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Leerburg Dog Training Q&A Archive Q&A on The Power of Training Dogs with Food

Q&A on The Power of Training Dogs with Food

Q&A on The Power of Training Dogs with Food

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  1. If my dogs are already playing tug well with me, should I still do the food work from The Power of Training Dogs with Food first and then go to the tug or can I do both to better master the engagement process?

  2. Do you have any advice for me on marker training my dog?  Do I leave out the verbal commands for now and just use the hand signals or gestures he knows?

  3. How do I use raw food for training with the Michael Ellis food DVD?

  4. My dog is so motivated to get the treats, he’s not paying attention to me… he’s desperate for the food.  Am I doing something wrong?

  5. I am training a two year old Samoyed male for  obedience. He appears to want to learn the exercises we are training and definitely has enthusiasm for what we are doing. However, the heel work is not up to scratch. He starts off "alright"  and very quickly tries to "change the subject." He will hang his head and trail along for a few steps, then decide to catch up.  Do you have any suggestions?

  6. I have a 15 month old dominant dog and I’m running into some problems with her misbehaving and breaking her stays.  When I correct her it either has no effect or makes her worse.  Do you have any advice for me?

  7. What is the best thing I can buy to get my puppy engaged with me?

  8. My 1 1/2 year old, male GDS  is on a raw diet.  Is there a training treat that you prefer to use? So far I've just used string cheese or boiled chicken. Thanks for any suggestions!

  9. I've been training my dogs using The Power of Training Dogs with Food with great results. My problem is that my dogs are now so engaged they don't want to leave me alone to take bathroom breaks. What should I do? I don't want to discourage their attention.

  10. I have a few questions on engagement, can you help?

  11. You say not to feed molasses, but sell treats with it as an ingredient. Should I use something else?

1. Question:

Hi Cindy,

Both DVDs are GREAT information! Michael makes training dogs seem so simple and easy. I can honestly say that I was one of those trainers that was ahead of myself in where I should have been with my dogs. They could do a lot but to be honest the TRUE engagement wasn't all there. I have been working on nothing but engagement and will be for a month.

With that said.
Since Prong Collars can kill engagement. Should I still allow them to wear the collars and never use them or should I take them off until my engagement foundation is where it should be? (Note: I do have the Dominate Dog Collars and Agitation Collar w/handle also.)

If I know how to play tug with my dogs and they are pretty good at the rules, can Tug Play along with Food Rewards be a good way to master the engagement process? Or should I only use food 1st?

I ask these questions b/c I get a little confused since I looked at both videos at once. I understand if I just do food then I can move to tug but it is so much fun doing both, correctly of course.

Thank you Cindy,


Hi Adrian,

Your dog can certainly wear the prong collar, just don't actively use it at this point. The only reason I would leave the collar off the dog would be if he was completely shutting down when the collar was put on. I want my dogs to be neutral to their training collars, so they wear them everyday no matter what we are doing.

Most people new to Michael's system get better results by doing the food work and really mastering that well and then moving on to the tug. If you feel that you have a good mastery of both the food and tug work, then I would suggest (for now) doing separate sessions of food and tug. The reason is that most dogs prefer one or the other, and if you try to use both in the same session before the dog is really engaged at all times then you can accidentally teach them to train you to only bring out the reward they prefer. Does that make sense? You'll offer the food and they will say "Nah, I like the tug better" and so a lot of trainers will make the mistake of then getting out the toy and effectively allow the dog to control the training session. Rush was like this from an early age, so I had to keep my sessions separate at first. I can now switch back and forth, but he wanted nothing to do with food if there was a toy around as a younger dog. I did his food sessions with his daily meals; he only ate during engagement or basic foundation training. I would use the tug in really distracting environments, because I knew it would hold his interest. Many dogs are the opposite and some fall somewhere in between.

I'm glad you like the videos,

2. Question:

Moose is a 2 1/2 year old mix, taken off death row at Animal Control. I've heard so many theories about what type of mix he is, that I've stopped guessing. He has already gone through two years of ongoing basic obedience training, and I consider him to be a well behaved/adjusted animal. I am currently starting him with marker training. Is there any advice you can provide me with to help me during this awkward time when the marker training and his previous training are overlapping/conflicting (e.g. The marker training method requires me to leave verbal commands out until a certain point in the dogs' training. Should I stop using those verbal commands for the time being, and use only the accompanying hand signals he knows?  He knows "come" to come to me, and not using any one specific gesture I can get him to return to me non-verbally most of the time; however, when we are working together, he is in open space, occasionally with mild distractions, and I need to get him to return to me in a timely fashion, and the verbal command sometimes works best. Do I drop that command as well?) The information I have from you all is from scouring your site, and three of your films (Basic Obedience, Power of Food, Power of Markers). Any further thoughts you may have would be helpful.  Thanks very much.



Hi David,

I see you just ordered The Power of Training Dogs with Food that was going to be my first suggestion!

Stop using the verbal commands for now, just use the gesture. If he’s not responding to the gesture then make sure he’s on a leash and that you have his attention first. Don’t ask him something when you don’t have the means to control the training session. If you know he’s going to be distracted in open spaces, then for now don’t work him there. You’ll learn more about engagement in the food video. Once you have good engagement then you can up the ante on distractions like different environments and more distance.

I hope this helps. Cindy

3. Question:

Hi Cindy.

I got the Michael Ellis training with food DVD last week and have started watching it - thank you for recommending it, it's SO good! In the first chapter where he talks about the food, he says that in the beginning you will have to be giving a lot of food, so if he trains 3 times a day he'll just use their food for the day and then not feed them their meals. If we are using a lot of food in the beginning, and Kasey is raw fed (I feed chicken parts, hamburger, a gross slop of organs, liver, veggies, eggs), then I don't know what to use for the training food so that he is still getting fed right. He has a somewhat sensitive stomach (one of the reasons I switched to raw when he was 1 yr old - even the high quality kibbles on your website caused gas, the runs, etc.). If I cook the muscle meat and use that, will his nutrition be compromised? or do you have any other suggestions? I have found you can go through a lot of food with this kind of training! even if you give small pieces like Ed instructs.

Thank you Cindy, for your help with this. I really want to use this method of training, I just have to figure out the food part!

PS  Thank you so much for all you do with these videos and articles, etc. to help us not only learn to train our dogs, but to have such a better relationship with them!! You guys are awesome!


You can cook the muscle meat for training so it's not so messy to handle.

I actually purchase Natures Variety raw Beef patties (they hold together the best in my experience) and wear thin latex gloves and use that for a session or two a day. You just need to be creative. Once you get past the preliminary training where you are using so much food, it will be easier.

I actually am using this method for Rush right now, to work out some little snags in a few exercises we are stuck on. He's getting all of his food in training right now, as we are getting ready for a trial in a couple of months. I want his motivation to be very high.

Don't worry about balancing his diet precisely every day, it's not that big a deal as long as it's balanced over time.

4. Question:

I bought your marker training dvd and started doing the training a few weeks ago. I'm having trouble because Kasey is soooo motivated to get the treats, that I don't feel that he's paying enough attention to me and what I am asking him to do. He was already trained in sit, down, stay, etc. before I started marker training. So I started with tricks like wave, play dead, high 5 - he learned those quickly because they were easy and now that I am starting to use it to teach serious things like 'watch me' and 'heel', he is so desperate to get the food, that he's not really paying attention to what I'm wanting him do. Instead he gets all riled up and starts doing all the tricks he's ever learned in an attempt to get the treats! You should see him, he falls to the ground dead, rolls over, waves, does high 5, etc. all within 30 seconds! I've tried using different kinds of treats and just plain old cooked chicken (he eats raw), but it doesn't matter what I use, his focus is on that food. He also loves balls, so using toys seems to do the same thing.

Any suggestions? Maybe it's me and I'm doing something wrong?


That's pretty normal behavior for dogs just learning, do you have The Power of Training Dogs with Food?

It really goes in detail how to use the food and will instruct you in the proper way to hold and deliver the food for the various obedience exercises.

for dogs that are super food motivated, I may feed them a light meal first and see if that gets his drive down a little. Maybe use a kind of crappy dried treat, something lower value. either way the behavior you are seeing is normal, just don't reward him for doing something you aren't working on or he will keep on doing it.

5. Question:

Dear Mr Frawley,

Thank you very much for the HUGELY informative web pages helping us with dog training problems.

I am I am training a two year old Samoyed male for  obedience. He appears to want to learn the exercises we are training and definitely has enthusiasm for what we are doing. However, the heel work is not up to scratch. He starts off "alright"  and very quickly tries to "change the subject." He will hang his head and trail along for a few steps, then decide to catch up. Then he will stay with me for a few steps and suddenly stare off into the distance at a non-existent, hugely interesting, nothing!  using food as an incentive and the negative correction is a verbal  "no." Using a ball is successful to a point. He likes to play and will respond positively, but before long, he is behind me again.

I have tried a positive correction, tweaking the  lead and immediately offering the reward. This does not change the scenario.

He does a great retrieve, excellent send-away, precise distance control and scent. No problem with stays. He is excited to train and has never tried to avoid going on the field. Teaching him these exercises has been pleasant and both of us enjoyed it. He likes being with me and thinks he is very important. When he is on the field, training, he ignores outside distractions and takes no notice of dogs / handlers busy near us.

I have a Bernese Mountain Dog male. 5 years old. Very sweet nature. The Samoyed is definitely pack leader but there is no controversy between them. Both dogs are being trained the same disciplines. I have one in my car while I train the other. They can’t watch each other. They run together during the day.

Do you have any advice for me. I would really like to show the Samoyed, but I feel that with the very high standard of his other work, I can’t accept the heel work. I think he would enjoy being shown, as he likes to be center of attraction.

Thank you.

Kind regards,


This is a problem with the dog not being fully engaged with you. I’d recommend backing up your training and going back to some basics to build engagement and attention. This is the foundation of good heeling and all good training.

The Power of Training Dogs with Food

The Power of Playing Tug with Your Dog

This training is based on markers. Here is an article on training with markers.

We also produced a video on the foundation of marker training The Power of Training Dogs with Markers.

Ed is in California right now working on a heeling video using this method.  It should be ready in a couple of months.

6. Question:

I have bought a lot  of your DVDs and soon will be buying (dealing with dominant and aggressive dogs and ecollar training and michael ellis playing tug with your dog). Ed's DVDs have been a big help. I had a question regarding corrections on a dominant dog and if you have time to answer I would appreciate it.
I have a dominant 15 month female GSD who I have been using mostly positive training methods such as marker training. I have been slowly adding distractions and corrections to her training for a while now. When my dog misbehaves or breaks a down stay a prong collar correction either has no effect or increases her negative behavior.  I remember a michael Ellis clip in an old newsletter you sent  talking about how all positive trained pups who finally get a good correction are thrown out of sorts. Does Michael Ellis have a DVD on his proofing phase for someone like me to view? I'm really unsure of how to proceed in my training whether to go back to all positive or increase my discipline or just back off distractions for awhile.
Is an ecollar a better more clear correction then typical  collar correction?
Thank you for your products that have helped me with a dog that otherwise would have been too much too handle.


I think I’d work more on adding rewards for staying, and using duration markers like good (as seen in the food DVD) sometimes adding corrections for not staying makes the dog more anxious about staying and then they break the stay and it begins a vicious cycle. I probably would use a very low level remote stimulation if I did have to use a correction for this. It’s also necessary to mark whatever you are doing first, with NO, in the case of a correction. 

When you add high distractions stay closer to the dog and make sure you are telling her good, and go back and reinforce her position with food. This is how I trained my dog for a down and he’s becoming quite reliable. He’s the first dog I’ve ever taught to stay this way, I used to employ more corrections and my dogs in the past would always be somewhat worried when I returned to them because they remember that sometimes they get a physical correction in that situation. I’m sure that’s why your dog shows more negative behavior sometimes in conjunction with corrections. Don’t be afraid to pay her with food A LOT for doing the right thing, it’s much better for the dog’s confidence and understanding to do it more slowly and with more positive reinforcement than to get in too big of a hurry. Never be afraid to go back to more basic training steps when you get into a problem. I do it all the time.

7. Question:

Thank you Cindy for replying to my previous message. I purchased three of the six DVDs (puppy 8 weeks/months and both power of training with food & markers) you suggested and the training equipment/toys.

They have been great!!! I love them and have learned a lot. The Power of Training with Markers is fantastic, but the one with Training with Food, wow! Fantastic, Michael had me realize I needed to put the brakes on my training and spend more time on engagement. I am also planning to attend Michael's Puppy Development Course in January. What do you think?

I called this afternoon and spoke with Ashley and ordered another item. I had a question and she suggested I email you about it. My question is, what do you have available that focuses on working with your dog to establish full engagement so that later training can be much easier and more successful?

From viewing the video thus far, I realize that that is the first step. Like I mentioned before, the goal with my dog is to have her as a family pet and personal protection dog. If you were to suggest some steps to take what would they be?

There is so much information in the majority of the two videos I've watched and so full of information that it can really be overwhelming. This is my first dog and I know my personality. According to my wife I can go overboard and am fearful that I may be asking so much of my puppy so soon. Frankly, I am afraid she is right. My GSD just turned 4 months, how do I determine when and what to move from when it comes to training her?

Lastly, my wife keeps telling me I sound more like Mr. Frawley when I play with my girl. I also enjoyed your marker training with Mr. Frawley.


Engagement isn't established overnight, and your puppy is very young. I'd be using the food right now, because she's going to be teething for the next couple of months. I think going to Michael's school is a great idea.

The best thing we have to work on engagement is the video you already have. You haven't had the video very long, so I believe you are being a bit impatient and trying to rush your puppy.

You'll know when to move on when your pup shows you by her behavior, this isn't something I can explain in an email. Dog training is about learning to recognize these things in your dog and adjust your training accordingly.

Slow down and go back and watch the engagement sections of the video as many times as you need to, hurrying through the steps won't do anything positive for your progress.

8. Question:

Hi Cindy

Love your website.  It's very helpful and interesting to read. You guys are very busy and devoted to your dogs; that's why I hate to bother you with such a trivial question...But! I see on your website that you have several training treats available to purchase. My 1 1/2 year old, male GDS  is on a raw diet.  Is there a training treat that you prefer to use? So far I've just used string cheese or boiled chicken. We purchased the DVD package that contains the marker training, playing tug and training w/food and are anxious to start. Thanks for any suggestions!



I rotate treats, depending on what I’m working on and which dog I’m working with.

All my dogs are different, high value treats for my puppy won’t be touched by my 3 year old dog.

We have a video on treats on this page and our favorites are marked above each product. 

What matters is what your dog’s favorites are though.  I use 3 or 4 different treats in every training session, it seems to keep my dogs really interested because they aren’t sure WHAT they are going to get.  I break up our larger treats like the See Spot Smile and Plato, because they are too big to be used in marker training.

Cindy Rhodes

9. Question:

Hi Cindy-

I've been working on engagement with my dogs after watching Michael Ellis' "The Power of Training Dogs with Food." They are all doing wonderfully and I'm very happy with the results. I've run into a small "problem" that I'm not sure how to resolve. The dogs are so engaged that when we go out for bathroom breaks, they will not leave me long enough to go to the bathroom. I certainly don't want to discourage their attention. Do you just not reward until after they've taken care of business?

Thank you!


I have different cues for my dogs, so they know what activities will be taking place. The only time I really reward engagement is after I've used my cue "Ready?" 

I say "hurry up" or "go potty" for bathroom breaks. If they try to initiate some type of play or act like they want a food reward, I say "nope, hurry up."

Make sure your dogs know when it's time to train and when it's time to go to the bathroom and when training is over. I say "done" when a training session is over so they can relax and do regular dog things. :)

I hope this helps.

Cindy Rhodes

10. Question:

Hi Ed and Cindy. Thank you for all the help.

I have a question about engagement. I wish I could just buy the DVD: The Power of Training Dogs with Food, but I just cannot afford it right now.

My question is: what am I looking for in my dog when he is engaged? Will he be focused on me and me only even in new environments? Or does engagement mean that he will cooperate just enough so that I can teach him a new position even though he may be a little distracted?

And also I am so sorry but one more question.

Do I just take my dog into different and new environments and just feed him treats until he gets engaged? Or am I missing the point? Because I always kind of thought that it was about taking him in new environments and showing him that he can learn in a new environment by me showing him different obedience positions.

But I'm not too sure about it. It would be greatly appreciated if you can answer this e-mail. Thank you very much for all the information on your website.



I'm afraid it's too complicated to explain in an email. You are more than welcome to search our site and our streaming video section for more information on engagement. There are a lot of free streaming videos at the link I posted.

Engagement is the foundation of ALL dog training, it's the most important step. The Power of Training Dogs with Food is 3 hours and 45 minutes long and I can't possibly explain engagement in an email (even though I wish I had the time and skill to do that).

You may want to join our forum too.

Cindy Rhodes

11. Question:

I read about your natural diet which I agree with, but then you sell or support treats for (marking training) made with molasses. Should I use something else, like cut up hot dog? 

"2 - Do not feed a dog any sugar. Sugar increases a dog’s chances of getting cancer. Sugar is made when dogs eat things like sugar beets, molasses, grains or dairy products."

Cindy's Response:

We have a short video on the website about high value food rewards for dogs.  Here is the link.

For healthy dogs, an occasional treat with “forbidden” ingredients like molasses or grains isn’t going to be an issue. You just don’t want to feed them on a regular basis.

Cindy Rhodes

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