Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Another impulse control exercise: slow treats

We all know the dogs: generally on the exuberant side, but sweet-tempered and overall wonderful dogs, who nonetheless leave you counting your fingers when you give them a treat. 

Many of us have such a dog, who has readily learned all sorts of skills and tricks but has not quite learned that the reward for all those good behaviors will still be there even if they take it gently and slowly.

Star has a lot to learn in the Take Treats Gently department, and Lamar, probably due to his levels of anxiety, has a hard time remembering to take treats calmly and not as if his life depended on it. 

Fozzie, for some reason, has the most gentle, velvety soft mouth imaginable, and he has from Day One with us.

But certainly many of the dogs in shelters have this problem, and teaching them to take treats calmly can increase their prospects for adoption.

The APDT Chronicle of the Dog has been having a Train to Adopt series, and the article in the September/October 2012 issue provides a quick outline of how to train taking treats calmly. 

Shelter dogs are meeting all sorts of people, many of them nervous and not very dog-savvy. If the dog jumps up to snatch at a treat offered by a nervous hand, that hand will fly away--teaching the dog that he'd better move faster next time. 

For dogs who already know to sit automatically for treats, the process is really similar to how we train Leave It. When the dog sits, we offer him the treat. If he lunges, jumps up, snaps at our hand, or takes the treat less than gently, we withdraw the hand quickly. We keep pulling the hand away every time the dog jumps up or snaps at the hand. Only when the dog remains sitting calmly even as the hand is snatched away do we leave the hand in place and allow him to have the treat.

When I first read about it, the method of snatching the treat away at the last minute seems a little like teasing the dog. But I can see how getting a dog used to this, and showing the dog that a reward will come if only he can remain seated--especially in a shelter environment with lots of unpredictable interactions with new people--can help build a bombproof dog. 

I guess the problem addressed by this exercise--the dog who loses his "sit" when the treat goes away--is a little different from the problem of the dog who doesn't take treats gently. But I would be very interested in hearing your methods for teaching either life skill.


  1. Some of the pack take treats super slow and gentle and a couple try and snatch them immediately, as if their life depends on it. Interesting thing is that they all sit nicely and wait though. I will hold the treat in the palm of my hand for the grabby ones and at the first lunge, close my hand and say "easy". It works for me but of course, they know who they can do it to and get away with it! I still think Star is beautiful and can't get over the fact that nobody has adopted her yet! Is she waiting for us?! : )

  2. Braylon takes treats so sweet and gentle as well as Madden. Hades used to but for some reason in recent months he's more of the "finger snapper" when it comes to treats, especially if that treats is something he really loves! (But he does it even over kale!) I've been simply doing the method with him of offering the treat in a closed fist. He attempts to go for the rough grab but realizes he can't get the treat because it's covered. He sniffs my hand as he calms down, then I open my hand and give it to him once he's relaxed. It works okay but I'm not sure if I'm doing the right thing exactly.
    If Jay has Madden had adoption events he'd always encourage kids to give her treats because she does so well and kids never know what to do and often panic and throw the treat even though she's a saint in that department.
    Have you always been so dog savvy? =) You seem like you have the answer to every training scenario!


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