Guest Blog by Linda Brennen, CPDT, Your Canine Coach
Are you living with a land shark? When you give your dog a treat does he take a finger with it? There are several reasons dogs take treats too hard: they haven’t been taught not to, they are overly aroused or anxious, or you are simply holding the treat too high.
The most common reason for puppies taking treats from your hand too hard is that they don’t know any other way to do it. A simple way to solve this problem is to take a piece of kibble (a low value treat) and hold it in your fist. Offer your fist to your puppy, palm down, and allow him to paw or nibble at it, without getting the treat. Just patiently wait until you feel the puppy lick your hand, then open enough for him to lick the treat out of your fist. You can also smear your palm with peanut butter or baby food (a higher value treat) and allow your puppy to lick it out of your semi-closed fist as well. Practice in lots of different places and situations so your pup generalizes the behavior of having a soft mouth. For a while you can feed your pup his entire meal this way to insure that the lesson sticks.
Teaching impulse control around food is also important. Once your puppy has mastered the art of having a soft mouth, you can teach him to patiently wait for his food.Offer your puppy a treat in your closed fist, palm up this time, and let him lick your hand. Patiently wait until your dog moves his mouth away from your hand, then mark the behavior, with a clicker or marker word, and open your hand. Give the cue “take it” as you offer the treat to you pup. Over time your puppy will learn that the only way to get the treat is to wait patiently until it is offered.
Your puppy should also learn to wait patiently for his food bowl. At a time you’re sure your pup is not overly hungry, place a small amount of kibble in the bowl and ask your pup to sit. Start to lower the food bowl to the ground. If your puppy gets up, pick up the bowl. The first few times this happens you can remind your pup to sit, but phase out that reminder cue after a few repetitions and just wait for the pup to sit. Once your puppy can remain seated until the bowl is placed on the floor, release him (I use “go eat”) and allow him to eat. Repeat several times with small amounts of kibble until he can remain seated until released with just one “sit” cue. Then fade the cue. Now your pup should sit, and remain seated, whenever you feed him until he is released to eat.
If your dog generally has a soft mouth, and all of a sudden becomes a piranha when you offer a treat, take a look around. There is something in the environment causing your dog stress. What might be triggering your dog? Is there a group of children playing and screaming in the yard across the street? Did a bike or skateboard just fly by or a garbage truck stop next to him? Is a dog barking behind a nearby fence or worse yet, did another dog pass by, a little too close to his treat or his favorite person for his liking? Or are you getting frustrated with your dog because he forgot his polite leash manners today? Any of these scenarios could be causing your dog stress, which may result in him chomping on your hand along with the treat. Quickly and calmly remove your dog from the stressful situation, remind him how to take the treat gently, and contact a force free trainer to teach you how to desensitize your dog to the stressors in his life.
Another simple fix to this problem is to pay attention to how and where you give your dog the treat. Often we hold the treat too high or too far away from our dog. So he reaches up to grab it, and nips our fingers. The more we get nipped, the higher we hold the treat. Now we have created a vicious cycle where our dog is forced to lunge and chase the treat before our hand disappears. In effect we are teaching our dogs to snap at the treat in our hand. So always deliver treats to your dog below the level of his nose, and preferably move the treat towards his mouth so he doesn’t have to chase it.
Follow these tips and you will soon have your pup eating gently out of the palm of your hand!