Friday, December 16, 2011

Training a Dog to Take Food Rewards Gently

Train your dog to sit and receive treats for good performance calmly.

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Dog trainers have probably come close to losing fingers more than once during their experiences teaching dogs how to obey commands. Food rewards are commonly used to reinforce the behavior an owner or trainer wants his dog to display. While they're an effective reward for reinforcing desirable behavior, some dogs may be so excited to receive them that the trainer may need to practice an additional training command of receiving the treat gently with the overzealous dog.

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Dogs have a pack mentality. They are by nature social creatures and in the wild among each other, they look for a leader whose authority and commands they fall under. Obedience training teaches dogs that their owners are the leader of their pack. Gentle, consistent and firm training teaches your dog to obey you as the leader of its pack. Being a responsible pet owner includes teaching your dog how to obey basic commands, including “sit,” “stand,” “stay” and “come.” You can also train your dog to help with useful tasks, such as fetching your morning paper, or important responsibilities, such as being gentle around children, not barking and not being aggressive around other dogs. You can learn how to train a dog yourself or you can take your dog to obedience classes and reinforce what it learns there at home with a treat-reward system.


Treats are helpful for reinforcing positive, obedient and desirable behavior. Experiment with different small treats until you find a few that your dog can’t resist. Avoid hard treats that must be chewed, can break into pieces and fall on the floor. Reward desired behavior immediately after the dog performs it. Accompany the treat with verbal praise, such as “Good dog,” and a gentle pat on the head. Give your dog a treat every time it performs the desired behavior when it's first learning it. Over time, slowly decrease the frequency of the treats for the behavior, but continue to offer verbal praise.

Nipping Technique

There are two general methods that you can use to train your dog to receive a treat gently from your hand. The first is the nipping technique. Place a small treat in your hand while keeping your fingers on one end of the treat. Move the treat in front of the dog’s mouth, but don't let go of it or let it have the treat until it stops biting your hand or nipping at you to get it. If your dogs paws at you, barks or displays anything other than calm, quiet behavior, don't release the treat. Wear gloves if necessary to protect your hand. Work with your dog until it learns that it will only receive a treat once it gently, quietly receives it from your hand without biting or aggression. When your dog disobeys, say “No, No” or “Ahh, Ahh.” When it does obey, praise it with words such as “Yes” or “Good job” and reward it with the treat.

Eye Level Technique

A second method of training the dog to receive treats gently is by holding the treat level with your eyes. Command the dog to sit. Slowly bring your hand down to the dog’s mouth. Pull the treat quickly back up to your eyes if the dog barks, bites or gets up from a seated position. Accompany the movement with a firm “No, No” or “Ahh, Ahh” when the dog displays inappropriate behavior. Train the dog to wait until the treat is in front of its mouth to gently take it from you. When it does, praise it with a “Yes” or “Good” and reward it with the treat.

ResourcesAmerican Kennel Club: Be a Responsible Dog OwnerHumane Society: Dogs - Positive Reinforcement TrainingPhoto Credit Duncan Smith/Photodisc/Getty ImagesRead Next:

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