Using the Treat&Train to Teach Settle: A Veterinary Behavior Technician Describes How

8 | Posted:

By Dr. Sophia Yin

 

Every veterinary behaviorist’s dream is to have a technician who is certified in behavior. And if you’re a veterinarian in general practice, after you read this article, it may become your dream too. In this Q&A, Melissa Spooner, a licensed veterinary technician (LVT) with a Veterinary Technician Specialty in Behavior, answers questions about how she uses the Treat&Train® remote-controlled positive reinforcement training system during behavior consults to train dogs to settle down and to convince owners that she and the behavior team can indeed help them change their dog’s behavior. Spooner is the
 Special Events Coordinator at 
Oakland Veterinary Referral Services where she works with board certified veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Theresa Deporter, along with Deporter’s behavior resident.

Question:

Melissa, can you tell me how you most frequently use the Treat&Train in behavior consults?

Answer:

I like to think of the Treat&Train as one of my secret weapons; the more I use it the more I find other uses for it.  One of my favorite applications of this tool is to use it during a behavioral consultation to reward settled behaviors.  When educating clients about learning theory and various training techniques I like to remind myself of two quotes “seeing is believing” and “actions speak louder than words.” As much as I understand learning theory, the concepts can at times be too daunting for pet owners to understand.  During the history taking portion of the consultation I use the Treat&Train to capture down or in cases that it is not readily offered the down behavior is free-shaped.  I can discreetly hold the remote in my hand while still focusing on the client and can simultaneously train the dog.  The Treat&Train is placed on a nearby counter, with the tray removed, and I use a mat as a visual target.  Within a few repetitions of “beep and treat” the dog quickly starts purposefully offering the settled behavior. 

Question:

You’re doing this training while you are actively asking the owner questions and taking notes. So it allows you to multi-task. What affect does seeing this training have on the clients?

Answer:

When it is time to discuss how to implement positive reinforcement techniques such as capturing and shaping, the dog is already trained and the client was able to see it happen before their eyes.  This type of behavior is not only force free but essentially hands free and voice free, I let the Treat &Train do all of the work; this also demonstrates to the client that training doesn’t have to be hard and it can actually be very fun! 

Question:

Do you see any particular advantage to using the Treat&train in this case over just using a clicker and tossing treats?

Answer:

Yes, the Treat&Train removes the human element from the training process, this is a bonus for dogs that have learned to offer an attention seeking bark during a training session; the machine can be placed across the room, away from a human and dogs don’t necessarily understand that the machine is being controlled by a person.  (And it’s also eaiser to multi-task when you don’t have to have the treats in your hand).

Question:

During consults, do you get dogs who pace around a lot or just don't offer a down?

Answer:

Yes. I typically see a lot of dogs that spend a lot time offering a whole slew of undesirable behaviors, jumping on people, jumping on counters, stealing items, barking etc.  Truthfully, I find that dogs are rarely reinforced for the down behavior prior to coming to work with our behavior team and instead have been accidentally reinforced for many unwanted behaviors.  The dog from the video shown below was a doozey.  The first hour of the consultation was a nightmare!!!  He was a jumper and had the highest pitch non-stop bark that I believe was accidentally reinforced by his owner.  One of the owner's primary complaints was that her dog never stopped moving (literally) so I knew it was going to be virtually impossible to capture a down, it was going to need to be shaped.  So, with the mat on the floor, I free shaped and rewarded for approaching the mat, touching the mat, two paws on the mat, standing on the mat, sitting and eventually the down.  Then I began increasing for the duration of the down

Question:

How about dogs that try to jump up to get to the Treat&Train. Do you get this often and then just stop doing this when you reward standing and calm behavior?

Answer:

I really don't get very many dogs that try jumping up to explore the machine, maybe it's luck or maybe because I typically keep the machine up high (in this particular context).  I'm very specific on the criteria I elect to reward for so the dogs never get reinforced for exploration of the Treat&Train.

Question:

How often do you employ this technique (per week or with what percentage of dogs)?

Answer:

Pretty frequently, I would say at least 50-75% of cases. Learning to settle and relax is a life skill that all dogs should have, so even if teaching this is not imperative to their treatment/diagnosis it's often that is taught anyway.

Question:

Why do you choose to have the machine up high? Is it that so that you don't have to worry about pawing? Or so that they focus on the behavior instead of where the reward is coming from?

Answer:

I don't always have the Treat&Train up high, just for teaching settle down. Up until now I guess I never really thought about my motivation to put it up high, kind of just happened, and then became a habit.  I do put it at the dogs level for other exercises. 

Question:

In general, how long does this process take you (what range?) and do hyper dogs take longer?

Answer:

I would say 15-45 minutes average time.  Amongst the most difficult to train are the hyper dogs that truly don't stop moving, so then I have to really break my shaping criteria down into minuscule pieces and build up to something bigger and more impressive.  Dogs that have never been encouraged to try to offer different behaviors can be a little frustrating as well but I approach them the same way, small criteria … don't get too greedy =]

Question:

You mentioned that you pull the food bowl off the Treat&train so that the food can drop onto the floor. This is something that many people don’t know can easily be done. Are there any other tips about the Treat&train that you want readers to know about?

Answer:

Yes. They should know that one of the many convenient aspects of the Treat&Train is that the food hopper is compatible with pieces of kibble from big to small, which makes this an especially nice tool for dogs that have food allergies and are limited to a particular diet.

So, to the veterinarians out there, have you decided to start your search for a behavior technician yet? Having at least one person in the hospital with this type of behavior and training expertise is great for the hospital, the client, the pets, and it allows for full utilization of handy tools like the Treat&Train!
 

Tags: , , , , , ,

8 responses to “Using the Treat&Train to Teach Settle: A Veterinary Behavior Technician Describes How

  1. Hi Dr. Yin,
    I have a dachshund that is very aggressive towards new people, but after 5-10 minutes he calms down and offers nothing but kisses. I’ve used treats to try and distract him from becoming aggressive but it hasn’t always worked. The best tactic I’ve found so far is a squirt bottle. He is ball obsessed. Do you think the treat and train might work for him? We are moving to Hawaii soon and I am worried about his behavior issues. He also becomes aggressive with cats and some types of dogs. Thank you for your time,
    Whitney

  2. Great your site. When i view your article and view your site have good.
    I like your site.I have feel good in your content the best.
    Article have good on cyber world.

    Thank for sharing article.

    Thank your again

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *