“Oh no, now not even human poop …”
Fiffi grins happily at his mistress, exposing his whiskers, which shine in suspicious colors. Börks.
Books can be written about anti-poison bait training and the subtleties that are necessary for successful training. This is an attempt to summarize the most important things in a few sentences. I leave out all the stuff like muzzle training, feeding bowl training, employment while walking, relaxation, veterinary check-up, etc. This is all important, but you definitely want to finish reading this article today.
If you want to keep your dog from pulling everything he finds on the walk, you can forget one thing right away: punishments. If you punish your dog for picking up something forbidden, he’ll learn that he has to be faster than you to be able to eat something off the floor. Or he learns that he has to eat the stuff secretly. Neither of these are cheap strategies to make sure your dog doesn’t pick up anything uncontrollably.
So instead of insisting that you are the alpha, claiming food on the ground and therefore not being allowed to touch your dog anymore, you should train better to show you where something is on the ground. And you should practice making it lookable when you see it want to record something. This is much safer than the “I’m the boss and you have nothing to eat if I don’t allow you” strategy.
Three exercises are necessary for successful training:
1.) Basic exercise “stopping in front of the feed”
2.) The display behavior “Seat instead of Happs”
3.) Retrieving feed with the “nothing there” signal
1.) The basic exercise “stopping in front of the feed”
This basic exercise is about your dog looking at the food (take food that your dog finds only moderately interesting at the beginning) and standing there instead of swallowing it straight down. You can do this by reinforcing your dog with a click and reward for eye contact with the food. That means: you put food on the floor or have it laid out. Your dog looks at the food – “click” – reward (the reward should be absolutely awesome).
Click and reward have two functions here. On the one hand, they interrupt the undesirable behavior “gulp food down on the ground” in good time, and on the other hand they reinforce the desired behavior “look but not swallow”. In training, you move closer and closer to the food on the ground until you can stop right in front of it while your dog stares at the food but does not eat it. The food on the floor will signal your dog to stop. If he does that, he’ll get you a super reward. After the reward, you give him a release signal. After the release signal (not before !!), he may also eat the feed on the ground. This is important because he wants the food on the ground. If you always forbid him to take it, he might change his mind despite your guts and still gobble it down. On your normal walk, of course, you can’t always release what’s on the ground. In this case, you are looking for a longer-lasting reward with which you move further away from the food on the ground, e.g. a treat game. So you can just go on after the reward.
A prerequisite for all of this to work is that your dog knows the clicker (or a marker word) so well and thinks it is so great that it stops immediately after the click sound and waits for a reward. If this is not the case, you have to upgrade the clicker or your marker word for a few days with really great rewards.
If the whole thing works under controlled conditions, you still have to generalize your training. Practice with all kinds of food. Orientate yourself to what is on your way every day while walking. Practice so that you can keep your dog away from you as they head for the food on the ground. Practice with a lining that you can secure, for example, with a can with a perforated lid. Put the food on the way, in the bushes, out of sight, in the meadow, etc. Make it more and more difficult. Make sure that you take such small steps that your dog does not even notice that you are increasing your training.
2.) “Behavior instead of Happs” display behavior
If the basic exercise fits so well that your dog hesitates or stops in the best case when it sees something lying on the floor, you can add a little extra. So that you can really recognize that your dog has found something to eat, it makes sense to teach him to plant his butt on the ground to show you what he found.
And this is how it works:
The principle is the same as in the basic exercise. In the first step you click to look at the feed. Instead of feeding, you give your dog the seat signal first. If he sits down, there’s a mega-delicious treat. Repeat this a few times. Do not approach the feed yet.
In the next step you click again to look at the feed. After the click, however, you do not immediately reward, but wait for your dog to sit down on its own without you having to give a seat signal. Does he do it: party! And then comes the release and your dog is allowed to eat the food on the floor.
In the third step, you do not immediately click to look at the food, but you wait for your dog to look at the food and then sit down. If you have practiced the first two steps extensively, this should not be a problem. For the first seat after seeing the food, you celebrate a mega party, reward your dog extensively and then release the food on the floor.
If your dog can sit at a distance from the food, you can get closer. That means you get both of you moving. When your dog looks back at the food, you wait again for him to sit down on his own. Reward the seat very generously so that he understands that this behavior is desirable. Practice this until you two are right in front of the food. But instead of gulping down the food, your dog should sit down voluntarily in front of it.
And of course you have to generalize this exercise again. Just like in the basic exercise, practice in different places, with different food, at different times of the day, at different distances from your dog, etc. The cleaner you build up the generalization, the easier it will be for you to do it by hand. Then your dog does not make mistakes, but learns step by step how to sit down above all the edible things he finds on the floor.
3.) Retrieving feed with the signal “Nothing there”
Immediately prohibit your dog from eating food lying around.
These three exercises can be learned quickly and are easy to implement. The success of your training depends on your skillful timing and well thought-out generalization. You should therefore have a good plan in mind when to vary which exercise and how, so that you include all the variations that you might encounter on your walk.