Tag Archive for: positive reinforcement

A cookie sheet with rows of small cookies.

Cheap and Easy Training Treats for your Dog

A cookie sheet with rows of small cookies.

Peanut Butter cookie treats, fresh from the oven!

In our Puppy Kindergarten and Basic Manners 1 classes, students often ask, “How am I going to afford all these treats?”

Easy! You’re not going to buy them at the pet store.

Easiest Dog Treats

Pre-cooked, frozen chicken breast: Toss it in the fridge to thaw the day before class. Cut into small pieces.

Plain rotisserie chicken breast: White meat only for dogs. Eat the rest yourself.

Low-fat string cheese: Cut it up before class or break pieces off with your fingers.

Baby food: Lickable meat!! Read the labels. Avoid onion powder and garlic powder.

Deli meat: Yes, it has fillers, but some brands are better than others, so check the labels. Deli meat is also handy for infusing a lower-value treat (kibble, cheerios) with a bit more value. One piece of deli meat rolling around in your treat pouch will make everything else smell more delicious to your pup!

Peanut butter: A super awesome treat! Read the label and avoid brands with xylitol (deadly for dogs). Use peanut butter sparingly as it is a high fat food.

Easy Dog Treats

Meat: Boil chicken breasts or make your own jerky if you have a dehydrator.

Lickable treats:  In a blender or food processor, make a paste of tasty ingredients. Put the paste into a PetToob/GoToob, Coughlin tube, or a small tupperware or baby food jar.


  • pumpkin/banana/peanut butter
  • strawberry/peanut butter (PBJ!)
  • tuna in water (drained), mashed potatoes
  • leftovers (meat/potatoes/vegetables)

A good consistency for use in tubes is somewhere between baby food and toothpaste. Thin with water or broth. Thicken with plain rolled oats.

Tuna fudge: Sounds gross but dogs go CRAZY for it.


4 cans of tuna in water (do not drain)
4 eggs
3 cups flour
(Tip: Tapioca flour is AWESOME for non-crumbly treats. You can find it in the gluten-free section of the store.)


Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (or grease it).

Mix together eggs and tuna.

Once eggs are mixed in, gradually mix in the flour.

Spread mixture on the cookie sheet.

Bake for 40 minutes.

Let cool completely, then use a knife or pizza cutter to slice into squares.

Portion out the tuna fudge into snack-size zip baggies and store in the freezer.

Bake cookies:  This sounds difficult, but it really is easy and tons of fun. Fill in the _____ with some sort of protein: 90/10 ground beef (drained), chicken or turkey breast, a pouch of salmon or tuna (drained), peanut butter, grated cheese.

DIY                 DOG COOKIES

1/2 can of chickpeas, drained
1/2 cup of rolled oats
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 egg
1 cup of ______


Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a food processor, whiz the rolled oats until they are flour.

Add the _____. Whiz.

Add everything else. Whiz.

Check the consistency. It should be like thick mashed potatoes.

If you need to adjust, add water/broth to thin or more oats to thicken.

Using a spoon, drop rounded blobs on your cookie sheet. Don’t worry about spacing them out. They don’t expand like human cookies do.

Bake at 350F for 20-30 minutes. They are done when the bottom of the cookies are starting to brown.

Cool before letting your dog taste test!

Store in an airtight container in the fridge. They also freeze well.

Your dog will enjoy these tasty treats and your wallet will enjoy the extra cash you’ve saved!

Foster Dog Alliance: Rex the Fearful Dog’s Journey, part 1


Written by E. Foley

Meet Rex.

He is a 7-year-old Cocker Spaniel mix and a foster dog with Oldies But Goodies Cocker Spaniel Rescue. Rex and 15 of his dog friends were living on a farm in West Virginia and after a family tragedy, the rescue was called to help rehome the dogs.

Many of these dogs are people-fearful. If I had to guess, I’d say they were raised by the other dogs on the property and didn’t have the socialization with people that puppies need to be well-adjusted adult dogs.

My OBG Cocker Rescue alum, Titania, also has issues with fear around new people, so I volunteered to foster Rex and help him in his rehabilitation in the hopes that we can place him in a forever home.

Rex’s initial behaviors:

  • 100% avoiding people
  • Will freeze if anyone touches him
  • Tries to make himself as small as possible
  • Loses control of his bowels when touched or picked up

The only real “bonus” to Rex’s initial behaviors was that he was not a fear-biter. However, I knew to always treat him as if he *could* bite, because any dog can bite when pushed beyond their tolerance level.

Rex’s progress is thanks to several people beyond our immediate family.

Here’s a timeline of Rex’s progress:

3/13 - We bring home Rex and set him up a habitat with a covered crate.

3/13 – We bring home Rex and set him up a habitat with a covered crate. We open up the door behind him so he can potty on pee pads in our bathroom since he’s too afraid to go outside. Eventually we opened up the bathroom so he could go into our bedroom, which resulted in Rex’s next choice…

3/15 - Rex hides in the bedroom closet and will not come out. Or eat.

3/15 – Rex hides in the bedroom closet and will not come out. Or eat.

I had to move Rex from the closet because he wasn’t going to make any progress at all if he hid 24/7. For the next few days, he lives in his habitat. He breaks out of the habitat at night and paces around the house. We let him do it, even though it involves him relieving himself on the floors, because it’s giving him the opportunity to explore without the fear of running into any people.

3/20 - Rex pops his head into the living room when we're in it, and thinks about staying there, but then will go back around the corner into the kitchen.

3/20 – Rex pops his head into the living room when we’re in it, and thinks about staying there, but then will go back around the corner into the kitchen.

At this point for Rex, the “reward” for his behavior is that we do not look at him or engage with him in any way. Since he’s only eating when nobody is watching, it wouldn’t work for us to toss treats to him at this point. We want him to realize that he can come into the living room and nothing bad will happen. In fact, NOTHING will happen!

Another new behavior - he is opening his mouth! Up until now, he's been tight-lipped. Now he's relaxing his jaw a bit and opening his mouth to pant a little.

Another new behavior – he is opening his mouth! Up until now, he’s been tight-lipped. Now he’s relaxing his jaw a bit and opening his mouth to pant a little.

3/21 – Rex is curious. He will come out and peek at people and then run back to his safe place. We just ignore him and let him test the waters. I was making dog meatballs in the evening and he was curious about all the delicious smells in the kitchen. I tossed a piece 10 ft away from me and he crept up and ate it!

3/27 – This past week, there are days when he’s very curious and will follow my dog and me around the house or pop his head into the living room to watch us watching TV. But there are also days when he just wants to curl up in his crate and not engage with us. So we’ve been letting him set the pace as much as possible.

This morning, I made a trail of rotisserie chicken pieces from his crate to the kitchen and then half-hid myself around a corner. Watched him come out and eat one piece, then the next, then the next. He peeked up and saw me and was a little spooked, but then came back for the biggest piece that was a few feet away.

4/4 – Rex eats his entire breakfast with me in the room!

(Before, he would wait until everyone left, no matter how hungry he was.)

(Before, he would wait until everyone left, no matter how hungry he was.)

4/4 – Rex licks my hand! There was kielbasa in it. He wasn’t quite brave enough to eat the kielbasa from my hand, tho.

4/5 – Rex eats treats in the living room. (Video below!)

4/6 – Rex ate two pieces of kielbasa from my hand. Rex eats his dinner in the living room.

4/8 – Rex eats treats from right next to my leg! (Video below!)

4/11 – Rex won’t eat from my hand unless it’s a super high-value item, but allows me to touch him while he eats. We worked up to this. At first I left the kibble in front of him and pet and then took my hand out. Then I slowly worked toward leaving my hand closer. And closer. And then left my fingertips touching him. Finally he was able to eat with me touching! (Video below.)

Progress starts to roll around quicker now that Rex is reliably seeing people as a source of food, not fear.

4/12 - Rex checks out the people from the edge of the living room.

4/12 – Rex checks out the people from the edge of the living room.

4/13 – I rearranged some furniture in the back room and set Rex back a little bit. He’s more skittish, but still trying to follow me around the house.

4/15 - 90% of the food Rex ate today came directly from my hand. Rex is also choosing to sit closer to me. (Picture is without zoom! Photobomb by my dog, Titania.)

4/15 – 90% of the food Rex ate today came directly from my hand. Rex is also choosing to sit closer to me. (Picture is without zoom! Photobomb by my dog, Titania.)

4/15 – I was in bed, about to fall asleep, when I heard a chewing sound. My first thought was that my dog had stolen the bully stick from Rex’s crate, which I have had in there since Day 1. But I checked and my dog was sound asleep at my feet. So I flipped on the lights and snapped a picture.

Dogs will not engage in chewing behavior unless they're feeling comfortable enough in their surroundings. HUGE STEP for Rex!

Dogs will not engage in chewing behavior unless they’re feeling comfortable enough in their surroundings. HUGE STEP for Rex!

4/16 – Rex starts a little clicker training. He’s not brave enough to target my hand yet, so I clicked and treated for eye contact. I used my quiet clicker and after a few times, I could see his ears perk up every time he heard the click. Click means treat!

4/18 – Rex did something this morning that approximated begging! The pups were in the kitchen, so I thought I’d see if I could get Rex to eat somewhere new. So I took a chicken cookie out of the fridge and broke it into pieces and gave one to Rex and one to Titania. Rex ate it! And then he stood there and made eye contact for a long moment. So I gave him more. More eye contact. And despite my opening the fridge to get more cookies and closing it again, he stayed in the kitchen and totally kept eating.

4/20 – Rex chose to sit at the edge of the living room to watch us watching TV.

4/23 – Rex chose to sit in the living room with my boyfriend when I was not around.

4/24 – Rex is choosing to be in the living room with the people more often than not.

4/27 - Rex takes his bully stick from the crate in the bedroom and brings it into the living room so he can chew it on the floor by the couch (where I am watching TV).

4/27 – Rex takes his bully stick from the crate in the bedroom and brings it into the living room so he can chew it on the floor by the couch (where I am watching TV).

5/1 – An amazing sight: REX’S TAIL! This morning when I woke up, he was standing at the bedroom door with my dog and his tail was up and even wagging a little bit. AMAZING. I wish I had a picture, but it was too dark to snap one.

5/2 - Rex eats treats out of my boyfriend's hand.

5/2 – Rex eats treats out of my boyfriend’s hand.

Rex is doing extremely well, but he has a long way to go before he is anywhere near being a “normal” dog. Working with a fearful dog is all about celebrating the baby steps and making sure that the dog feels safe at all times. Sure, there will be times when they’ll be at the edge of their comfort zone, but allowing the dog a safe place to retreat and regroup is key to the rehabilitation process.

Right now, Rex is asleep on the living room floor next to me. He is on his side and 100% zonked out, breathing very slowly and deeply. This is a totally huge deal and I can’t help grinning from ear to ear watching him sleep. He feels safe enough to sleep deeply while I am not a foot away. He’s one special boy and he’s getting better and better every day!

Do You Have a Fearful Dog?

We have two classes suitable for the fearful dog. Our Fearful Dog Class is currently full for June, but you can join the waitlist to be notified when we offer the next session. We also have a Confidence Building Class for dogs that are just a little shy. We’ll be announcing new dates for this class soon, so join the waitlist to be emailed as soon as we set a date!

On Sunday, June 29, from 1:00 – 3:30 pm, we will host a free workshop for parents of fearful dogs.

We will discuss strategies for overcoming your dog’s fear of people, inside and outside of the home. Fear of strangers, children, veterinarians, groomers, and family members will all be covered. Learn to identify when your dog is moving into a fearful state; help your dog in that moment; and work toward alleviating your dog’s fears more permanently.

Speaker: Jeni Grant, CPDT-KA (www.trainyourbestfriend.com and www.helpmyfearfuldog.com)

NOTE: This workshop is on a Sunday and 1/2 hour earlier than our usual time.

Please click to register in advance so we have enough handouts for everyone. Thanks!

A “Tail” of Tolerance: How Much Can Your Dog Handle?

Written by E. Foley

We often speak about what human behaviors a dog “tolerates.” In the photo above, the dog is tolerating being hugged by the young child. How can we tell?

  • Eyes: Wide, can see the whites.
  • Ears: Back.
  • Mouth: Closed.
  • Body:  Stiff, leaning away from child.

We say the dog is “tolerating” being hugged because rather than flight (running away) or fight (biting), the dog is waiting for the hug to be over. He’s grinning and bearing it… without the grinning.

Humans and Tolerance

Humans are no stranger to this type of behavior. You tolerate the people in your life every day.

  • Your nit-picky boss who micromanages you
  • Your children who seem to create chaos wherever they go
  • Your mother-in-law who is always critical
  • Your spouse who has developed some weird quirks over the years

How Much Can You Handle?

The amount of your tolerance is related to the amount of love you have for the person (or in the case of your boss, the value of staying in that person’s good graces).

Here’s an example of tolerance in action!

Photo by Fuschia Foot

Photo by Fuschia Foot

You’re out shopping for some new pants. You grab a few pairs and head to the dressing rooms to try them on. You come out of your booth and walk to the big mirror to check out the fit when a complete stranger says, “Wow, your butt looks terrible in those.

How do you react?

Surprise. (Whoa. I wasn’t expecting feedback.)

Anger. (Who are you to judge my butt? Back off and let me judge myself.)

Confusion. (Why are you talking to me, stranger?)

Sadness. (Even strangers notice how wide my butt is. I need to go back to the gym.)

All of the above?

Now replay the scene, except in place of the complete stranger, insert your closest friend. How does your reaction change?

Because you’ve built a relationship with your friend, you can likely laugh it off. You have probably given your friend similar feedback when they were trying on clothes. And maybe, once you see your butt in the mirror, you can agree: your butt does look terrible in those pants.

If it’s a complete stranger, I’ll bet you were angry or upset, even if you didn’t act on those emotions.

Who is Your Dog’s BFF?

Your dog has a good relationship with you. You made training fun! You feed your dog, take him out, play with him, and give him attention. This has all cemented your best friend forever (BFF) status with your dog. If you have children and they have helped with training, prepared your dog’s dinner, or thrown a ball to play fetch, they are also on your dog’s BFF list.

Because of that status, your dog will tolerate the strange things you do. He might tolerate being hugged and kissed. He might tolerate being pet on the head.  He might tolerate being picked up.

He doesn’t like it, but he tolerates it because he loves you and trusts you.

It is important to remember that your dog may not tolerate those same activities from people who are not on his BFF list. While your toddler may have hugging privileges, your neighbor’s toddler does not. While you can pick up your small dog, a new groomer may be bitten. Watch your dog’s body language and remember that it is in everyone’s best interest to treat all dogs with respect.

…But What If?

Let’s go back to that shopping trip with your best friend. Imagine now that you’re shopping for black pants for a loved one’s funeral, and on top of that, you have a sinus headache. Oh, and the reason you’re shopping for black pants is because you’ve gained weight and no longer fit into the pair in your closet.

When your friend says, “Wow, your butt looks terrible in those pants,” does your reaction change?

Even thought you love your friend, your current state of mind puts you at a disadvantage. You’re not as tolerant because you’ve already used your emotional “spoons” on other things that day. You might snap at your friend. You might burst into tears. You might hold in your feelings at that moment and explode when you’re at home with your spouse. Whatever happens, it’s not going to be pretty!

My rescue dog, Titania, has significantly fewer spoons (i.e., less tolerance) when she’s not feeling well. Because she is a fearful dog, she already has the potential to bite strangers who approach her. We’ve worked on counter-conditioning since we adopted her and she has made great strides. Strangers can walk by us and she’ll give them an eye, but not react. And if a stranger approaches with a cookie, she’s willing to give them a shot at earning her friendship.

But if she’s not feeling well, that changes.

A sick Titania reverts back to the fear-reactive behaviors from when we first adopted her. She’s hypervigilant and will bark and lunge. Because I know she’s less tolerant when sick, we limit our social activities and play inside or in our back yard rather than going out.

Think About Your Dog

What situations deplete your dog’s “spoons” and thus, his ability to tolerate the strange things that humans do?

How can you adjust your daily routine to accommodate your dog if he’s having a bad day?

What are your dog’s signs of discomfort? Do your family members know how to spot them?

Old School vs. New School: How Children and Dogs Learn

Written by E. Foley

Have you ever needed to explain the value of positive training to someone who is new to being a dog person? Or to someone who grew up with dogs in the era when choke chains and leash pops were the training methods that everyone used?

I’ve got a way to explain it for you. None of us have been dogs, but all of us have been children, so before I talk about positive dog training, I want to tell you about Catholic school.

The bulk of my early education was in Catholic school.

With nuns.

In a convent.

It was by turns the best and worst of educational experiences. On the positive side, I learned a lot. When I entered public high school as a freshman, I was taking mostly honors sophomore classes.

But that education came with a price.  What price? The majority of the stories I remember about Catholic school are the ones where the nuns were terrible to us.

No Dogs Go to Heaven

Second grade. A little girl in our class was crying and Sister asked her what was wrong.

“My dog died yesterday,” she said between sniffles. “Sister… is my doggy in heaven?”

Sister bristled and spat out, “No. Animals don’t have souls.” She immediately resumed teaching while my classmate openly wept at her desk.

Don’t Think Outside the Box

The nun who taught art had very specific ideas of how things should and should not be done. One day, she passed out a coloring sheet: a picture of a bird perched in a tree.

“The bird should be colored blue,” she instructed. “And you should color his head side to side and his breast up and down.”

Then she walked around the room while we colored. If you were coloring “wrong,” she would slam her hand down on your coloring sheet, pull it from your desk, and slap down a new one.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

I vividly remember learning multiplication. We were taught the basics and then given a large packet of multiplication problems. When you completed the packet, you brought it to Sister’s desk, where she took a large red marker and put Xs by the ones you got wrong. Then she  handed the packet back to you so you could go back to your desk and try again.

There was no acknowledgment of what you did right.

There were no tips to help you move in the right direction.

Just wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Go back and fix it.

Why I Peed My Pants

The second grade teacher was the meanest of them all. She seemed to  enjoy yelling at children, and being a very shy girl and very conflict-avoidant, I tried my best to fly under her radar.

So one day when she had already yelled at one student for asking to use the bathroom at a non-bathroom-break time, I had a decision to make.

I really, really, really had to pee, but I knew Sister would yell at me in front of the class if I asked.

I made a calculated decision. The trouble I would get in (and social cost) of wetting my pants was preferable to getting yelled at. There was no way I could hold it until break time, so I wet myself.

…and What Did I Learn?

In my school, I learned because I was afraid to fail, not because I was motivated to learn.

And I learned these lessons:

  • Don’t ask questions.
  • Adults are mean, so it’s best to avoid interacting with them.
  • Don’t try anything outside the box.
  • It’s not right unless it’s perfect.

This is Your Child on Positive “Training”

Education has come a long way since the days when your teacher could slap your hand with a ruler (or worse, bend you over and paddle you!). Parenting has made equal strides as we’ve moved out of the age when spanking was an acceptable method of discipline for unruly children.

Child psychologists will tell you that children respond far better to positive reinforcement. If you can “catch” your child being good and praise them for the behavior, they are more likely to repeat the behavior. If you praise your child for having a clean room, they are more likely to keep it clean. If you praise your child for sharing their toys, they are more likely to continue to play nicely with others.

An equally acceptable method is called negative punishment.  But wait! It’s not what it sounds like. In operant conditioning, the “negative” of negative punishment means you remove something that the child enjoys. For example, if siblings are fighting over what to watch on TV, you turn off the TV. In the future, when faced with a similar situation, the children will (hopefully) work out their differences so they can retain their TV-watching time.

This is Your Dog on Positive Training

At Your Dog’s Friend, we use positive training methods. In positive training, we use the clicker to “mark” good behaviors. It’s like snapping a photograph!

“Right there! That’s what I like!!”

The click is followed immediately by a tasty treat. The dog will begin to think, “What can I try that will earn me a click and a treat?” This is the most exciting part of clicker training and something we refer to as “shaping.”

You see, positive training doesn’t rely on perfection. You can reward the baby steps toward the finished behavior. This allows you to teach behaviors that are impossible to train by force methods. For example, check out this amazing video where a dog is taught to stick his nose in water and blow bubbles!

…What Does Your Dog Learn?

Through positive training, your dog learns:

  • If I do well, I get treats and praise! (And later, I’m cool with just a “Good boy!”)
  • If I make a mistake, nothing happens. (Or at worst, my Mom or Dad redirects me to a better choice.)
  • I can try new things and see what Mom or Dad likes.
  • Humans are a source of happy times! I like finding ways to please them.

We have students who come to us as their first experience with positive training after having tried other methods. They are amazed at how their dog opens up, gains confidence, and absolutely LOVES coming to class. My own dog, Titania, will actually start to jump up and down and whine excitedly when we turn the car to get on Parklawn. And her excitement goes through the roof when we pull into the YDF parking lot. School is FUN!

Join us at Your Dog’s Friend

Every class at Your Dog’s Friend is taught with positive methods, so whether you’re looking to teach your puppy to stop nipping, your newly-adopted dog to stop bolting out the door, or your old dog some new tricks, we’re here to help make the bond between you and your dog stronger.

Check out our available classes or come to one of our free weekend workshops.