Friday, October 12, 2012

Train your dog and keep your fingers, too! Tips on how to teach your dog to take a treat nicely.

When I was at the AASPCA today, some of the dogs I was working with had yet to learn how to take a treat nicely from a person’s hand. I figured it would make for a good topic to discuss right here on my blog.

The problem.

I’m reminded of an owner whom was in one of the classes I was helping with when I was training to become a pet training instructor at Petsmart. Whenever the owner would offer her (huge) dog a treat, the dog would lunge at the treat (and the owner’s hand). The owner would then basically drop the treat and snatch her hand back; it was very obvious that she didn’t feel comfortable offering her dog a food treat for fear the dog would accidentally eat a little bit of her hand in addition to the treat.

If this happens to you, then this is a great post for you to read! No owner should have to be afraid that their dog is going to accidentally bite their hand. When you’re training your dog, you want to be focusing on the training, not on the safety of your hands.
So if you have a dog that doesn’t take treats nicely, the first thing you need to do is stop trying to train your dog to do anything else! Let’s get this problem solved first. It shouldn’t take long.

Why do you need to take care of this problem now, rather than later?

Because every time your dog lunges for a treat and is successful at getting it, the dog has been rewarded for the lunging behavior and will only continue to repeat this bad behavior in the future! Ah! That’s not what we want!

So from now on, the rule is: dogs don’t get treats unless they take them nicely.

The solution.

The first thing I do is I make sure to hold the treat in the flat of my hand—I sort of hold it between the sides of a couple of fingers. When I do eventually let the dog have the treat, I give it to them with the flat of my hand towards their face. I’ve found that this leads to fewer incidents of accidentally bitten fingers due merely to the fact that they can’t fit their mouth around my hand when it’s in this position.

The next thing I do is offer a treat slowly. As soon as I see the dog start to lunge for the treat, I pull my hand away. They know the treat is in my hand and will learn that the longer they hold still, the closer the treat gets to their face (dog: “yay!”) and closer to their mouth (dog: “yay!”). And eventually they’ll learn that when they sit still and don’t lunge, they actually get to eat the yummy treat. (dog: “YAY!”).

When I finally do give the treat to the dog, I prefer to (gently) pop it in their mouth instead of letting them take it from my hand (some dogs are just a little too rough with their teeth when they try to take the treat themselves).

My dogs both take treats very nicely these days (I’ve even had people comment on how nicely they take treats), and it’s because I follow this simple rule: dogs only get treats if they take them nicely!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

the Star Spinner toy for dogs: good for slowing down fast eaters!

I’m always looking for new toys to help keep my dogs’ minds active. I recently tried a toy called a Star Spinner Dog Toy Puzzle.

What is the Star Spinner?
The Star Spinner is a toy that is advertised as “a brain workout for your dogs”. It has two star-shaped levels of five chambers on each level. The levels spin, the idea being that the dog has to work spin the levels to expose treats or food that you put inside the chambers. Difficulty can be changed by tightening the spinning mechanism so that it’s harder to make the levels spin.
I’ve been using it for Halo at meal time. I fill the chambers with her kibble and let her go at it.

My opinion of this toy.
In terms of mentally stimulating a dog, this toy is on the right track, but I don’t actually think it does a good job of keeping a dog mentally entertained for any length of time. It’s way too easy to figure out.
In terms of difficulty, the instructions say “Continue to challenge your dog by adding more treats inside more chambers”. I do not agree with this. The makers also tried to give the toy different levels of difficulty w/ the tightening mechanism, which is a good design element, but it doesn’t actually make the game more mentally challenging. It makes it more physically challenging, encouraging the dog to scratch at the toy more.
It’s the overall design that makes this puzzle too easy. As soon as the chambers are revealed on a level, they’re all revealed and the game is over for that level. There are only two levels, so the game ends quickly. Halo, who really isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, figured out this puzzle very quickly. It only takes her a couple of minutes, even on the “difficult” setting, to get at all of her food.
I think it would be better if some of the chambers became covered at the same time as some of the chambers were opened. I also wish it had at least one more level, maybe even two. Additionally, I wish it was a domestic product (it’s made in China and I prefer to buy domestic products if I can).
I think this toy has a good foundational idea, but the design needs some work if they want to be able to honestly advertise it as “a brain workout for your dogs”.

A good use for this toy.
While I don’t think this toy is particularly successful at being a mentally-stimulating toy, I do think it does a good job of slowing down a dog that tends to almost inhale their food because they’re eating so fast. Halo scarfs her food down as quickly as possible, and this toy did a good job of slowing down her eating a bit.

the star spinner in action!  :