Tips for food orientated dogs

All dogs do not react to the same stimuli. Some dogs are very game and movement motivated, whilst others are very food orientated. In the previous topic you saw that Mozzie and Phoebe could be encouraged to grab at an object simply by animating it when they approached it. If your dog is more food than toy orientated and animating the object is not enough, a good option can be to apply a little bit of soft treat on the object to encourage your dog to lick it or mouth it.

The only disadvantage with this technique is that your dog may understand that the behaviour required is licking instead of mouthing and holding.

As soon as your dog starts mouthing or licking the object (which implies opening the mouth), Mark and Reward; do not let your dog to simply continue licking the object. Your dog should not think that the reward is to be allowed to lick the object, the reward is the treat you give it for having given the object a quick lick.

Encouraging Grabbing

In the previous topic you worked at encouraging your dog to investigate an object held in your hand and eventually to try to mouth it.

When your dog is consistently mouthing the object, you are ready for stage 2: getting your dog to grab the object and if your dog is managing, to progressively increase the duration of the grab. At this stage, you aiming to get around half a second or a second duration. We demonstrate this with Phoebe in the video below.

As seen in the video, it is good practice to vary the object as your dog starts holding them for longer periods. We want to encourage the generalisation of the behaviour rather than only working with a single favourite object.

Key Learnings from the Video:

  • Gradually increase the duration of the hold by increasing the time between your dog taking the object in its mouth and you giving it the “Yes” marker.
  • Keep your hand next to the object, either lightly touching it or in a position that you can take hold of it when your dog lets go. You want to avoid letting the object fall to the floor.
  • Build the duration slowly.
  • Keep using different objects as your dog will behave differently with each object. Do not assume that if your dog is able to hold one object for a significant duration that it will do so for all objects.

Tip: As you start to build the duration you may find that your dog tends to drop the object to the floor. In the following video I discuss some simple tips to help avoid this.

Encouraging Mouthing

In the following videos we will be working the exercise initially with Mozzie who has never formally been taught any tricks, and then with Phoebe who does have more experience at performing tricks.

The aim of this first stage is simply to get your dog gradually interested in an object you are holding in front of it and encourage your dog to ultimately take the object in its mouth.

It is unlikely that your dog will immediately want to take any object in its mouth. Start off by marking & rewarding any time your dog investigates the object you are holding in front of it.

At this very initial stage, give the reward next to the object. This will give value to the object your dog is investigating.

  1. Start by marking and rewarding your dog for any of the following behaviours:
  • Looking at the object
  • Sniffing the object
  • Nudging the object
  • Touching the object with its front teeth
  • A slight opening of the mouth next to the object
  • Mouthing the object
  1. When your dog consistently investigates the object, or even starts mouthing the object when you present it in front of you, progressively start to reward away from the object so that your dog needs to re-orientate itself back towards the object after each reward.
  2. Start to vary the position of the object, so that it is not always located directly in front of you; hold the object further away from your body. This is to ensure that your dog fully understands that the reward is related to investigating or mouthing the object, not just when the object is directly in front of you.

I like introducing hard objects because it is possible to the dog’s teeth on the object as the dog starts to hold it. This is useful it may not always be able to see the behaviour clearly.

When your dog is working well with a specific object, it is time to introduce a variety of objects with different characteristics, from soft fleece tuggies to harder objects such as plastic, wooden, or metallic spoons or training dumbbells. Of course, you can decide to only work the whole trick with one type of object, but I like introducing different objects from the start to avoid the risk of my dog only understanding the behaviour for one specific object. By using different objects, we can generalise the behaviour which will allow us to use the behaviour in different scenarios.

You will see Emily and Mozzie progress through these steps in the following video.

A key point to note is that during the three steps you are not going to be giving any command to your dog, other than giving it a “Yes” marker and a reward when it offers the correct behaviour. We will only introduce a word to be associated to the behaviour when your dog has understood how to hold the object.

When your dog is consistently targeting the object as described in the steps above, and demonstrated in the video with Mozzie, the next goal is to encourage your dog to start to take the object into its mouth.

In the following example with Mozzie, Emily starts by making the object more exciting by waving it about to animate it. Giving movement to the object can encourage your dog to grab it.

At this stage we are not looking for your dog to hold the object for any length of time as soon as your dog takes the object give it a reward. This is clearly demonstrated in the next video.

It may take a long time to get your dog start displaying the desired behaviour. Some dogs will pick this up much faster than others. Do not try to rush the exercise and especially do not be tempted to push the object into your dog’s mouth, they will not like it and will be less inclined to want to take it on their own

As it is always valuable to watch different dogs working, the following videos of Emily working with Phoebe also demonstrate how to encourage mouthing of an object.

Introduction to ‘Hold It’

Over the coming weeks we are going to be working on getting your dog to hold a variety of objects on its mouth. This is a trick that we call Hold It.

In the following video, Emily & Leo are going to demonstrate the end result of the ‘Hold It’ before we move on to how to teach the behaviour.