We’ve talked before about how many rewards are at our disposal; treats, toys, life rewards etc. We’ve also talked about how important it is to reward within approximately 1 second of the marker! Quick quick! But HOW you deliver your treat is quite an interesting topic too. I know, it may seem crazy, but just bear with me and it will all become clear.
Largely, our puppy does something we like, we get a treat from our pocket/pouch and we put it in their mouth. Simple, right? Not much variation there, right? Wrong. There IS a lot of variation with how we deliver our treats. How we deliver that treat can effect our dogs motivation, either raising it or lowering it, it can effect our pups excitement levels, and it can also effect our pups behaviour.
Now, bear in mind, I am purely talking about TREAT delivery. There are many other types of rewards that I urge you to experiment with and indeed utilise to aid in your pups training. However, for this article, I’m talking treats!
If we really think about it, are there not lots of different ways to give a treat?
- from pocket/pouch to mouth in a fast movement
- from pocket/pouch to mouth in slow movement
- from closed fist to open fist
- throwing/tossing a treat behind the dog
- throwing/tossing a treat beside the dog
- throwing/tossing a treat to the face in the hopes they catch it!
- put on the floor in front of dog
Now, if we look at these in a bit more detail:
- From pocket/pouch to mouth in a fast movement – most commonly used, especially in puppy training. May increase a ‘grabbing’ behaviour by puppy, fast movement = excitement. A more distracted/laid back puppy may however benefit from this.
- From pocket/pouch to mouth in slow movement – increases a calmer response, a relaxed delivery makes for a calmer puppy. Overly excited or ‘grabby’ pups may benefit.
- From closed fist to open fist – pup doesn’t get treat until fist is opened. Useful for encouraging ‘gentle’ cue. Can help with excitable pups who just want to have the treat right this second! Good points: encourages calmness before delivery. Bad points: may increase frustration.
- Throwing/tossing treat behind the dog – can help with teaching behaviours where you need dog to go out and come back ie. starting off targeting. Dog will go to get treat, upon return you can encourage the behaviour you are working on. Not wise to use this if you have an easily distracted pup, he may not turn round to come back again!
- Throwing/tossing treat beside the dog – useful, but not to be used repeatedly or pup will be inclined to default in that direction, may start to predict treat delivery by ‘going’ that way. Will be hard to rectify later on in your training!
- Throwing/tossing treat to the face – keep dog interested and motivated, be careful of treat ‘hitting’ dog in the face! Sensitive pups may find this a bit distressing! Try to only use if you know your pup has a good catch. May encourage pup to jump up for treat as likely ‘jump’ to catch treat, minimises chance of ‘all 4 on the floor’.
- Put on the floor in front of dog – great for grabby pups, keeps all 4 on the floor and encourages pup to look to the floor not your hands for reinforcement.
There are more I am sure! Feel free to add to my list if you use another technique. There are however things to consider in all of the above. Say, for example, you have a very very bouncy and quite hard mouthed puppy. The first option, from your pocket to mouth in a fast movement, may well result in a puppy accidentally catching you with his teeth or claws. Fast movement, we have said before, may incite more excitability in an already excitable pup. However, try the same in a slower movement, and you may find the puppy is somewhat calmer in their ‘grabbing’ behaviour. Additionally, a ‘grabby’ puppy may benefit from the treat being put on the floor in front of them. If you have indeed marked the behaviour you wanted, it should not matter if your pup moves to get the treat, remember the marker ends the behaviour.
Throwing or tossing a treat is a popular method of treat delivery and I indeed sometimes do this with my dog. However, and this is a big however, be mindful of the exercises you are doing, in what environment you’re doing them and how good your pup is at finding the treat! If I am working with my dog on my own, in my garden or on a walk, I may well toss a treat, this can help to keep my dogs interest, she’s quicker to revert her gaze back to me post treat, and she’s keener. If, for example, I am in a training class, I need a certain level of calmness and I need a bit more focus and control, there are other dogs around us and you must respect that, I can not be tossing treats all over the place in the hopes she finds it! Highly distracting for people and dogs around me. Additionally, if you are moving through exercises at quite a pace, again, make sure your pup is quick to find the treat or you will spend 10 minutes waiting between exercises.
If you have an anxious pup, or are in a high distraction environment, it can indeed be useful to put the treat on the floor in front of your pup. Not only does your pup HAVE to divert his gaze from the surroundings (to look at the floor), the process of sniffing can be calming in itself.
Delivering a treat from a closed fist to open fist is not only useful when teaching a pup to take treats gently, it may also help calm the process generally. If you add in a slow movement, you are then creating a much calmer treat delivery system than, for example, throwing it.
It’s important to get your pup used to taking treats in lots of different ways, as the way you deliver them throughout your training will likely change depending on the context in which it is given. You will need your pup to be fairly fluent in many different types of food delivery, and be able to cope with all fairly well. A puppy doesn’t just ‘know’ how to take treats appropriately just because we offer them, he just sees it in front of him and goes for it! We can not expect this will be something he does ‘well’ without a little prior training. So, we can train our pups, to take treats………..I can hear how crazy that sounds, but there is method in my madness!
Be mindful of the need we have for focus/eye contact. We aim to encourage any kind of focus in our dogs don’t we? When holding treats in your hands prior to delivery, aim to keep your arms bent and your hands at your belly button. Hanging your hand down to the side, or waving your hand about with the treat in your hand, will likely encourage jumping or grabbing behaviours. This, in turn, will create excitement. Seeing something of high value and not being able to get to it, without any prior impulse control training, will cause frustration and eventual disinterest, so be mindful of where your hands and treats are.
I cover treat delivery and how to encourage a gentle mouth in my 1-2-1’s, for more information just get in touch!