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!

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