Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Taking Treats Gently

Ranger and Annie are our part-time dogs. They come to visit and herd sheep and hike and join us on our adventures periodically. Ranger was my first foster dog nine years ago, and Annie is his little sister that their family adopted a year later. I'm pretty sure Ranger is actually an Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog based on the shape of his head and his coloring.
Queenland heelers paws up
Paws up!

As adult rescue dogs, Ranger and Annie both tend to take treats roughly. Taking treats gently can be a difficult skill to learn as an adult, and is something that needs to be reinforced perpetually. Ranger is eleven years old, and Annie is nine, so I'm not expecting to undo a lifetime of finger-chomping.

There are a number of ways to give treats to a dog that doesn't mind grabbing a finger or two. One way is to use soft, lickable treats like peanut butter, spray cheese, or LeanLix.

Another way to save your fingers is to toss treats instead of handing them. I do this with Ranger and Annie when I want to reward them very quickly, but it has the side effect of reinforcing treat chomping. Tossing treats also doesn't work very well when attempting to teach a new trick using a food lure. Essentially, I need a way to hold food while my hand is in range of their jaws.

I took classes at a teaching zoo years ago, and one of the things I learned was to give food rewards by shoving my entire hand in the animal's mouth. This works surprisingly well, much better than timidly offering a treat that they could just as easily knock out of my hand as they reach for it. With time and repetition, the animal learns to wait for the food to come to them, rather than rushing toward me to get it.

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