We have a hierarchy of treats. This is an essential element of training and motivating dogs to do the right thing. The harder the “right thing,” the better the treat. High-value treats — treats that dogs will do anything for, must be reserved for the most challenging situations, or they lose their value.
I have special treats that I use only for off-leash recalls. This can be practice in an enclosed area or, more commonly, when we’re hiking in the wide-open spaces around our Missoula home. For more ordinary moments, and for walks in familiar places, I use doggy trail mix, a try-your-luck mixture of second-best treats like freeze-dried liver, lower-value, but still delicious, treats we find at the local holistic pet store, and “filler” treats — Charlee Bears and Cheerios, usually. These take on scent and taste from their better cousins in the doggy trail mix jar and are usually accepted eagerly by Cali and Orly.
I would have said “always accepted eagerly” until yesterday.
The weather was dicey, and I wanted to get them out for a run. When the rain paused, I grabbed girls and leashes, and off we went. Astute readers will note no mention of grabbing the good treats. Indeed. The dogs noticed that too.
I always have a handful of doggy trail mix in my coat pockets, and a reserve supply can usually be found in the car. So we’re walking along, dogs off leash, me periodically calling them back and offering treats from the backup supply. Business as usual. Except it wasn’t. The treats were all wrong.
The girls put up with it for the first couple of times, letting me off with just disgusted looks. But the third or fourth time, Cali spit out her treat. Orly ate it.
By the next time, though, Orly had caught on. She almost always does what her adored big sister does, so, sure enough, both girls turned up their adorable noses at my sub-par treats.
When we got into the car, I offered each girl one of the same rejected treats, and both happily gobbled them down. Context matters a lot, apparently. And I hope I never again leave for an off-leash walk without the good treats!