Thursday, October 3, 2013

Teaching your dog to accept treats gently from bare fingers takes practice

It's no secret that dog treats work great to help me accomplish a lot of things in my day, like getting a reluctant dog to cooperate, or curbing their barking, or to divert the attention of a dog who has a hard time handling himself around other canines (or people) while out in public.

Like you, perhaps, I also use treats to reward desired behavior from my clients and my own dogs. I'm always looking for an opportunity to do that.

Because I hand out so many treats in a given day, then also means that there are more opportunities for my fingers to get nipped.

Much to the chagrin of many clients when they have the opportunity to see their pet interacting with me, they are reminded of their pooch's habit of snatching treats from bare fingers with great enthusiasm. The wince that I see on their face as their pet gazes at my hand as it comes out of my treat pocket is telling, but a sense of relief washes over when nothing unfavorable happens.

That's only so because I make it so with all of my clients, manners or not.

Not taking treats gently can be a source of conflict for plenty of reasons, but you're all-too-well aware of this if you're in the midst of working on training favorable behaviors. Repeated opportunities for their teeth to meet fingers can make for a frustrating go of things.

I should note that some dogs only exhibit this excessive eagerness when they're in a state of excitability, or it can of course arise only when there are multiple dogs present.

By and large, canines can learn to have some self-control (some are gentle about taking treats by nature) when it comes to accepting a yummy treat from their humans, and you can teach it at home — just make sure that you are steadfast in the idea that unless your furry friend does so gently, he doesn't get a treat at all.

This is done with the cue that is called "gentle."

Some dogs cannot be taught to take a treat with care (there's one in my family!), so if there's one in your midst, take heart — you can still safely offer your enthusiastic pooch a bit of something good.

It seems important to note that teaching this cue should always be done as a stand alone training so as not to confuse your pet.

Start by teaching your pooch what the cue means: hold a treat in your hand, close your fist around it and offer it up. If your dog bites at your hand, keep it closed. How you deal with this will depend on your tolerance and how enthusiastic your furry friend is (wearing a glove comes in handy). Generally, they will stop biting and lick your hand — some even nibble gently — and at that point you'll want to say "gentle" and open your hand completely to give him the treat.

Repeat this exercise every time you give him a treat, as consistency is the key. If your dog has sudden amnesia when it comes to being careful, pull your hand away and then try again, once again using the "gentle" cue as a reminder.

This can be a challenge while in a dog park or a class, needless to say. In these settings, you can offer the treat with your flat palm. Most dogs are able to take treats properly when they are offered with an open hand.

With my Bruiser and a couple of clients, dropping the treats on the ground rather than giving them directly to the dog makes most sense.

Because it takes a lot of practice for most dogs — including some of my clients — to refrain from nipping fingertips, I for the most part will use the latter two approaches. They by no means teach a desirable behavior, but they keep my fingers intact.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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