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Does your pooch try to take your hand off every time you go to give him a treat? While this type of behavior is unacceptable, it is relatively common. There are some dogs who are naturally gentle but far more that are not. This type of "gentle" behavior is something that every dog should know. However, at the same time, it is important for you to understand that this is not an aggressive behavior. It is simply that your pup needs to learn some manners.
At the same time, you should also know that taking treats from a human hand is not an innate behavior in dogs. No dog automatically knows how to do this, it is something you will need to teach your pup. Training your dog to take treats gently is vital as it will have an impact on every other type of training in which you use treats as a reward.
The idea here is to teach your pup not to try and take your fingers off along with the treat you are trying to give him. The last thing you want is for your dog to behave that way, especially with a small child. You could perhaps get around this problem by tossing his treats to him or placing them on the ground. But, this is only circumventing the problem, it is not fixing it. This may come back to haunt you further down the road.
Once you train your pup to be gentle when taking treats, playing with him and his toys will be a lot more fun for everyone. If you are not comfortable trying to train your pup, consider using a leather glove to protect your hand. The most important thing you need to remember is that it will take time and patience to reach the point at which your pup will always take his treats, toys, and any else you are trying to give gently from your hand.
Try to choose a time of day when your house is quiet and free from distractions for the first few sessions at least. It doesn't take much in the way of supplies for this particular form of training, but you will need:
need a large supply of your pup's favorite soft chewy treats.
Gloves: If you are worried about being bitten.
A clicker: If you have been using clicker training.
Patience: You always need plenty of this.
Time: Again, you need plenty of time to teach this behavior.
One extra thing to keep in mind is that you should not attempt to train your dog when he is aroused, stressed, or hyper, you should only do this when he is nice and calm. Once he has mastered this skill in the quiet, start adding distractions slowly until you can give him a treat, no matter what is going on, without fear of losing a finger.
The Closed Fist Method
Treat in hand
Place a treat in the palm of your hand and make a fist. Call your dog over and have him sit in front of you.
Present the treat
Hold your hand with the treat out to your pup, just under chin level. If he tries to bite your hand, keep your fist closed. As long as he keeps trying to bite your hand, be patient. As soon as your pup gets tired of biting you and starts to gently nibble or lick your hand, go ahead and open it up and let him have the treat.
Repeat and add a cue word
Now repeat the above procedure several times in a row until your pup starts to show that he understands the concept. When he does, start adding in the cue word "gentle" right before you open his hand. This will teach him to match the command 'gentle' with being given the treat. In this way he also learns that being gentle earns rewards.
The next step is to place a treat between your thumb and forefinger while keeping it covered with your thumb. If he tries to grab it, close the treat in your fist and go back through a little more closed/open fist training again. If he tries to take the treat from you gently, praise him heavily and let him have the treat.
Now you can let him see the treat as you slowly offer it to him. Use the 'gentle' command and then allow him to take the treat if he does so. Keep repeating this until your pup will always take the treat from you gently.
The Sit-Stay Method
In order for your dog to be trained to take treats gently, he must first know how to follow certain basic commands, especially 'sit' and 'stay', as you will be using both of these commands for this training method.
Grab your pup's treats
Grab a handful of your pup's favorite treats. Try to use small chewy treats with a strong odor as your pup will find them more attractive.
Call your pup
Call your pup over to you and have him sit in front of you.
Let him smell the treat
With the treat held in a closed fist, hold it out where he can see and smell it. Then lower it to a point just below and in front of his chin.
If he lunges
If your pup tries to get up and lunge towards the treat, pull your hand back and give him the 'sit-stay' command. When he does, go ahead and give him the treat.
If he stays put
If your pup stays put, praise him and give him the treat. Repeat this until your pup will take his treats gently every time.
Over and over again
Keep repeating this training until your pup will stay put and wait until you tell him to come and get the treat. Start moving further back and repeating this. In time, your pup will come to recognize that being gentle and patient earns him the treat.
The Clicker Method
See your treat
Let your pup see you put a treat in your hand and then make a fist. Stretch the hand out with the treat in it until it is in front of his nose. Hold your clicker in the other hand. At first your pup is likely to paw, poke, and lick at your hand, but at some point, he is going to get frustrated and pull back. At this moment, use the clicker and with the other hand drop a treat on the floor. Repeat until he gets the idea that he only gets the treat when he doesn't touch your fist.
Self-restraint is not something most dogs are very good at, but it is something that can be taught. Take a fresh treat out of the bag and "load" it into your fist. Start moving your fist towards your pup. If he moves towards it, withdraw. If he stays in place, use the clicker and give him a treat. Keep practicing this until you can move your fist all the way to just in front of his nose and he won't budge.
Slowly open your first
Now that you can hold your closed fist in front of him for a few seconds, it's time to start slowly open your fist. Watch your pup as you do this, at the first sign of movement close your fist and make a smaller movement the next time. Only give your dog the treat after you can open and close your fist and he remains in place even with your hand open flat and you say, "take it."
Move to your fingers
Time to move on to holding the treat between your fingers. Hold the treat out between your thumb and forefinger. If your dog moves towards it, fold it up in a closed fist. If he remains in place, go ahead and give him the treat.
Practice each of these steps several times a day for at least two days before moving on.
By PB Getz
Published: 11/10/2017, edited: 01/08/2021