By Eric Gillaspy CPDT-KA
When I am working with dogs, I always have a treat pouch on me. My treat pouch is one of the tools that I use every day. It is just as important as a leash or harness when it comes to initiating training. There are a lot of ways to use a treat pouch and I encourage my clients to use them as well. One of my clients came up with the term, “pouch of power” to describe how beneficial a treat pouch has been to her training.
Food or treats as a motivator in training is what most people use in my classes. Carrying a treat pouch on your belt or pocket is an easy way to have those rewards available when you need them and makes it easy to get to those treats quickly. When you are trying to capture a behavior, it is important to reward your dog within seconds of the behavior in order to increase the likelihood that the dog will repeat it.
The “pouch of power” is a great tool to teach your dog what the word good means. The word good is a positive marker to tell your dog that you like what they are doing and they will get a treat or reward eventually. Essentially, it is your promise to your dog that they will get a reward for that behavior.
It is also a great way to introduce a variable schedule of reinforcement. If the reward is always around but they only get it once in a while, that behavior will become much stronger. Similar to a slot machine, but for dogs.
I like to use the “pouch of power” to start to taper off of using food. Sometimes, I will be working with a dog who only does behaviors when I have a treat pouch on me. Rather than see this as a hurdle, I use the treat pouch to my advantage. I will put the treat pouch down somewhere, like my desk or a counter, and just grab a treat discreetly as I walk by it. That way I can reward the dog at different times and places for the behaviors that I’m trying to make stronger.
A reward doesn’t always have to be a treat or food. Using a favorite toy, affection, or a fun play session can all be just as effective to reinforce a behavior once it is a learned behavior. Sometimes, a variable type of reinforcement is just as effective as a variable schedule of reinforcement. If the dog knows that they will get a reward but don’t know if it will be a treat, toy or a playtime, they will still try hard to get that reward or motivator.
In emergencies, I use the “pouch of power” for off leash dogs that are coming at me or the dog I’m working with. I am usually working with client’s dogs so I am really focused on making sure that their dog is safe. If an off leash dog comes rushing toward a dog that I am working with, I reach into my “pouch of power” and grab some treats and throw them towards the off leash dog. They almost always stop in their tracks to eat the treats. This gives me a few moments to get away from the situation and keep the dog I am working with safe. Since I don’t know the other dog’s dietary limitations, I only use the “pouch of power” for this reason in extreme emergencies.
Make sure to use the “pouch of power” responsibly by using healthy treats. You can even use the dog’s own food or carrots as a healthy reward. Your dog’s treats should not be more than 10% of their normal daily diet.
Using a treat pouch effectively really does turn a simple treat pouch into the “pouch of power.”