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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Looking for advice on training Finn, our food obsessed Cavalier. He's 18 months old, and has been this way since we brought him home at 9 weeks. Basically, whenever we have a training session (clicker and bait bag come out) he completely loses his mind. He becomes so frantic over the anticipated treats, that he can't focus at all on what I'm actually asking of him. He has (somehow...lol) learned a few commands (sit, down, leave it, come, hide, down-stay, wait) and he's really good at things he knows. Trying to teach him new things, however...that's a different story. If he doesn't know exactly what I'm asking, he'll blast through everything he does know at 100mph while whining and groaning in frustration/excitement for the treat that might be coming. Also, the entire time we're training he's fixated on my treat hand (even if I'm not holding any) and constantly mugging me for treats...all his self-control goes out the window. I can lure him into new behaviors, but since he's just following the food, I don't think he's even paying attention to anything else that's going on. If I wait and try to capture the behavior, he just lays down (his default) and whines/wiggles in frustration. He's normally a super sweet, confident and outgoing dog...but he seems to not want to try anything new for his beloved treats, even with lots of encouragement. His recall is phenomenal, so I guess that's a plus 馃槀

We have worked through a good chunk of the relaxation protocol...he's really good at place/mat work. That seems to be the only thing he is (sort of) calm about. We've worked on eye contact games: watching me instead of the treats...but as soon as we're done with that game and try to work on something else, he goes back to fixating on my hand. The type of treats don't matter...he is the same way with plain dry kibble, cheese, freeze dried raw etc. He is slightly more focused when I use a toy as a reward, but I'm not super clear on the best way to do that. He LOVES tugging on his braided fleece toys (crack toys as we call them...lol) and will work for them, as well as his frisbee. He also loves to roughhouse with me...if I don't have treats/toys handy and I want to reward him, I'll playfully (and gently) push him around, run away, and rough him up a bit. He goes WILD for this and playfully growls and makes monkey noises. Maybe this is counterproductive to him focusing on training?

Should I forget using treats altogether since he's almost always over threshold and not actually learning anything? Is there any way to teach him to SLOW DOWN and THINK when we are training, or is this just who he is? Our trainer always calls him a Border Collie trapped in a Cavalier's body lol...thats NOT what I bargained for when I got a sweet little toy breed! He is super smart, and willing to work...I think I am just lacking the know-how to work with a dog like him. Our other 2 dogs are much slower and more methodical when training, and Finn is a whole new ballgame for me!

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I think you need to work your dog before you WORK your dog. Take him on a walk or a jog, tire him out, and THEN ask him to use his brain. He's way too exited to work. When my dog busts out of his crate for his training sessions, he's just WILD. I have to play tug with him for at least 30 mins before his brain turns on.
 

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Have you tried impulse control? When my pup was younger and over enthusiastic about treats, I used to start a training session with some treats in my open hand, while I feed them one by one calmly with the other hand. Obviously I had to teach him impulse control first, but it helped him to slow down so he could focus on me instead of my treat hand.

I was advised this vid
 

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I know there's online workshops and classes about how to use toy play effectively in training at Fenzi Dog Training Academy. I've heard nothing but good things about Shade Whitesel, who teaches a lot of that content. Afraid I haven't tried any out myself.

Have you tried videotaping your sessions and trying to see if you can catch anything when you watch them back? Sometimes it's hard to catch those tiny moments where your rate of reinforcement is off, or you miss a chance to reward calmer behavior, or something else is adding to the frustration and frantic energy. Make sure your mechanics are really clean, and that you're not inadvertently rewarding as you cue, or cuing and rewarding at the same time. Both of my dogs are excitable and will absolutely struggle to learn if I get sloppy with my timing and even reach for the treats before I've finished the cue, lure, marker sound, etc. This is also where an experienced outside perspective can be super helpful, if you have access to a skilled trainer or experienced dog person friend.

It's been a long time since I went through them all, but Sarah Stremming's CogDog Radio podcast talks about amped-up, overstimulated dogs in some episodes. It's agility focused, but there may be some valuable info in her case study episodes where she goes into detail about specific dogs, their struggles, and how she worked with the owners to address them. Wish I could remember which dogs specifically she talked about arousal with, but I'm pretty sure it comes up in some of the earliest episodes.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Finn is the type of dog that will never quit. He's pretty relaxed in the house thankfully, but we do long off leash walks frequently (he probably runs double the distance we walk!), play tug, fetch, run him up and down the stairs, flirt pole etc. and he seems to never tire. After a 4+ mile off leash run, he could easily do it all again. Even if he's had lots of activity and he's sound asleep, if I get out treats to train with him he is instantly in that food frenzy mode.

We have worked on impulse control, and he's really good at the exercises, but he doesn't always apply that to everyday life 馃槀 There is definitely more work we could do there. Thats a good idea to start each training session with an impulse control game...as a little reminder.

I'm 100% sure my mechanics and timing are not totally clean. Videoing is a great idea, and I do know a few trainers who would probably be willing to work with us. My issue with timing is purely that Finn moves SO fast during training that even if he offers the correct behavior, he's moved on to multiple other things before I can even blink, let alone mark it. I am also guilty of reaching for the treat as I'm marking the behavior. 馃槱 I do have a lot to clean up! Thanks for the advice!
 

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Have you tried crummy treats? Maybe pieces of green beans instead of something a dog should get enthused over? With one of my Rotties, I deliberately cooked and diced a small steak to use the bits for treats at her first Rally trial. At home I used cheese, and I figured upping the treat value in a distracting environment would be good. Whoops. Went back to cheese even at trials real fast. I should have known. When she was shown in conformation, her handler once took her through an entire class with "ghost bait" because she got so frantic over real bait of any kind.
 

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Yeah, it takes a lot of practice and concentration to clean up mechanics, but my dogs definitely learn better when I cleanly separate any cues or verbal markers from treat delivery. If they think I'm about to give them a treat because I'm moving my hand closer to the bag/bowl/pouch/whatever, their brains go out their ears and they don't notice what I'm saying or doing. Especially the younger, my older dog has adapted to my sloppiness somewhat as I've been fumbling through learning things his whole life, lol.
 

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Food drive like this is very desirable. However, anything the dog has a lot of drive for can be a problem if the drive over rides thinking.

In MOST cases training with food is training with the dog in lower drive than training with a toy. However, in your case that may not be the case. If cleaning up your food delivery does not help as noted about by Day Sleepers, try putting the food on a window sill AWAY from where you are training. As an example: you ask for sit, mark the sit and then go to the bag "over there" to get the treat. You can also try a lower value treat like dog kibble. You will probably have to start this on leash. The dog will know the treats are "over there" and your job is to show him he cannot have a single thing over there until he does what you want (PreMack principle if you want to get all fancy).

The next "job:" is to teach duration of stationary exercises (this will take some time to build to). Again, treats are "over there" and the dog must learn to maintain the stationary position (sit or down) as you walk over to the treats and walk back. Just working on this MAY improve the rest of your training. NEVER give a reward to the dog if he does it wrong. Ever. If his butt does not stay on the ground in a sit (or elbows on the ground in a down) until you mark the behavior, he gets nothing and is put back in the sit or down. Start this with very little distance. Add distance over time (and that time is how long it takes to get reliability). If you ask too much too soon the dog will not succeed and you want the dog to succeed.

The other thought is to change the reward to a toy IF the dog has a lower drive for the toy and remove treats altogether.

This advice is a bit backward from the usual. Food is usually used to teach a dog how to do a command and is used to create reliability. The toy is typically used to increase drive and speed. In your case you may have to use the toy to teach and the food to increase drive and speed.

Honestly? A lot of competition trainers would give their eye teeth to have a dog with this much drive for food.
 
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