Saturday, August 26, 2017

Building Foundation Skills with Natural Balance Mini-Rewards

This summer has been the summer of agility. I've been going to at least two, often three, classes a week since May when Rye started her intro class. Rye has been going to at least two of those classes with me (and when Barley needed a week off because of her dental surgery, Rye did three classes!).

My little sweet potato Rye loves agility. She had no qualms about going over the dogwalk or the the A-Frame (although the teeter is sometimes still a little scary) and once she starts jumping she never wants to stop.

As we work towards being ready to go to trials, we've been trying to build strong foundation skills and our next #ChewyInfluencer package from arrived just in time to help with our homework this week.

Our bag of Natural Balance Mini-Rewards in chicken flavor states right on the bag that they are "great for training," so Rye and I decided to put them to the test.

We've been working on her contact behavior--or the behavior she does at the end of contact equipment like the dogwalk and the A-frame. With a fast dog like Rye, it can be good to have places built into the course where she waits while I catch up or gives me a chance to get ahead, so we're training a two-on-two-off behavior, which means she puts her front feet on the floor and keeps her back feet on the equipment and holds that until I release her. Since we don't really have the space or the money for a dogwalk or A-frame of our own (and I can just imagine Barley running up one of them and then launching herself into the dino dog's yard), we work on training those foundation skills with a plank. 

Rye has mastered the two-on-two-off behavior, but she hasn't quite mastered the holding that until I release her part. When I move, she thinks she should move, so we decided the Mini-Rewards would be great for helping with that. First, I let Rye see me put one of the Mini-Rewards at the end of the plank. That rewards her for stopping at the end of the plank when I give her the command.

Then I went back with Rye and told her to walk the plank (she's such a good little Pirate dog). 

As she neared the end, I gave her our "wait" command and she planted her front feet on the ground and gobbled up her Mini-Reward. 

Then came the hard part: standing still until I released her while I continued running past the plank. After a few tries, Rye was starting to grasp the idea. To make things even better, she got another Mini-Reward when I released her and she caught up to me. 

We've also been working on independent weaves and the Mini-Rewards were great for throwing as she got to the end of the weaves. 

After putting them to the test, we can say that Natural Balance Mini-Rewards really are great for training! In addition to that feature, they also have 5 or less calories per treat and they're easy to break up into at least two smaller treats. 

Barley also gave these a try while we were working on jumps in the backyard. With the dino dogs next door, Barley needs very high value treats to work in the backyard--whether they're out or not--or she wanders off to patrol the fence line. The Mini-Rewards were not quite high value enough for Barley to think they were worth working for in a distracting environment. She'd go over one jump to get one, but if I tried to lead out past three jumps, she'd just skip the first two and go over the last one. I had to go inside and get the big guns (cheese) to convince her to do all three. 

Rye finds agility itself rewarding enough that she'll work for lower value treats and the Mini-Rewards were perfect for that. The Mini-Rewards also come in other flavors, including lamb and duck. If you need a training treat that's easy to break up into smaller pieces, we'd definitely recommend the Natural Balance Mini-Rewards. We use a lot of Natural Balance treats, so the Mini-Rewards will definitely become a part of our regular orders. 

Disclaimer: We were provided with one bag of Natural Balance Mini-Rewards in exchange for our honest review.


  1. If you are looking at putting some padding down in your basement room (which is super awesome! I love that you have indoor practice space at home!), Costco has multipacks of antifatigue floor tiles that cover a 8'x4' space for $10. A very affordable way to get a surface that you can practice anything on.

    1. I've considered padding in the basement and have a few different shock-absorbing options bookmarked, but the rooms is pretty long and skinny, so there's not a lot of space to set up jumps, so all of the home improvement budget has gone to the spaces that humans actually see right now :) I'll definitely add the Costco tiles to our research list when the time to do the flooring there comes! Thanks for the suggestion!

    2. That makes sense. I just wanted to give you the heads up on those tiles, since they are a really cheap way to put a flooring in a small space, and they work pretty well.

    3. I appreciate that! Now that I'm done removing wallpaper and buying paint, I might actually be able to add basement flooring to next summer's home improvement plans :)

  2. Good job by both girls! Luke seems to need higher value rewards when we're learning something new, but then once he has it down he's good with pretty much anything including kibble. Cricket s more like Rye - any sort of treat will work for anything, anytime! :)
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

    1. In the house, Barley will work just about anything, but the second we're out in the real world, she needs a little more incentive to pay attention ;) It's so nice to have a dog that will work for next to nothing!

  3. With Delilah, if a treat is too high value, she's too excited. Sometimes (for her) it's finding the lowest value she will work for. :-) Now with her tummy issues, we are pretty set on the same treats. I'm glad you found something with enough value to have Rye work for it.

    1. Barley can sometimes get too excited by high value treats, too, if we're in a normal setting without a lot of distractions, so I know how that goes! :)