2×2 Weave Pole Training with a Food Only Motivated Dog

Now that there are so many of you excelling with the 2×2 process I thought I would answer a few questions that you have sent in about training dogs that are not toy motivated. First of all yes, this method works well with all dogs, regardless of what motivates them! As I outlined in my 2×2 Weave Pole Training DVD, the key to success (which really is the key to success with all dog training) is the transfer of value. You must start with a motivator for which your dog has an intensive drive and, by applying the laws of how dogs learn, you will transfer the value of that reward into the weave pole entry.  If problems arise while using this method, it is more than likely due to the technique being altered from what is outlined in the DVD.

Now I would like to address the topic of value. Ideally you are starting with high value food and moving to a high value toy when you train. However I recognize that not all dogs have the same high value for toys that they do for food. My personal advise is to work at this, do not allow food to overtake the toy drive. I have written some suggestions below that should help you get started. We get tug-drive with the all of dogs at our school, so it IS possible regardless of what breed of dog you own. Having said that, I realize some of you have what you have right now and my goal here isn’t to source out the reason why your dog isn’t tugging, but to suggest solutions to your current situation so you can still train brilliant weave poles.

I have had people write in to say they want to use a Manners Minder or Treat and Train for their 2×2 weave pole training. I would caution you against doing this.  It is not that I do not like the product, quite the opposite, we have two of them at the school and do find them very useful for various applications. My caveat goes back to what I said to start this blog. The 2×2 works incredibly well and fast if you apply good dog training fundamentals.  You can do this with a Manners Minder BUT it will A) will take you longer as you will have to fade out the massive lure of the MM and B) will require a greater knowledge of dog training as  you have a high potential for problems to crop up that you may not notice.  The problems will arise because the dog is always focused on the value.

The big advantage of the MM is that you will have a well established reward line that does not depend upon your ability to throw. However, there is a good chance that you will not get the “transfer of value” that you would if you were throwing the reward as the MM is just a big ole lure isn’t it? It is similar to putting a cookie on a target plate at the end of a contact obstacle. The dog rarely develops the drive for end position, only for the plate. Once the plate goes, often times the understanding of end position goes with it, at the very least it is weakened by the removal.  I recognize this isn’t exactly the same as a MM as you can remotely control the distribution of the treat, but it is similar enough to cause issues. The dog’s attention will be focused on the “value” the MM rather than his job of finding his entry.

The other issue I have with the MM is that there will be a conditioned reinforcer built in. I  stated on the DVD the problems that may develop if you use a clicker during the training of the 2×2. Both the marker tone when you hit the remote and the delayed sound of the drum rotating to spit out a cookie become conditioned reinforcers to your dog and you may unwittingly be rewarding things you don’t intend to when using one.

Is it possible to use the MM and have great success with the 2×2? Yes of course it is, but I think there is an equal chance for disaster. Some of you may try and have great success. Others may end up with a poor behaviour in the poles and a lack of understanding of entries. My warning is if this is you, please do not blame the 2×2 method as it is not the method’s fault but rather your own alteration to the process that caused your issue.

So for those of you that want to use food only in your 2×2 training I am going to lay out  a couple of suggestions. First of all please do not just throw chunks of food. Yes, I suggest using food for the first 2 or 3 sessions on the DVD, but then I transferred to a toy. If you are not moving on to a toy,  move on to a toy you can stuff with food. There are a few reasons I am not a fan of just throwing cookies throughout all of the stages of your 2×2 training. Number one, it will be difficult for your dog to see the treat so he will likely slow down to make sure he can track it. With this will often come sniffing. Watch your dog, is that how you want him weaving when he has completed his training? Of course not. Your dog should really be driving hard to the poles within the first few sessions of 2×2 training.  Secondly, you can not throw a piece of food very far, especially if you are training a mini dog, which so often are the dogs that have been trained with food alone. With little guys we have to use little bitty piece of food, that will be difficult to see and limited in how far you can throw. All of this means you will once again be staying close to the poles, losing that great independence we want from the 2×2 trained dog. In addition, you will not be able to throw a small morsel of food with any degree of accuracy, so your reward line will not be as well defined. Rather than just pitching chunks of food, I strongly encourage you all to get yourself toy that you can stuff with food. When using one please do not be one of those people that throw the toy, run out pick it up yourself and give your dog a treat from your pocket. OUCH! Where is the value there? The goal when using these toys is to get a transfer of value from the food to the toy. Do not allow yourself to be shaped by your dog. Picture yourself in the middle of one of those Gary Lawson’s Far Side Cartoons. Your dogs are hanging out in the yard before training and one laughs and says to the other “yeah, just watch how I get her to not only throw the toy but bring it back for me before I get my treat! How much fun is that?”  So if you are currently stuck in your own animated toy-retrieval hell, get out! One of the best food-toys on the market to start a dog that is truly unmotivated by toys is the “Tug it”

tug-it-starter-cropped-picturefinal4 toy.  I am a big fan of this food transition toy.  The Tug-It is an awesome way to move away from exclusively using food, to incorporating a toy in your training. Even if you never make the transition, you can just use Tug-it stuffed with food for all of your regular training. The toy is very durable with large meshing that food can squish out of into the dog’s mouth. The starter version (pictured here) has a wider mesh allowing for more food to escape from the toy with each bite your dog takes. You can transition down to the smaller holed mesh in the process of creating a dog that will work for both food and toys. If you are using the Tug-it for the first time PLEASE DON’T TRY TO USE IT IN YOUR WEAVE POLE TRAINING! Take a week to build the value for toy. Your goal is to get the transfer of value from the food to the toy prior to using it in any  training.  Once you have that, you can easily transfer the value of the toy into your work (such as weave poles). Start with really gooey food like liverwurst or something similar that the dog will immediately drive towards, and will get reinforcement from, the moment he bites into it. One of my students uses raw ‘guts’ (liver, kidney etc)–it is really gross, but I must admit, the dogs’ go crazy for it (note: if using raw organ meat in your training be certain to have disinfecting wet wipes with you and don’t train indoors on surfaces that can’t be disinfected afterwards).  To start, attach the Tug-It to your leash and drag it around on the floor until your dog pounces on it to hold it still. Don’t do too much ‘teasing’ with the toy, allow the dog to learn how reinforcing it can be to chop down on the new toy. Allow the game to go on only for a minute or so. Put the toy away and try a few hours later. Stop with the dog wanting more. Do not make the mistake of having your session go so long that you end up stopping after the dog’s interest starts to wain. Be disciplined about this, less really is more when teaching drive for a toy.  The manufacturer of the Tug-It has a great video clip to show you how to easily make the transition from the Tug-It to tugging on a regular tug-toy (for those of viewing this at work the link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dD8p8-XkdLg)  [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dD8p8-XkdLg] Once the dog is showing drive for the Tug-it, you can move to stuffing it with a less messy treat  like more traditional dog treats or cheese or meat.  If you want to create toy drive the key is to transition. Do not leave the dog obsessing about the food at the early stage or you will be stuck using those gross, gooey treats forever! Trust me, if you don’t shape your dog your dog will shape you!  If you really don’t care about creating toy drive (seems a bit strange to me) then can just use your Tug-It for your 2×2 training with the food in it, no problem with that at all. You may need to weight it down though, with something such as a small hard rubber toy, in order to get the Tug-it to throw a long distance with good accuracy. Now here is the really good news, I am so crazy about the “Tug It” I have arranged to make it very easy for all of my blog readers to own one (or a set) and get a discount at the same time!  You can click here to go to the creator’s website and order the product, once you have put in your address etc there is a spot where you can put in a “DISCOUNT CODE”  Your promotional code will be the word TUGSY put it in and receive 10% off the purchase price. So do it now, spend a week building high value for the Tug-it, then get to you weave pole training. Don’t forget to report back on how your 2×2 training with your Tug-It has progressed.

Today I am grateful for a warm place to train on a very cold day in Canada.

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