By Emily Larlham
Train each type of treat delivery as a behavior unto itself, before adding them into training sessions. For example: To throw a treat at a dog’s face for him to catch when he is not expecting it can be very punishing and distract from the training task, even if the dog does get to eat the treat afterward. So practice all the different ways you will deliver treats outside of training sessions, so your dog becomes familiar with them and won’t find them confusing, distracting, or punishing. Some young puppies will at first be confused about simply taking a treat out of your hand, so you will need to work on that first to save you both frustration during training.
Different ways to deliver a treat (can you think of more?):
- Feed to dog’s mouth (fast and slow delivery)
- Slowly place on the floor
- Roll or flick across the floor
- Toss behind or in front of the dog
- Spit from your mouth (not my style but some trainers use it!)
- Produce the treat from different locations- from a shelf in your house, the fridge, another room, your sleeve, your pants, or your pocket.
- Release your dog to get the treat from a crate, from another person, from a dish, or from a remote-controlled treat dispenser
Treat bag: You can keep treats in a plastic baggie in your pocket, or you can buy or make a treat pouch. I like to use the type of pouch that has magnetic flaps that close on their own rather than a bag with a drawstring. As with the latter type of bag, the treats are not easily accessible when the drawstring is closed, and they fall out when you move if you forget to close the bag. Pouches with metal hinges can break easily, so I prefer treat bags that have a strong magnetic closing feature.
Treat jars: You can have jars of dry treats at opportune locations (make sure they are out of reach from your dog though!). These can be used for when unexpected guests come over, and to address the problem of your dog only performing behaviors if he knows you have treats. If a treat jar is always at hand, you can ask for a behavior and then rush to get a treat out of one of the jars, so your dog never finds you predictable regarding when you have treats and when you don’t.
To sum up, varying the way you give treats makes you more unpredictable and interesting to your dog.
Expert tip: The way you deliver a treat can either excite your puppy or calm your puppy down. For example, if your puppy is usually unmotivated when doing tricks, you could get him more excited by throwing or flicking the treats during the training session. On the other hand, if you have a very excitable puppy or a reactive, over-aroused dog, you can move your hand as slowly as you can to put the treat on the ground. The slow movement will help to calm the dog down. Sniffing the ground for the treat can also help to calm your dog, as well as keep your dogs eyes off of the distraction for a small portion of time. Staring at something when restrained or behind a barrier for too long can make dogs and puppies over-excited or frustrated.
Here is a video of 3 examples of calm treat deliveries (great to use for over-aroused, shy, and reactive dogs):