Giving food doesn’t have to always look the same. Actually, changing the way you deliver it can make the food more valuable to your dog. It’s a very useful trick if your dog can only eat a few types of food or if they have just done something amazing and you only have kibble on you.
straight from your hand
This is the simplest way of delivering treats, but simple doesn’t mean bad. Giving treats in the same place (for example in front of you or by your leg) and with the same speed creates a predictable pattern and it can help keep the arousal level down. Well-planned reward delivery can make training faster and more precise.
If the dog is refusing food they are probably quite stressed! Get out of that situation and rethink your options! (Tip: can you increase the distance from the trigger, lower its intensity or shorten the exposure time?)
…calm them down
Sniffing for food is as natural an activity as it gets (dogs are scavengers first and hunters by necessity!). It provides information about the environment and has an overall calming effect on dogs. Looking for treats also helps them boost their confidence, they find them all on their own 🙂 If your dog is new to this, remember to start with larger, more smelly treats.
If your dog is too nervous to sniff, you can try giving them a chew toy. Chewing also calms them down.
Have you ever heard of the name game? You can use this game to teach your dogs:
that the treat comes after their name,
and that everyone will get their share,
so they don’t have to be impatient.
It also comes in handy when you have to wait around with a couple of dogs or if you want to distract them from something.
What does it look like?
Two or more dogs are around you:
four feet on the floor
they look at you or at the food
There should be no barking or whining. When dogs vocalize it usually means that the exercise is too hard and you need to modify it.
Say the dog’s name.
Turn your body towards the dog and look at that dog.
Give him/her the treat.
If necessary use your body so that the dog standing next to the eating dog can’t disturb him/her
Repeat this process with each dog, then start from the top. Always change the order in which you call their names and don’t forget the release cue at the end!
If one dog is especially impatient, start with him/her and treat them more throughout the game.
You can work with low value food. In group (“competitive”) situations food tends to gain more value and we don’t want to increase arousal.
In the beginning play fast. Once the dogs are familiar with the process you can start dragging out the time between each name.
If one dog is prone to stealing food or tries to chase other dogs away from the source of food, it’s worth working with a helper. At first this dog is treated by the other person (as a part of the game though) and you gradually decrease the distance, until he/she can be integrated into the group.
You can also play this game with one dog
Many dogs get frustrated around food (bark, lick the hand, mouth, whine) even when they’re alone. There are many possible causes for these behaviors, such as:
it’s unpredictable to the dog where and when treats are available
our use of event markers (clicker, verbal marker like “yes”) is inconsistent
our body language is confusing
we have not reinforced the behavior of “waiting calmly”
we take away the treats a lot (negative punishment)
the breeder fed all the puppies from one plate and the puppies learned to associate food with stress and frustration
Obviously you can’t solve this kind of a problem with one exercise, but the name game can be quite helpful here.
Meet Mr. X
Your dog is close to you, four feet on the ground, pays attention to you. Now there are only two players – your dog and Mr. X:
Say your dog’s name, turn towards them and look at them, deliver the treat.
Say “Mr. X.” (or anything else you like!), turn away from your dog and put a treat in a bowl or into your other hand.
At first it should frequently your dog’s turn and Mr. X gets treated only from time to time. Once your dog understands the game, you can increase the amount of treats given to Mr. X and start dragging out the time between each name.
Don’t forget to give the release cue at the end of the session and yes, you can give your dog all of Mr. X’s treats 🙂
To the Donau Dogs trainer Philip Engelman (first video). Check out their website for more dog training tips.