Sunday, December 8, 2013

Ouch! That's my finger!

"Why do some dogs grab treats so hard, and how can I teach him to be gentle?" This is a very common question that many people ask and it's a great question.
First, all dogs should be taught how to gently take food/treats from hands/fingers.  Some dogs are naturally soft and take food gently.  Dogs like this need no prior training for this.  But others take it very much in a manner that can be downright painful!  

After a dog is taught how to take food gently if there is a situation where he takes it not-so-gently you need to consider why this would be happening.  With dogs, I always say, everything happens for a reason we just have to find the reason!

Here are a few reasons why a dog would take food in a less than gentle manner:

1) Competition.  If you are serving food (or treats) with other dogs around, especially in close proximity, some dogs will snatch the food quickly acting in a normal competitive doggie fashion.  Dogs aren't wired to be natural sharing creatures.  With resources around dogs will often start to grab things quickly when other dogs are  around so that they can get what is "theirs" quickly before the other dog does -- this would be the thought process of the dog snatching the food.

2) Stress.  Many dogs will grab food out of your hand very harshly and/or quickly when in a stressful situation.  Remember what is stressful for your dog will be different for the next dog.  A common place that I see "grabby" dogs is in group classes.  Classes can be stressful. Other dogs all around, all dogs are asked to perform one thing or another.  It can be stressful and therefore some dogs will become pretty grabby with the food.

3) It's been trained. Usually this doesn't happen on purpose but it happens. The dog has learned to do this and gets the treat anyway, therefore he continues to do this. If you pull your hand away quickly when the dog goes to grab you'll likely teach the dog to grab faster and hold on once he gets it too!

If your dog fits any of the three reasons above, and now you're asking --  now what?  Here is what.  
Train your dog to take food gently from your hand from day one. This means if you have gotten a new puppy start the puppy with this training. If you have a newly acquired adult dog do the same.  It's never too early or too late to train any dog!

This skill should first be taught starting in a low-key, non-distracting environment without other dogs around. You may increase criteria, distractions, etc. as the dog progresses successfully. Here is an excellent video on teaching a dog some impulse control and how to take food gently without just snatching it out of the hand. And another video here.

If your dog does this out of competition due to a multiple dog household, teach each dog individually this skill and then you may teach each dog to wait its turn before getting something. Basically teaching a dog impulse control around other dogs.  This will prove useful for many other things too.  Here is a great read on how to work with multiple dogs and train them to do things one at a time.  Here is yet another on multiple dogs and their training.

If your dog does this when stressed you need to decrease the stress. Find out what is stressing the dog, work through that -- whether that's a whole other training protocol or whatever it is -- then move forward.  If your dog does become stressed and grabby, I'd end that training session. Most dogs at this stage are not learning or are only taking bits and pieces.  Go back, reduce/get rid of the stress, then start over.

What you should not do when a dog gets grabby:

- Move your hand away, especially quickly.  Stay still. Don't move.  And go to step one. Train this behavior.
- Don't correct the dog. If the dog is stressed getting angry will only increase stress and make things worse.
- Repeat something like, "easy, easy, easy", or some other verbal cue. You want the dog to know not to grab the food, not have to do it when you tell it to.

Now go get goin' ... I know you have something you learned here that can apply to your household! ...

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