Set yourself up for success by teaching a calm settle first before playing the games if your dog takes treats extremely hard
Here is a video link to the tutorial on the settle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wesm2OpE_2c
This is the first step that I would do with dogs who get extremely excited about food.
What you will do is have food on you all day, and when you see your dog relaxed and not thinking about food, you can present food between your dog’s paws. Then ignore your dog until he once again is not thinking about the food and looks very calm. He most likely will eat the treat with less gusto than if he had waited for you to take the treats from the fridge to the training area and then feed him in a state of anticipation.
Choose a time to train when your dog is relaxed. Slowly move to put a treat down on the ground under his chin. If your dog touches or paws at your hand, slowly withdraw your hand and begin again. The behavior you are looking for is the dog patiently waiting for you to release the treat before going to eat it.
First begin with a low value treat while your dog is calm. Slowly move to give your dog a treat. Bring your hand in close enough that your dog doesn’t have to stretch out his neck to get the treat. When you feel only your dogs lips and tongue and not his teeth let go of the treat. If you feel hard teeth, hold on to the treat, or slowly remove your hand and represent it slowly.
Practice with the dog in different positions in relation to you, to help the dog generalize the behavior.
This exercise is for people who struggle to get their dog to take treats softly. So if you have success with Game 1 and 2 this game is not necessary.
Hold a treat between your fingers, that you can easily hold onto if the dog tries to take it with his teeth. Wait and see if the dog licks the treat. If he licks the treat let it go. If he doesn’t keep waiting or try to hold the treat in a different way that might give him the idea to lick it. You can first have your dog lick a thin layer peanut butter off a spoon to give him the idea of licking instead of biting.
Once your dog is reliably licking the treat out of your fingers, you can say your cue “Lick” or whatever cue you wish, like “Gentle”, before your dog licks it out of your hand.
It’s important to add the cue after your dog is calm and has started to take treats softly. Most dog owners say “gentle” every time they think their dog might take the treat hard, which is when the dog is excited. It is a much better idea to associate the cue when the dog is calm and the dog is already offering the behavior.
First play these games with low value treats and then higher value treats. Practice these games with the dog in different positions in relation to you as well as in different training locations, to help the dog generalize the behavior. When you first begin you can play the games after your dog has had a meal and is less interested in food.
Adding the clicker and marker words
When the dog is successfully taking treats softly you can start to click or say your verbal marker before giving the treat. First test to see if your dog is taking treats softly. Then practice the same games, but this time click or use a marker before moving to present the treat. Most dogs will get excited by hearing the marker and so most likely will want to take the treat hard at first.
What to do in training sessions to prevent the dog taking the treat hard as you train your dog to take treats softly:
- Feed your dog with the treat in the center of a flat palm like you would feed a horse
- Put the treat down on the ground
- Toss a treat to your dog or on the ground (This might excite the dog, so only use this for behaviors you want your dog to be excited during)
Brush up sessions
If you notice your dog regresses to taking treats hard in training, either stop the training session or feed your dog in a way he cannot take treats hard. Then plan to do brush up lessons on taking treats calmly later when your dog is more relaxed. Suddenly beginning a “take the treats nicely” lesson when the dog takes a treat hard in a training session could possibly train your dog that he can make the training game easier if he simply bites your fingers.
Suddenly taking treats hard is a sign that the dog is excited or stressed. So it is actually a good way to know how your dog is feeling and that you might need to change your training plan.
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Copyright 2016 Emily Larlham