Play Drive vs Food Drive in Dog Agility Training

Play vs Food DriveWe asked you the question on Facebook, “Which is easier to train and work with a dog with strong play drive or a dog with strong food drive?” and we got some really good responses, but didn’t get any clear answers.  Just like all aspects of dog agility training, success is not a cookie cutter formula.  It is what works for each individual in each team and sometimes you will get lucky and have a dog that doesn’t follow ANY of the rules.

Those who have been blessed with strong play drive dogs have valid points against food drive dogs.  Or do they.  You see some say that it is harder to lose the treats than it is to wean off the toy, but that isn’t necessarily true.  There are definitely ways to wean a dog off the food as well as use the food the same way you would a toy.  Chaining requires the dog to perform more and more steps before getting a reward.  This doesn’t mean the dog will lose drive unless you go too far too fast with your chaining.  If the dog gets overwhelmed or confused it really doesn’t matter what motivation you use, he is going to quit trying.

It appears sometimes a dog gets really locked onto hands when treats are used, but this can happen with toys as well.  To teach your dog to look down and/or forward you may place/toss the toy out ahead of an obstacle or at the base of a contact.  You can do the same thing with food.  All you have to do is use clear container such as can be found in hardware stores (used to store screws and bolts) with caps that have slits in them.  These work super once you teach the dog that is where the treats come from.  All you have to do is squeeze the end cap and the treat will fall into your hand, but the dog cannot get to them.  Now you can place it or throw it like you would a toy.

But what about the dog getting too full.  A similar event happens if you have a dog with high play drive.  Both will lose drive when over done.  When using treats you need make sure you are giving the dog a taste not an entire meal with each treat.  You also need to find treats that your dog loves and those that he would turn inside out for saving the “crazy good” treats for jackpot rewards.  And when using play you need to stop when the dog is still wanting more playtime.  If you go until the dog starts to lose interest or gets tired you will also lose drive.

Good news is that neither toy nor treat is allowed on the competition field, so either way you will have to get to the point where your dog is finding you to be his reward.  When you successfully transfer those emotions from toy and treat onto you then you and your dog will become unstoppable.