Watson is very food motivated. He just about jumps out of his coat at the sound of his food landing in his bowl. When we cook, his nose sniffs the air trying to figure out the perfect spot to snatch a tidbit. In short, he is absolutely in love with food, which can be both good and bad. Bad things first: he can get pretty aggressive (and sneaky) around food. His own, ours, and his other animal friends’. He doesn’t bite or snarl, but he lunges and climbs and tries with all his might to devour any food in the area.
Now on to the good: we can (so far successfully) use food as a reward while we train him. Training a puppy isn’t easy though. He’s not going to get our commands on the first try, but for the training to stick, we still need to reward him for trying.
Baby Puppy steps. Trying to reward a behavior (sitting, laying down, playing dead, etc.) with biscuits or pieces of biscuits every single time can get to be too much for Watson’s belly (and our wallets.) So we use Cheerios. They’re small, bland, and it’s hard to run out of them.
We started using the Cheerios method with potty training Watson. Every time we took him outside we brought a handful of Cheerios with us. Once he went the bathroom, we flooded him with praise (“You go, dog!” “Woot! Woot!”) and just one Cheerio. Keeping this routine of reward consistent got Wats thinking to himself, “Hey, if I go the bathroom I get a Cheerio. Yes!” This reinforcement with a treat teaches him that this is where he should do his business. Outside.
Once he got the hang of going the bathroom outside, we made sure he knew how to tell us when he needed to go. If he went to the door or barked, he got a Cheerio and then another one when he went the bathroom outside. But be careful, puppies are as smart as they are cute. If they catch on to getting rewarded at the door, they’ll go to the door just hoping to get a treat even if they don’t have any “business” to attend to. Watson got us on this a couple of times. That’s why we were sure to fade out the Cheerio, only giving it to him every other time until he didn’t expect it anymore.
The Cheerio method also worked for teaching him how to sit and shake (in only two nights of practice!). Once he did the behavior we were trying to teach him, he was quickly rewarded with the tasty cereal snack. “Lay down” and “speak” are different stories. He doesn’t really get the concept of ‘down.’ Anytime I point to the ground, he just sits there and looks at my finger and back at me, wondering why in the world I’m pointing out that spot on the carpet.
To help us out with these behaviors that seems to be difficult for our little fella, we’re going to have to be ready and waiting with pockets full of Cheerios until we catch him in the acts. What I mean by this is that once he randomly lies down on his own, we’ll ruffle his ears, say “down,” and feed him a Cheerio. This will start to teach Watson that this behavior is good and worthy of a treat. And because he’s so motivated by treats, hopefully this will stick fairly quickly.
Along with all these Cheerios we’re slingin’ Watson’s way, we supplement with
larger puppy-sized Milk-Bone biscuits. Switching his treats up keeps him interested in continuing to perform these behaviors, and, judging by the way he drools when he see these little bone-shaped treats, they taste way better than the cholesterol-lowering “o”‘s.