How to Train Your Dog to Catch a Treat from His Nose
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When you log onto Facebook there’s always a video somewhere on your newsfeed of a dog doing something interesting and entertaining. Whether they’re barking at dogs on the TV or doing flips across the living room, dogs can do a variety of wonderful things. Training your dog to do a neat trick can come in surprisingly handy. It’s a fantastic ice breaker if you’ve got unfamiliar guests around and it will keep the kids endlessly entertained.
Perhaps you’ve already gone to the effort of training him to balance a treat on his nose. If so, why not up the stakes and have him catch it too? Stimulating his brain in this way will also make teaching him the more mundane tasks easier too, from ‘wait’ to ‘go to your bed’. You’ll be one step closer to worldwide fame with your top performing canine pal!
As you can probably imagine, giving the obedience command to catch the treat is relatively straightforward. Communicating to him precisely what it is you want him to do is unfortunately not so simple. You will need to be patient as you gradually show him how to catch it from his nose. If he is a young and receptive puppy he should pick up the training in just a few days. If his days in the circus are long gone and he’s lost a marble or two upstairs then you may need to invest a week or two into training.
However long it takes, the results will make it all worthwhile. It’s a trick that never fails to put a smile on people’s faces and it’s also a great way to strengthen the bond between man and dog. It’s also a fantastic way to tire out energetic dogs, seeing to it he naps in the daytime rather than tear around your house.
Before the training campaign begins you will need to get several bits together. As you can probably imagine, a hefty supply of treats will be required. Alternatively, you can use his favorite food broken into small pieces.
You will also need a room or yard with space, you don’t want to risk breaking anything valuable as you and your canine friend are leaping through the air. Time will also be needed, so set aside 10 minutes a day, each day until training yields results.
Once you have the above you’re ready to get to work!
The Balance and Flip Method
Get in position
Hold his face with one hand and carefully balance a treat on the flat part of his nose. Use your hand to keep his face looking forward. To start with, you’ll only need to keep it balanced for a couple of seconds so don’t worry if he gets too excited.
Issue the ‘hold’ command and then after just a second or two, praise him and let him eat the treat. The key to this is to gradually build the duration of time he stays still before he goes for the treat. So practice this every day for 10 minutes until after a few days he can hold it there for 8-10 seconds before he moves.
Have him sit in front of you and then throw a treat to him at head height. As you do this, give a ‘catch’ command. It is important you give the command in an upbeat voice, he will respond quickly if he thinks it is all a big game. As he improves, you can throw the treat from different angles and make it more challenging. Also, ensure you give him verbal praise each time he catches one. If he drops one, try and scoop it up before he gets to it so he understands he has to try a different technique next time to catch it in the air.
Practice the ‘balance’ and the ‘catch’ commands independently for several days until he can do both well. You can’t combine the two until he has mastered each individually, otherwise you will confuse him when you give him both commands in a short space of time.
Put it together
When you are confident he can do both, combine both elements. Have him sit, then balance the treat on his nose and have him ‘hold’ for several seconds. Then give the ‘catch’ command and he should understand he needs to flip the treat on his nose up to catch it. If he needs encouragement the first couple of times you can pick the treat off his nose up and throw it up in the air. He will quickly connect both parts and start catching the treat himself.
The Double Treat Method
Have him sit in front of you and have two different treats with you. You need one he likes and one he absolutely loves. You can use his favorite food for this--cheese often works well. You are going to use one treat for the catch and the tasty treat is going to be the added incentive.
Balance the treat on his nose and have him wait there. This part relies on you having taught him to hold a treat on his nose already. If you haven’t, follow the steps in the ‘Balance and Flip’ method to bring him up to speed.
After several seconds, say “where is the treat?” It is important you say this is in a high-pitched playful voice so he knows this is a game. You don’t have to use that exact phrase, use whatever it is you normally say to get him to look for something.
He will quickly drop his face so the treat falls to the ground and he can eat it. When he does this, pick it up before he can get to it and throw it up in the air. By picking it up you are showing him that if he wants to get to it before you he needs to eat it before it hits the ground. This is the challenging part, as he needs to make the step himself between holding the treat on his nose and flipping it in the air so he can catch it. Practice this for 10 minutes each day and be patient, it may take a few days.
When he does catch it in the air reward him with his tasty favorite treat. If he loses interest in training you can hold the best treat out as an incentive to keep him on task. Practice until he naturally starts catching the treat himself before it hits the ground. When this happens regularly, you can cut down how often you give him the best treat until it is no longer needed at all.
The Positive Reinforcement Method
Teach him the balance and catch commands outlined in the ‘Balance and Flip’ method. Practice these everyday separately for 10 minutes. Before you address the catching from the nose he must be a pro at both of them independently.
Making the connection
Now have him balance the treat on his nose and instruct him to ‘catch’. He will understand he needs to eat the treat but he may need several attempts before he figures out he needs to flip it up to be able to catch it.
Regardless of whether he catches it, reward him with praise every time he tries to play with it. It is important you reinforce any behavior that suggests he is on the right path. As this trick is difficult, any lapse in encouragement will see him lose interest and give up.
Practice at different times in different locations. You want him to associate the trick with the commands and not the time or location, so variety is important. Ensure you keep up with verbal praise throughout training, regardless of where you are.
As he gets the hang of it, have other people in the room play the audience. Then have the audience all shower him in praise. This wide encouragement will make him eager to please and repeat the trick again. Continue training until he is a fully fledged member of the circus that can pull off the trick with ease each time.
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 11/20/2017, edited: 01/08/2021