We all know the dogs: generally on the exuberant side, but sweet-tempered and overall wonderful dogs, who nonetheless leave you counting your fingers when you give them a treat.
Many of us have such a
dog, who has readily learned all sorts of skills and tricks but has not
quite learned that the reward for all those good behaviors will still be
there even if they take it gently and slowly.
Star has a lot to learn
in the Take Treats Gently department, and Lamar, probably due to his
levels of anxiety, has a hard time remembering to take treats calmly and
not as if his life depended on it.
Fozzie, for some reason, has the most gentle, velvety soft mouth imaginable, and he has from Day One with us.
But certainly many of the dogs in shelters have this problem, and teaching them to take treats calmly can increase their prospects for adoption.
The APDT Chronicle of the Dog has been having a Train to Adopt series, and the article in the September/October 2012 issue provides a quick outline of how to train taking treats calmly.
Shelter dogs are meeting all sorts of people, many of them nervous and not very dog-savvy. If the dog jumps up to snatch at a treat offered by a nervous hand, that hand will fly away--teaching the dog that he'd better move faster next time.
For dogs who already know to sit automatically for treats, the process is really similar to how we train Leave It. When the dog sits, we offer him the treat. If he lunges, jumps up, snaps at our hand, or takes the treat less than gently, we withdraw the hand quickly. We keep pulling the hand away every time the dog jumps up or snaps at the hand. Only when the dog remains sitting calmly even as the hand is snatched away do we leave the hand in place and allow him to have the treat.
When I first read about it, the method of snatching the treat away at the last minute seems a little like teasing the dog. But I can see how getting a dog used to this, and showing the dog that a reward will come if only he can remain seated--especially in a shelter environment with lots of unpredictable interactions with new people--can help build a bombproof dog.
I guess the problem addressed by this exercise--the dog who loses his "sit" when the treat goes away--is a little different from the problem of the dog who doesn't take treats gently. But I would be very interested in hearing your methods for teaching either life skill.