Food Rewards, Good or Bad?

Dogs, I know this will come as a surprise to some, are not for legged humans. While the domesticated dog has adapted to living with us, they are still not human, they are dogs. They do not understand language and are more instinctual than we are. We all talk to our dogs, but not for the dog’s benefit, but for ours. We all do it and it makes us feel good to talk to them and they learn to accept it, but they have no clue what we are talking about. Even the few words that we teach them, (sit, down, come, etc.) are lost to them if we put them in a sentence. One of the first things to do when training a dog is to stop talking so much.

Everyone is impressed when they see a well-behaved dog. The dog follows all directions the first time. He is calm and walks on a leash without pulling. This dog is able to greet new people without getting excited and doesn’t jump. What most people don’t understand is the amount of work that goes into training that dog. Dogs are not born well-behaved. In fact, a well-behaved dog is the result of an owner who knows how to communicate what it is they expect.

Affective dog training requires repetition, knowledge, and timing.

Just like most of us dogs are motivated to do things by getting paid. There are three basic things that dogs find rewarding play, affection, and food that can be used to motivate them to do things that you want. For most dogs, food is by far the most effective motivator. Unfortunately, you can’t put your dog on an allowance and give them a big steak at the end of the week. A dog’s motivation comes from immediate gratification. If you don’t pay them NOW, they have no idea what it is for.
In an environment with few distractions, If the food is desired, and the dog is hungry I can teach almost any dog a new skill in minutes. I know what many who are reading this are going to say, if you use treats the dog will only perform the behavior if your pocket is full of their favorite treat. This is very true if you use treats incorrectly. This would be an example of how having a little bit of knowledge can get you in trouble. Knowing how to properly use food as a reward can change your life.

Food/treats are great for teaching your dog new tasks, tricks, or commands. It is also great at shaping or improving behavior. Once the dog knows the command it is time to back off on the rewards. What do I mean “knows the command”? This means the dog is proficient at the task and makes very few mistakes. You ask your dog to sit, and he sits immediately. You don’t need to say sit two, three, four times before he sits. Now it is time to move on to phase 2 of training.

Many dog owners do not ever move on to phase 2. They know how to reward good behavior and continue to mark and reward every time their dog does what is asked. The dog learns that every time they are asked to sit they will get a treat. What happens if you don’t have any treats in your pocket? The first few times she will sit and wonder where the heck is my treat. If this continues to happen, she will try to figure out if you have any treats. Your dog will quickly learn that if your pockets are empty, she isn’t going to sit. The trick is to transition from rewarding every behavior to random reinforcement and to correct noncompliance.

The Transition to random reinforcement starts by rewarding every other sit. Then move to random reinforcement. It must be truly random, not always every 3rd occurrence. In conjunction, it is time to add corrections for noncompliance or poor performance. Once the dog is proficient at a command, and he is slow to perform, you say sit and it takes 5 seconds for him to sit he needs to know that is not acceptable. Just like you tell your teenager to clean their room and 5 days later they haven’t done it, they are going to get some type of consequence. The consequence needs to be meaningful. You tell your teenager, OK no Lawrence Welk for you, the room will never get cleaned. (I know I’m old, if you don’t know who Lawrence Welk was look him up) But if you take away their phone that room will be spotless. The same is true for your dog, the correction needs to be meaningful and timely. If your dog doesn’t sit and then they don’t get their favorite chew toy before they go to bed, he will continue not to sit. Now, if he doesn’t sit and you say “no” and provide a little leash pressure, your dog will understand, oh I need to sit when he says sit.

So, now you can use food rewards to teach new behaviors and not need to bribe your dog into performing what you want.

Happy Training.

Dog Scams

Daily, we are bombarded with scams. Texts, phone calls, Facebook friend requests you never know what to trust. Is that person claiming to be a relative really need to be bailed out of jail? Do I really have a long lost Uncle leaving me $10,000 in his will?

With the increased interest in getting a puppy due to the pandemic, the number of puppy and dog scams has exploded. Fake puppy sellers are showing up on social media.

This story from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, appeared in the Marshall Ad-Visor.

Fake breeders are advertizing pure breed puppies for sale, they often will use photos from legitimate breeders.

The American Kennel Club has a page to help you determine the legitimacy of a breeder. 

When looking for a puppy or new dog there are a few things to consider:

  1. Do you know the person or organization that you are getting your puppy/dog from?
  2. Did you get a referral from someone you know and trust?
  3. Did you find the breeder on the AKC website or the Breed Clubs website? (every official breed will have a breed club that you can find on the AKC site). This is the link for the Golden Retriever Club of America website. (As an example)
  4. Did you get to visit the puppy/dog before purchase?
  5. Could you do a Facetime or Zoom call with the seller and see the puppy/dog before purchase?

If you answered NO to all 5 questions it is a very good chance that this is a scam. There are lots of dogs available from legitimate sources, don't fall for a pretty face on a photo or video!

World Chocolate Day

July 7, 2023

Today, is World Chocolate Day. And I thought every day was chocolate day? But, remember chocolate is very bad for our dogs and should NEVER be given to them. It is easy to think it is ok for us to eat it must be ok for our dogs too. But that is not the case. From WebMD,

Most people know that chocolate is bad for dogs. The problem with chocolate is theobromine. It's in all kinds of chocolate, even white chocolate. The most dangerous types are dark chocolate and unsweetened baking chocolate. Chocolate can cause a dog to vomit and have diarrhea. It can also cause heart problems, tremors, seizures, and death. Chocolate is not the only human food that should never be given to your dog. This list to the right is from the Humane Society of the United States.


Unsafe Food for Dogs!

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Apple seeds
  • Apricot pits
  • Avocados
  • Cherry pits
  • Candy (particularly chocolate—which is toxic to dogs, cats, and ferrets—and any candy containing the toxic sweetener Xylitol)
  • Chives
  • Coffee (grounds, beans, and chocolate-covered espresso beans)
  • Garlic
  • Grapes
  • Gum (can cause blockages and sugar-free gums may contain the toxic sweetener Xylitol)
  • Hops (used in home beer brewing)
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Moldy foods
  • Mushroom plants
  • Mustard seeds
  • Onions, onion powder and onion flakes
  • Peach pits
  • Potato leaves and stems (green parts)
  • Raisins
  • Rhubarb leaves
  • Salt
  • Tea (because it contains caffeine)
  • Tomato leaves and stems (green parts)
  • Walnuts
  • Xylitol (artificial sweetener that is toxic to pets)
  • Yeast dough

Favorite Chocolate

Now if you are going to be safe and want to indulge in some chocolate for yourself, I would recommend Seattle Chocolate Company, available at The Green Scene of Marshall.

Fireworks Season

Independence Day is upon us. Time to celebrate the founding of our Nation. We all love the 4th of July, but our dogs do not. The tradition of fireworks and the 4th of July is pure hell for many of the 4-legged members of our family. While there is little that can be done once your dog is trembling under the bed and there are no 100% cures, there are some things to remember.

  1. Never correct your dog for being scared. They are doing nothing wrong and “punishing” will only make it worse.
    Do not reinforce the anxiety.
  2. Giving affection while your dog is in panic mode will only tell that this is the state of mind that you want them in. Remember dogs do not understand, “it’s OK”.
  3. Remain calm and don’t react to the fireworks, your dog looks to you for directions on how to react to things that are happening.
  4. When you start to hear the fireworks and your dog is not reacting too much, it is a good time to play his/her favorite game. A good game of fetch, hide-and-seek, or tug can distract your dog and even teach them that fireworks, or thunder for that matter, means time to play.
  5. As a last resort, and you know that your dog is so traumatized by the fireworks, talk to you Vet. As medication may help get your dog through the tough times.

Ticks Can Be Deadly

Barbet Best of Bread
Sick Lyme Disease

Not a happy post, but one that needs to be shared.

Growing up in Michigan, and spending a lot of time outdoors, I never saw a tick and was never worried about them. In recent years tick populations in Michigan have exploded and now they are everywhere. Ticks have become a major problem in Southern Michigan. As our winters become warmer the prevalence of ticks increases. One Spring day after a hike near Marshall I removed close to 50 ticks off of our dog at the time, Barkley. While during Spring and Summer, they are their most abundant, in Michigan, ticks are a threat all year long. Even in January, if the temperature rises above 40 degrees, ticks become active.

Henri was only 18 months old when he passed away in January as a result of exposure to Lyme Disease. The Photo on the left was only a month before he died. He was full of life and ready to accomplish amazing things. The photo on the right is the day before he died at the MSU vet clinic. You can see his IV port on his leg. This was all the energy he had left. As a result of the Lyme Disease, his immune system was attacking his system and most of his organs were affected.  Words alone cannot express how devastated and guilty I feel at the loss of our sweet boy. I was responsible for his safety and somehow, I let him down.

Please click on the link, read the article, and watch the video about ticks and Lyme Disease.

Please share this story so others do not need to go through what we did.


Link to Article

Lyme Disease (

How to Remove a Tick