How to train your dog to take treats gently.
From wolf hybrids to bully breeds, I’ve always had big dogs. Since I only use reward-based training, it’s very important that the first thing they learn to do is take treats gently from me.
Dogs who are highly treat-motivated can be difficult to reward without losing a finger. Large dogs, and puppies especially, often don’t know their own strength. That’s why it’s critical that the very first thing my pets learn is how to take a treat gently.
“Gentle” is a very important word in my training. Some people use “easy” or “calm,” but “gentle” seems to combine it all into one term for me. What’s more, once they learn to associate that command with treats, it becomes all that much easier to train them to do other tricks.
If you have a dog who can take or leave a treat, this is the way I train dogs to take a treat gently.
- Make sure your dog has been fed before attempting to teach “Gentle.” A hungry dog rarely has the patience for learning (just like kids) if his stomach is grumbling. So feed your dog and then wait 30 minutes before trying to work with him.
- Hold a treat in the palm of your hand (much like you would give a treat to a horse). The goal is to be able to cut off access to the treat quickly if he tries to snap it. Close your fist around the treat and let him sniff. The goal is to let him know you have a treat without officially offering it. Say “Gentle” as you do so.
- If your dog is highly food-motivated, he might lick or even “mouth” your hand (if he attempts to bite or snap at you, see below). This is a no-no. Simply remove your hand until he calms down. Once he has accepted that you won’t be offering the treat, you can show it to him again.
For Highly Treat-Motivated Dogs
Occasionally, you’ll find that your dog doesn’t respond to the treat in hand trick or he might be more reactive than most dogs. If this is the case, you’ll want to take a different approach.
- Put a bit of peanut butter on a wooden spoon, and then place the treat in the peanut butter.
- Offer the treat to your dog and say “Gentle.”
- As soon as you see a sign of your dog becoming too aggressive in taking the treat, pull the spoon away (the peanut butter acts as a stabilizer so the treat doesn’t fall off when you offer it to him).
- Repeat this activity using the gentle command until she has calmed enough to take it gently.
Training a dog to take a treat gently is a matter of practice. Your dog won’t get it right all the time and there are days that your timing will be off as well. The goal is for your dog to realize that he will not receive a treat unless he takes it gently.
With practice, your dog will do any manner of trick prior to receiving a treat. However, this small act is one of the most important things you can teach your pet.
About the Author: Stacy Mantle is the founder of PetsWeekly.com and the bestselling author of “Shepherd’s Moon.” Learn more great tips for living with animals by visiting PetsWeekly.com or get to know a little more about the author at www.StacyMantle.com