It’s a bit of a shock when you offer a treat to a dog and he takes half your hand off!
And it’s pretty embarrassing when it’s your own dog doing the snatching. Especially when the person offering the treat is a child.
Fortunately, there is a solution. And it’s quite an easy one to teach!
In this article I’ll explain how to teach a dog to take a treat gently in just six easy steps.
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Does it matter if your dog snatches?
Dogs that snatch and grab food from your hand can be a problem.
Some dogs that do this may even nip your fingers. Not only is it bad manners, it really hurts.
Perhaps even more importantly, it makes it very difficult to train a dog successfully using modern methods
Training with food
Modern dog training programs use food in training. And it can be difficult to train your dog if they are unable to behave politely around food or to take treats gently from your hand.
Some people try to get around the problem by throwing food to the dog, or putting it on the floor. Which is certainly preferable to having your fingers gnawed.
But it doesn’t solve the problem permanently, or help other people that might offer food to your dog. (I know, they should ask first, but people often don’t)
Is it possible to stop a dog from snatching?
Yes it is absolutely possible to cure a dog of snatching and to teach your dog to take treats gently.
You don’t have to put up with a dog that mugs your hand every time you pick up a treat or a dog that swallows half your hand when you feed him.
You can put a stop to this behavior right now.
Teaching your dog to choose
Your primary goal here is to teach your dog how to make a really great choice.
The dog needs to choose the behavior you want, in order to get what they want.
And they need to figure this out for themselves.
Let’s see how that works in practice. You’ll need a quiet place to train, free from distractions. Your kitchen for example. Here are the training steps.
Step one: closed fist
In this first step, let your dog watch you put some tiny treats in your hand and close your fist around it.
Now stretch out your arm and put your closed fist in front of the dog’s nose.
Keep your fist closed for now
Most Labradors will now begin to lick and poke at your fist repeatedly, some dogs will paw at your fist too. Watch your dog closely and as soon as they back away from your hand go to step 2.
Step two: uncurling your fingers
In this step we want to teach the dog that if he stops touching your hand, your fingers will uncurl.
Very, slowly and carefully at first. And as you start to uncurl your fingers the dog will most likely make a move on your hand.
Immediately this happens, snap your fingers shut again.
You are simply rewarding him for staying right where he is, with his muzzle well away from your fist.
As the dog moves away from your hand your fingers will uncurl, as the dog moves towards your hand, your fist will close up.
Keep practicing until you can open your hand right up without the dog attempting to touch it.
Step three: feeding the dog
The dog wants your hand to open so he will quickly learn that moving away from your hand is the key to controlling those fingers.
In this step we’ll start to give the dog a great reward for his self restraint. We’ll start to feed those treats to the dog one at a time.
Use the other hand, not the one with the treats in.
Take a treat from the open hand with your other hand and feed it to the dog. If at any point the dog makes a move to grab the treats, snap that fist shut and go back to Step 2
When the dog can patiently while you open your hand completely, not touching or moving towards it, you can go to Step 4
Step four: say please!
This step isn’t essential, but it’s a nice touch. Dog’s can’t say please with words, but they can say please with their eyes. And a great way to say please if you are a dog, is to sit and make eye contact.
In this step, watch your dog closely as you stretch out your fist and uncurl your fingers.
You are waiting for your dog to sit, before you start feeding those treats with the other hand. Say ‘YES’ as soon as the dog’s butt touches the ground and pass him a treat.
Practice this a few times, then wait for the dog to sit and make eye contact. Mark that eye contact with the word ‘YES’ and reward with a treat.
Step five: different places
This step is all about showing your dog that good manners apply everywhere, not just at home.
Start with a different room in the house. Avoid too many distractions, wait until you are on your own for example.
Work through each step in turn as if you were starting over. Your dog may take a few moments to realise that the ‘don’t snatch’ rules apply here too. But you’ll find it’s much quicker this time around, to work through each step.
Repeat in different locations around your home, then start practicing with your dog in public places. Quiet ones to begin with.
Step six: different people
In this final step, you’ll need some help. You need to teach your dog that food manners don’t just apply to you.
They apply even when other people are offering the food. Pick someone that the dog knows well to start with and get them to work through each step in turn.
Again, the dog may forget his manners for a moment, but he’ll soon remember them.
And once he has done this with a few different people, he’ll remember them for good, no matter who is offering the food
Practice makes perfect
Don’t move on from any step until the dog is successful at the previous one.
If your Lab starts to struggle again at any of these steps, just go back to the previous one for a while and practice a little more.
How long does this take
The initial stages (Steps 1-3) can often be done in a single day, but you’ll need to break the training up into several short sessions of just a couple of minutes each.
Proofing these food manners takes a bit longer. That’s the part where you train in different locations and getting different people to feed the dog.
What could go wrong?
There are a couple of fairly common problems that may occur here.
- The dog hurts your closed hand at Step 1
- The dog bites your other hand at Step 3
The first of those is the most likely.
The dog hurts your hand
If your dog is being really rough and hurting you, it’s fine to start this game off wearing a glove on the hand with the food inside.
Something like a gardening glove should protect you. Once you have got Step 1 nailed, repeat without the glove.
You shouldn’t have any problems second time around because your dog now knows that trying to bust into your hand is fruitless
The dog bites your fingers
Most dogs are much more restrained than they were, once they have worked through Step 1. So nipping is less likely when you feed the dog from the other hand.
But if it occurs, instead of putting the food in the dog’s mouth, put it on the floor and push it towards the dog.
Repeat a few times then hold onto the treat as you push it along the floor. Move your hand towards the dog still holding the treat firmly between thumb and forefinger, and release it when the dog mouths gently or licks at the treat.
With practice, your dog will learn that you don’t let go until teeth are taken out of the equation
Benefits of teaching a dog to take a treat gently
This training is actually much more than it seems. Your dog is learning to control himself.
But he is also learning that he can control people’s responses to him, by controlling his own behavior.
In addition to more complex lessons, you’ll find exercises like this one in my online dog training courses.
That’s because this concept lies at the heart of all successful dog training, and will stand you in good stead on your training journey together.
More help and support
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The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website