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Hard mouth taking treats for training

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Training has become very frustrating because my dog has a "hard mouth." I have made great progress with my rescue BC Winnie (5 yrs old) in training positively (thx to all the suggestions here!) However, after 3 months I am no further along in getting her to take treats "softly". With a very calm environment, indoors, she will take low value stuff like processed dog treats (Zukes, Pupperoni) with little or no tooth on hand. I also feed her by hand and she is able to use a soft mouth on kibble.


As the environment becomes more interesting (outdoors) and higher value treats (hot dog, chicken) she escalates to almost breaking the skin. I have tried offering palm only, but there is still way too much tooth. Tried offering closed hand and opening only if feeling no tooth. Again, she escalates to almost-bite as treats get higher value. Tried practicing "lick" with stuff like Kong treat filler and baby food. When doing something that requires rapid treat delivery in position, like teaching "moving watch me" or "heel", the bites just get harder. She has not broken skin yet, but often leaves a red mark at least once per training session. She still needs lot of counter conditioning to stop car chasing, which as often as possible I WANT to use very high value treats. But it is so frustrating on some days, I just give up and stop the training. Also by letting her continually "rehearse" the bad behavior, I feel like I am contributing to the problem and just making it more hard wired in her brain.


She always get a good dose of outdoor exercise BEFORE we do any training for the day. Usually only 2 training sessions of no more than 15 minutes, separated in am and pm. So if the treats or environment are too arousing, I don't think its due to lack of exercise in general...


Thanks for any and all suggestions!

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My guess is that you haven't worked either through working up to higher value treats or the extinction burst. (Search archives for an explanation of the extinction burst.)


If it were me, I'd continue with the closed fist, starting over from the beginning with lower value treats and working up to higher value ones. You might try not doing any other training than this for a while while you focus solely on this. Don't ever give in and allow her to have the treat in your closed fist until she's completely stopped mugging for it, and if she can't take it gently from your palm then snap that fist shut immediately so she can't grab it. (You can find videos of this method on YouTube key wording "it's yer choice.")


You may want to practice closing your fist on a treat quickly without her until you've got it down. If you have to wear gloves so she can't hurt you and unintentionally, do so. You may want to try the kevlar(?) butchers' gloves designed to keep butchers from getting cut by their knives.


Make sure she's completely reliable with the lower value treats before moving up to one of higher value. Moving forward too quickly is a common reason for failure.


Also, if she's better indoors than outdoors, start indoors, get her totally reliable then move outdoors with the same treat until she's reliable.


Lather, rinse, repeat . . . . as many times as it takes.

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When I got my dog she was seriously underweight with a huge parasite load. Food was something she hadn't been getting enough of. As a result, she was grabby with hand-held treats. She bit me a few times in the same manner you describe about your dog. And like yours, it was worse when she was excited.


My solution was to temporarily eliminate treats as a training reward, and to teach her that the best way to get a treat from me was to wait, and make eye-contact.


Holing a small handful of kibble in a closed fist, I would hold it out to her, saying, "E-e-e-e-asy". If she grabbed at it I would pull away sharply and yelp as though in pain. She would look up at me in surprise, and then I would offer the fistful of kibble again. She was permitted to sniff, nose, and lick, and as long as she remained gentle in her probings I would loosen the fist slowly until she had found all of the kibbles. If she used her teeth at all, the hand was withdrawn with a yelp of "pain".


After she was reliably gentle, I would offer the kibbles between the fingers of an open hand, along with "Easy." She would take great pains to extract them gently. Then I started offering a treat between thumb and forefinger with the "Easy".


It only took a few sessions over a few days for her to become reliably gentle in taking food from my hands. The two most important things were, if she was rough, she didn't get the treat. If she was gentle, getting the treat was immediately made easier.


I use treats in training, usually at the beginning of learning something new, then I phase them out.

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My Jester never really got over being grabby with treats. I worked with him for 13 years on it and never completely changed his behavior.

This is not to say you can't, but just to say that if you don't succeed in changing that, it is not necessarily a failure on the part of your training.

What I learned to do was to hold it so he could see it and say "Gently!" to him each time before handing him a treat, and then he would remember to be gentle in taking it. Usually if I were doing a training session I would not have to say it every single time, especially if I were repeating a behavior cue and fast-rewarding for response.

You can try yelping the way a dog does to show him that he is hurting you. With some dogs that works.

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as other suggested, I would start from the easy environment and low values treat and hold the treat in front of the dog, and give only when she establishes eye contact with you. if she rushes at the treat, I would close the hand, dramatize a bit as she really really hurt you, (might be even leave the room for a while) and then start over. of course lot of praise (or click) when she takes the treat gently. when she gets the concept of taking the treat gently, I would also then try holding the treat away from her and moving slowly toward her close to her mouth. click if she keeps eye contact and deliver the treat. then I would also try to the side, wait for her to make eye contact with you, and then deliver the treat. you could also progress moving the hand side to side and deliver the treat if she keeps eye contact with you.

Spillo, my dog, does not have a hard mouth in general, but I have to say that when the demand in training becomes very difficult for him, he takes the treat in a nervous way and I can feel his mouth on my hand more. so pressure is also a factor to consider. not sure if this is a good thing to do, but I admit that in this circumstance I accept his harder mouth as I feel he is trying to cope, overcome some big trigger. for example I knew he was finally ok with kids on scooter passing by when he went from taking the treats compulsively still fixating on the trigger, to turning his head toward me while the scooter was passing by and taking the treat slowly.

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It helps a little, ime, to start giving treats by poking them into the mouth vs asking the dog to take them from my fingers. When I start this I find they open their mouth a little to allow for the treat to be popped in.


As others have said, taking treats aggressively indicates that shes not really focused on the food and more on the stimulous.


It also might help, to just allow her to be in an area thats stimulating without treating her. far enough back that shes not totally overwhelmed by whatever is interesting. Don't feed her yet, just let her adapt a little. Once shes offering you her attention (vs the stimulating stuff) and you are not using the treats to get her to focus on you, she should be able to remember how to take treats gently.

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Great replies above. I got some new ideas for my younger dog that CAN take treats gently, but gets quite 'nippy' when over stimulated. One thing I did with my older dog, who is now quite gentle with treat-taking, was to hide a metal spoon in my hand (treat included). When he grabbed for the treat, he got an unpleasant surprise. I had already done many of the strategies described above, which didn't seem to be getting the point across. A couple times with the spoon, every few days or every couple of weeks, would remind him to be more gentle. I also continued with the other training. IMHO, I think that maturity helped a lot.

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