarah Owings

      Hi Nigel, other than the sarcasm, this almost sounds like a legit point, and a reasonable question. Thanks for backing off on the insults. Do you really want me to answer you on this one? You don’t have to agree with me, but there are very strong, well-thought out reasons why we in the clicker training community work so hard to stick to the positive reinforcement quadrant as much as humanly possible and only go to those other tools as a last last last resort based on the Humane Hierarchy principles. I’d be happy to list references if you are indeed interested. This one you might get into because it isn’t all “lovey dove-y” http://www.associationofanimalbehaviorprofessionals.com/liebi50.pdf

  18. sezwrites

    I remembered to jackpot my dog today for passing his arch enemy without so much as a glare 😉

    Great post. I’m guilty of not always remembering to reward behaviours I like when offered outside of a training session. Major ones like the above I do but it’s the little things I neglect. I shall aim to do better.

    • Sarah Owings

      YAY for jackpots! Good for you! The real key is noticing which behaviors are already sustained by other things and so don’t need extra primary reinforcement (many are actually), and which behaviors are more expensive, and will deplete your trust account if you ask for them too often without pay. The expensive behaviors are the ones that should be consistently reinforced in daily life or they will go away. I also just really like Kathy Sdao’s simple See Mark and Reward. Just capture your dog doing it right all on his own, find a meaningful reinforcer (food or otherwise), and he will do it more often. Thanks for your comment!

  19. Nigel

    Ill just brush,that,off that comment you just made about how ill probably like something because its not all lovey dovey… Thats why I pick u people because everyone of you positive reinforcement goofballs thinks youre some animal saint and everyone else is either gonna join ya or become a sadistic demonicly possesed animal abuser. My dog gets plenty of love at appropriate times on my terms that way my dog isnt initiating me for petting, play, going outside, etc. this is so I dont tell my dog (with interaction) one minute that hes the leader n the next min hes not t he leadee n its time to listen to me. Pack structure is important so we can always be sure were respecting the dog n being fair to it n not sending it confusing messages that we just try to later or abate with treats. Also so I dont dump out abnormal amounts of love to my dog increasing the intensity of seperation anxiety or altogether creating seperation anxiety. Theres not a single thing you can link,here thatd id even be interested in looking at and I know to you that automatically classif ire s me somewhere negative in your mind I just already know its not gonna be anything worth checking out.

    • Sarah Owings

      Okay, Nigel, this conversation doesn’t seem too beneficial or pleasant for either of us. No need to continue it further. Glad you enjoy your dogs and I have no doubt you love them. Go in peace.

      • Nigel

        Sure np. Sorry you felt it was unpeaceful. You dont make me too comfortable either. Atleast stop usin fancy feast. Lifes Abundance has great products all na tural holistic. Made by a world renowned vet Dr Jane Bicks. Shes super lovey dovey so I know youll definitely be interested plus every purchase you make a percentage of it is donated to animal shelters so be sure you dont neglect the animals in the shelters and buy things that are toxic to dogs like fancy feast as well as the other unhealthy choices you may have in your treat concoctions. Corn wheat and soy are the 3 main allergens its best to also avoid them as well. If you feed your dogs the equivalent to mcdonalds all the time then its gonna show in the performance, theyll be more irritable and impulsive more health problems you know this already though about mcdonalds

        • Sarah Owings

          Hey Nigel, totally agree with you on all points about diet actually, and often counsel clients not to “feed MacDonalds” all the time just as you say because most are feeding Beneful or Purina or junk like that every single day for years!! I’m totally interested in learning about alternatives such as Life’s Abundance because even though I buy top quality foods and do lots of cooking for my dogs, I’m sure I could do better. Fancy Feast is in that picture because I very *occasionally* use it as a special jackpot for very expensive behaviors or very tough situations, and it works really well because it is junk food. But I never recommend anyone feed it very often at all. My mom was a health nut when I was growing up, so those rare occasions when I got Oreo cookies really made an impression! Eating Oreos occasionally didn’t ruin my health, but eating them every day sure would have! But you’ll be happy to know that other colleagues of mine have also mentioned that other super high value foods might be a better choice than Fancy Feast, so I’m rethinking that one. I still believe in the power of powerful primary reinforcers, but you are absolutely right, we should be sure to pick the healthiest options possible for our dogs.

  20. Nigel

    Ya… We should wanna give our pet every best option possible. Pet junk food is a broad term it means anything from the allergens to the roadkill or euthanized animals (sometimes dogs) theres really no boundary the animals can be diseased, have cancer or whatever. I didnt mean junk food you find in the places humans buy their food. They are relugulated. The pet food industry really has a lacking for restrictions and food safety. I dont buy anything from pet stores. Maybe the occasional kong but thats really all. With ingredients,like meat digest and tricky ways of labeling , ingredient splitting, marketting ploys and so on; the pet stores have our pets best interest somehere around the bottom of their priorities

  21. cthebean

    thanks for educating us about food for our dogs. I cook for my dogs but do fortify their diet with
    some kibble. I read the ingredients and strive to give them the best stuff. its tricky out there for sure…..

  22. Nigel

    Quick rundown on ingredient labels: the first 4 ingredients are the most importantt. Anything after the fat source is so minimal compared to the weight of the other ingredients that it might as well not even be listed. Avoid the 3 main allergens corn, wheat, soy. Avoid by products and go with a specific animal name in the ingredients, for example you would wanna choose chicken fat over poultry fat. The animal is specified where as poultry is non specified so that really can be anything on the bird or anything remotely birdlike for thar matter. Avoid fats like beef tallow which is basically machine grease for factory equipment. if something is listed as a meal such as chicken meal then it means the chicken was weighed after cleaning and cooking as opposed to being weighed uncooked and uncleaned. Avoid marketting gimmicks like: large breed, breed specific, joint health. These are all marketting gimmicks the amount of supplement in a supplements added to commercial dogfood is so minimal it wouldnt even benefit a dog the size of a field mouse. Beware of ingredient splitting. Ingredient splitting is a little trick they use to disguise more of the junk into the ingredients giving it different names several times throughout the entire label. Stay away from meat digest, what that really means is euthanized animal or roadkill, euthanized animals are often times diseased and can of course be euthanized dogs. The pet food industry is a large confusing minimally regulated industry thats not really designed with our pets best interest at heart although they,make you think the exact opposite. Its not even possible for a company to get a food on store shelves unless it has enough chemicals in it to,preserve it for atleast 2 years. This is why you wont find lifes abundance in stores. Its made fresh and has only a one year shelf life.

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