Dog training snags
March 20, 2013 1:51 PM   Subscribe

I have some problems with a couple of dog training efforts: discouraging snapping at treats (but she doesn't always snap), and how to train "drop it," when she's not typically interested in holding something in her mouth to drop. I'd love some ideas on these two problems.

Snapping Problem: My problem with teaching her not to snap at treats is multifold. First, I'll say that she gently takes treats when a) she's in normal calm mode, b) I'm just casually giving her something, and c) it's not expected. So, basically her more standard auto-mode is to be gentle with us (less so with other people).

However, when she's expecting a treat, she gets too excited and tends to snap at it -- but the complicating factor beyond this is that when I do the typical training technique of holding it in my loosely closed hand with just bit showing (so that she could nudge and lick, but not snap it right away), she gets into some crazy thing where she won't take it at all, and very dramatically tries to prove that she's not even looking at it, would never, ever try to take it, no sirreee. I have to call her back and tell her it's okay over and over, which is bad training technique, and isn't working anyway. She's obviously very concerned that I'm going to think that she's trying to take my thing (even though I'm soothing and encouraging while offering it to her)... or else (or "and") she's learned her other training way too well: when I ask her to sit or lay, then put the treat down on the floor, and she has to wait until I tell her it's okay to take it.

So she'll either turn away and avert her eyes, or drop to the floor and wait for me to set it down. I call her back to me, and she's obviously aware that we are in a training mode sort of thing, and tries to do right... either by not looking at or approaching the treat in my hand (I never taught her this, or anything similar), or laying down from her sit position and waiting for me to put it down. She's confused and that makes me feel bad. I'm the problem here.

At any rate, begging her to come take a treat in order to teach her to take it gently is not really making any sense or working out very well.

I also don't really know how to get her take treats from other people gently, since they tend to dangle a treat just out of reach, so she really has to sort of jump and snap to get it at all. I try to tell them to give it to her on the palm of their hand, or just drop it on the ground, but they will persist. So this situation has the problem of her being a bit overexcited about getting a treat anyway, plus that really bad dangle-just-out-of-reach thing makes me think that I can't really fix that very well, since I can't train random people who want to give her treats.

Drop-it problem: I'm not sure how to tackle this one (we haven't started). My dog doesn't really play with her toys very much. She will carry them just so that she has them around her places (her rugs and pillows), and she will "kill" them when she's feeling overexcited or frustrated, but there's no chance of me being able to train "drop it" by getting her to drop a toy because she never really has them in her mouth much, and when she does she's overexcited and it's not a good training time.

So I'll have to train her to drop one food item for another, higher-value food item, but I'm not sure what to use other than a rawhide sort of thing, which she likes, but I'm not crazy about them because I don't feel like they're necessarily safe, and it also messes up her system, typically causing some constipation followed by a small hard block of poo, followed by soft yucky, smeary "baby poo." Aside from that all I can think of is a bone, which also causes me concern, and it's not easy for me to get the sort of bones that I feel more okay with (marrow bones, I guess).

She doesn't like any kind of toy except plush squeakies, and pretty much won't touch anything else, doesn't like to play tug. She'd kind of like to chew on shoes, but with rare exceptions understands that they are our things, not hers. She is extremely food motivated, though, so if I can think of something that she wouldn't just swallow first before coming for the higher value treat, that will work.

Possibly helpful to know: She's a rescue; she's very smart (she figured out that dumb, expensive Tornado toy thing in about three minutes, and aces all the doggy IQ tests). She's very respectful and aware of property (what's hers and what's ours; not something we trained, exactly -- she just developed that way after a couple of weeks when we adopted her five years ago, though she wasn't that way in the beginning). She's well-behaved and not at all typically anxious. I/we don't punish her or yell at her ever, but she definitely treats me as the one in charge; she's not overly submissive, though she was at first when we got her. She's confident and has learned everything else I've taught her nearly instantly. We are not in the US so may not be able to get particular brand items, though we can probably get most anything that's available in the UK.
posted by taz to Pets & Animals (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Does she play fetch? Every dog owner I've known that's trained "drop it" has done it via fetch.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:54 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Vanishingly rare. She might do it when she's in frenzy-kill mode, once or twice, with her plushies, but after that she completely loses interest. Our catch phrase (since we don't know her "pedigree") is, "well, she's definitely not a retriever."
posted by taz at 1:59 PM on March 20, 2013

higher-value food item

Try small pieces of cheese. You run the risk of noxious dog farts with too many, but cheese is definitely a high-value treat, and can be small enough that you can keep training/reinforcing.
posted by phunniemee at 2:05 PM on March 20, 2013

For me, teaching "drop it" was a combination of restless_nomad's suggestion of doing it when we play fetch, and taking advantage of teachable moments. I ALWAYS have some treats in my pocket, when I see an opportunity to teach something like "drop it" I jump at the chance. For example, the pup, for some reason, decided it was fun to grab socks out of the dryer when I was doing laundry, and catching her with it was impossible (she's younger and faster!), so it became a matter of having treats with me when I do laundry, and training on the "drop it". Be aware that she now helps me with the laundry by pulling out socks and handing them to me, costs me a few treats but it's sort of fun.

As far as the treat snapping, you might want to work on a "leave it" command. This starts with holding the treat in the palm of your hand, and saying "leave it", if the pup tries to take it, close your hand. She doesn't get it until she has elected to sit and not try to grab it. Eventually a "take it" command and she can have it. Put the treat in your palm, don't hold it with your fingers, and, if you need to, wear gloves (although I didn't find that necessary). Teach her that there are no treats if she's jumping, snapping, grabbing. If this is a problem when other people give her treats, either don't allow that to happen or instruct them in advance...

And, where the heck is the picture?????
posted by HuronBob at 2:08 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am so completely not a dog expert, since I am currently training my first-ever puppy that I just got 3 weeks ago. BUT. I've been dealing with a few of the types of issues you're dealing with on the treat-taking front, where it's really hard to get the behavior I want in the training instance.

I asked the trainer who teaches my puppy class about this, and she suggesting starting small, by rewarding (either with a verbal marker or treat) as soon as the dog shows signs of moving towards the behavior you want. So for instance, with the treat thing, as soon as she looks at the treat but doesn't snap at it, reward her. Do this like a million times (or, you know, 15) until she starts to get the idea that you do really want her to have the treat, and she gets it if she doesn't snap. Maybe try this in the non-training way, ie, the way that she will sometimes snap at you?

As for the high-reward treat, what about a bully stick? I've never known a dog who didn't love them, and they tend to be pretty easy for dogs to digest, as long as you take them away before they get down to a swallow-able nub.
posted by lunasol at 2:13 PM on March 20, 2013

I have the snappy-snatchy problem with my Newish Mutt, too. (Lab and... Collie? Heeler? Something that herds, he nips my ankles.) He was like that all the time, at first. Giving him a treat was like watching Jaws jump out of the water.

I use a neutral cue for the treat-snapping. "Uh-uh." Conversational, mild tone. That's gentler than a no, and means while Dog didn't do the thing right, they are welcome to try again until they do get it right. So when Logan does take a treat gently, he gets the OMG YOU ARE BEST DOG EVER TO BE A DOG praise, and usually another treat for taking the first one so nicely. It's a slow process, and sometimes when he's all wound up he still tries to take my whole hand, but he's coming along.

Here's a backwards idea for drop-it: teach her to hold something. If she learns to hold a thing when you want her to, she'll also have to learn a cue for dropping it. I'd go ahead and use rawhide or bones for this, since it's a training exercise and not free play where she ingests stuff she shouldn't have.
posted by cmyk at 2:13 PM on March 20, 2013


Phunniemee, my big problem is actually with coming up with the lower value food treat, something foody that is long-lasting enough to be droppable, since she'll just swallow whatever food treat she has rather than dropping it... and she won't touch a chew toy (at least none of the ones I've offered).
posted by taz at 2:15 PM on March 20, 2013

Hmm...what about a biscuity dog biscuit? They're not awesome, what with all the flour, but it takes a while for my small dog to go through one (and he doesn't like them very much).
posted by phunniemee at 2:18 PM on March 20, 2013

For the lower-value treat, have you tried pigs' ears? They take a little while to chew through but may not cause the same problems as the rawhides.
posted by brilliantine at 2:18 PM on March 20, 2013

For the snapping issue, just hold the treat more tightly in your hand. If she snaps at it, say no and don't let go until she's gentle. This worked well for my dog who only occasionally gets rough taking a treat.

For drop it, start modeling drop it with a toy she's not particularly in love with anyway, and as soon as she drops it praise and treat. Then move to maybe one of her more liked toys, then low value food. If she's generally smart she'll get the idea once you teach drop it with something she doesn't want anyway.
posted by zug at 2:23 PM on March 20, 2013

Oh, the snapping when treats are out of reach thing is fixable too.

Giving no commands, hold a treat above her head and slowly lower it toward her (should take 1min to lower it 3 feet). The moment she goes for it or jumps start moving it back upward. The moment she stops start moving it downward again. She's allowed to eat it gently once it reaches her mouth. Once she has that down, do the same thing from the side, then in front. She'll learn pretty fast that she only gets a treat when she is well behaved about it.

(people get weird about treats when dogs appear to go for them quickly. if she sits patiently they will bring it closer to her mouth)
posted by zug at 2:27 PM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

After this, I'll wait a bit and answer a bunch of stuff together so that I don't threadsit, but one thing I should mention is that my feeling of trust about items like pigs ears, bully sticks and doggy crack like that I can get around here is pretty low (like what are the preserving methods, etc.?; I'm not usually paranoid, but weird stuff goes on with not well-regulated pet items, and the things I find have no provenance -- I have no clue where they're coming from, how old they are, how they've been treated)... though maybe I could find a more reliable venue via UK, but this is a problem in many places.

As an example: the last time I took her to the groomer, I bought a couple of small chewsticks that he had for sale because the grooming is sort of stressful for her, and we were going to a cafe afterwards, so I wanted to give her a little reward ... and she had serious diarrhea for several days afterward, enough to take her to the vet -- and she is rarely ill or has digestive problems.

Anyway, you guys are definitely giving some good answers and solutions, and I'll shut up for a bit!
posted by taz at 2:36 PM on March 20, 2013

Oh, one other thing: for training I just use a handful of kibble snagged from the bin. Same stuff he eats twice a day -- not that he, y'know, tastes his food while he's vacuuming it up -- but this is Kibble From The Hand Of God, Warmed In Her Pocket, so it's special somehow. Sometimes I'll mix in junk-food treats that aren't too healthy but smell delicious, so the whole mess of 'em get Chemical Bacon Smell, or whatever. That way, as long as I have pants on, I can reward behavior right away.

The downside to this is that you must check all your pockets before doing laundry or very bad things happen.
posted by cmyk at 2:41 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't remember where I learned this - if it was from a trainer or a book or what. But my dog always used to snap treats out of my hand HARD and nearly take my finger off. He did the same when anyone gave him a treat. Somewhere I learned that when dogs are puppies and playing with each other, they teach each other how to be gentle with yelps and growls. So every time my dog snapped a treat from my hand I was supposed to give a short, quick yelp-like sound to communicate to him that he was being too rough. This worked very well and now he takes extra pains to remove treats from my hand in an especially (almost exaggerated) slow and gentle way. It's so cute and sweet how careful he is. :)

Before I taught him this, I had tried to teach him the word "gentle" when he was taking a treat. And it did work - when I said "gentle" he knew he should take the treat carefully. But that won't work if another person gives him a treat and doesn't know "the word". Or if I forgot to say it. I found it was better for him to learn to modify his own behavior (because it might hurt someone) than to react to a command, which won't work unless the person uses it.
posted by triggerfinger at 3:13 PM on March 20, 2013

Oh and my dogs also get sick from rawhides and similar things. For longer lasting dog treats, maybe you could look for marrow bones? You can now find them in grocery stores in the US, but they're pretty basic things that you can get at any butcher, if they're willing to cut them for you. I freeze them and give them to my dogs frozen and uncooked and they keep them busy for hours. It is okay to give your dog raw beef and uncooked beef bones. I like them because they're natural with no weird processing or chemicals, plus they are natural teeth cleaners. My vet always mentions how nice my dogs teeth look and since a rarely brush them, I credit it to the bones they get most days. Keep in mind that cooked bones are dangerous because they can splinter and afaik, raw poultry is a bad thing for dogs.
posted by triggerfinger at 3:22 PM on March 20, 2013

You can train "drop it" by first training "take it". You get her to take a toy in her mouth and gradually hold it for longer and longer. If she doesn't usually take toys you first do things to make them tempting (peanut butter coating?) and/or shape her by first rewarding her for sniffing the toy, then putting her mouth on the toy, etc. She'll quickly learn to take the toy in her mouth, then drop it to get the delicious treat. Surprise, she's already dropping it.

"Take it" is also the first step in training her to fetch, if you'd like to do that, or training her to bring you a beer from the fridge.
posted by medusa at 3:25 PM on March 20, 2013

1) Train drop it....only after you train "take it." That is, teach her how to hold something in her mouth for second, then a few seconds, then a minute. You can start to add 'drop it' when she gets the "take it" down.

2) Bully sticks are better than rawhide. Not sure how that factors into your treat availability situation.

3) Train her to take the treat by shaping the behavior. So if it's in your hand and she looks at it, click and treat. Then train her to look at YOUR EYES while you're holding the treat. Click and treat. The second she lunges for it, it moves away. No punitive voice, just the natural consequence - you jump, treat goes bye-bye. Then start to move it towards her again. If she looks at it without lunging, click and give her THAT treat (not one from another bag or hand.) Do this many times and eventually you can build up to her looking at your eyes instead of the treat itself.
posted by barnone at 4:20 PM on March 20, 2013

Another treat option is a small kong toy, stuffed with food. You can freeze it for a longer-lasting dog entertainment. Use her regular food, a bit of yogurt, some cheese, or bits of human meat with no sauce. Peanut butter is a good binder too, if you have access to that. I usually fill it with a bunch of stuff, then with yogurt or broth, and freeze until solid. But I'd start off with it easily lickable and NOT frozen until she gets the gist of kong = deliciousness.
posted by barnone at 4:22 PM on March 20, 2013

You can buy trustworthy bully sticks and other treats online - my preferred source is Value Pet Supplies. And yes, teach "take it" before "drop it."

Sky is toooooo cute!
posted by walla at 4:58 PM on March 20, 2013

Some ideas to try might be to try a lower value treat so the dog is in less of a hurry to get it, one she's a bit meh about. Dry food she gets normally might work for this.

Also if she walks or looks away just calmly put the treat away like oh you don' want it and move on, trust me a smart dog will learn to stop doing that fast if the treat is vanishing when she does it and she will probably try other behaviours then which will give you a chance to use the more standard method of getting her to take the treat gently.
posted by wwax at 5:05 PM on March 20, 2013

Cute dog! Congrats! Is she a puppy?

With my dog, for the nipping, (at treats, our hands, other body parts, etc.) we did a very exagerated "yelp" and said "owww!" which wasn't acting, as puppy teeth hurt. That seemed to convey that she should be gentler. It seemed to work.

I guess if Sky is not hoarding/guarding things, I'm not clear why she needs to learn "drop it." It doesn't sound like she ever has anything you want her to drop.
posted by loveyallaround at 6:20 PM on March 20, 2013

I would nth 2 things you already have above to help curb the snapping. First is a big, negative, surprised sound / reaction when she does snap. The equivalent of a dog yelping when their tail gets stepped on is what you're going for. You could kind of wine a little and withdraw for a couple seconds afterwards, same way the stepped-upon dog would.

2nd thing is BIG CRAZY POSITIVE GOOD DOG response EVERY single time she takes a treat well. This is probably hard because half the time you probably aren't even thinking about it or noticing it, so you'll have to be super proactive to notice every time you are giving her a treat and she takes it well, you need to go overboard with the positive praise thereafter.

You can kind of apply #2 to the dropping it problem as well, FYI, lots of positive reinforcement for when she does drop it. If its really something that's vital for you to train her on, you could add negative reinforcement for each time she doesn't drop it, but remember that she's holding on to it not out of spite for you but because she doesn't understand what you want her to do when you say drop it. So measure your negative reinforcement carefully to make sure she understands why she is being a bad dog. After all, she's a dog, so the thought process is basically LOOK AT THIS THING I HAVE IN MY MOUTH, ISN'T THAT GREAT? I THINK I WILL KEEP IT HERE IN MY MOUTH BECAUSE I CAN.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:47 AM on March 21, 2013

When I had our puppy in training class and she was snapping at treats, the trainer had me give her treats by holding them in the palm of my hand with my thumb holding it in place. I didn't otherwise change anything (no corrections for not being gentle, just gave her the treat right away as a normal part of training). She stopped snapping at treats because that technique just wouldn't work for grabbing them when I held the treat that way. It would be like having a treat stuck to a wall, the dog can see that lunging at it just won't work.

After giving her treats that way for a few weeks, I went back to holding them in my fingers but the snapping stopped.

The trainer also suggested feeding her a few meals that way. I didn't have much success (my pup just wasn't interested in non-treat food coming from my hand) but it's worth a shot.
posted by VTX at 6:12 AM on March 21, 2013

Lots of good ideas; thank you everyone! I will be trying many of these, and will start with the kong for training "drop it." loveyallaround, I want her to learn to drop whatever she has in her mouth for a few reasons. One time she got some rat poison our neighbor had put out; luckily, I saw her, and got it out of her mouth with my fingers, but it took a few seconds to get to her, get her jaw open, and take it out. Another time, she put her mouth on a puppy's head... she didn't bite, but it wasn't a friendly gesture. I have no idea what was up with that, but I would have liked for her to instantly quit that with one word and come running to me for her treat. Sometimes she's far ahead on a long lead and I see her snuffling on the ground like there's something to eat, and it might be chicken bones or poison or other bad stuff, and I'd like to get her to drop it and come back to me immediately, rather than me having to catch up to her.
posted by taz at 8:12 AM on March 21, 2013

« Older How to quit a band?   |   How to find the largest, most respected web-design... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.