The Treat Hierarchy Game

We all have our favorite foods, including our dogs. While some dogs seem to want to eat everything, others can be very picky. What they both have in common is that there is at least one treat that they value above anything else.

Why is this important? When working with a dog that cowers, growls, barks, or lunges, we can use food to help them feel better about what they find upsetting.

Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

First, a little bit of history – trust me – you will see how this all comes together to help your dog.

Ivan Pavlov was a Russian scientist who discovered that people and animals learn by association. In one of his experiments, he realized that his dogs would start to drool every time he rang a bell. Why? Because after he rang the bell, Pavlov would give them food.  The dogs associated the bell with their meals, so they became happy each time they heard it.

How this Applies to Your Dog

When a person or animal eats food, dopamine is released in the brain. The reward system in the brain then interprets pleasure. If you give your dog a special treat every time he is a comfortable distance away from something that he finds upsetting (trigger), he will associate the trigger with pleasure.

It is essential to determine your dog’s absolute favorite treat because you can really increase the value of the trigger. Using myself as an example: I am scared of spiders. If every time a spider appears, I eat Hershey’s chocolate, I will anticipate yummy chocolate when a spider appears. The problem with Hershey’s chocolate is that I eat it regularly, so it isn’t unique. If I eat a gourmet chocolate truffle instead, I will get incredibly excited when the spider appears.

The treat hierarchy game will help you learn which treat is valued above all others by your dog. Take a look at the video example and download the worksheet so you can play it with your dog.

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