Saturday, April 17, 2010

Learning To Share

This is a skill I teach our dogs early on. If they have an object and I cue them to 'give', they give the object to me. This can be a safety issue especially if your dog gets a hold of something he should not have, or if you have young children in the home who might approach the dog while eating or chewing a bone. Children and dogs should always be supervised, but sometimes life happens and things slip up. Better to have your dog comfortable with a set of hands reaching for him while he has a valued object.

I begin teaching the idea of sharing the first day a dog or puppy comes to our home. Melissa's first few meals if not fed in an interactive toy were fed from my hand. She became accustomed to hands delivering food. If she had an interactive toy, we tossed a few tasty treats nearby as she played. She looked forward to us coming close as it meant great yummy treats in addition to what she had.

We then began to bend over and deliver the tasty treats while she was eating. What a great deal for her: she not only got her dinner but extra goodies when we approached. The presence of hands coming towards her meals were not a threat, she welcomed them.

The old fashioned way of putting the dog's food dish down and then taking it away as he is eating is no longer used in modern day training. Think about it: If you were eating dinner and your significant other kept taking the plate away as you ate, what would your feelings be towards this person? I'd call it nagging, annoying, and I would get a bit mad. But if my husband approached my dinner plate and dropped some dark chocolate (a passion of mine!) I would welcome him to come close while I was eating. In fact he could take my dinner plate if he exchanged it for the chocolate!

It is the same with your dog. It is just bothersome to him for you to keep taking his bowl of food in order to 'teach him to share'. Instead drop something better then his daily ration near his bowl while he is eating. Once he is eager to have you come close, begin dropping the yummy stuff in his bowl. He can't tell you to back off in a nice tone, he will use his body to block you and if you still insist on taking his food, he will growl. He is not a bad dog, he is doing what is hard wired in his genetic makeup from his ancestors. It was a means of survival. Just because dogs are domestic does not mean they left all the hard wired stuff behind. It is our job to teach them to be comfortable with hands reaching towards them when they have a valued object. If your dog is already growling over his food bowl or his toys or other valued object please get a positive reinforcement trainer to help you to teach your dog to be more comfortable with you and other family members around his treasured objects.

Melissa is now 7 months old, we've been practicing for the last 5 months. I still review this skill of sharing with my senior dogs. For some of Melissa's meals I still hand feed, while practicing some training skills with her. Other times I ask her to sit, or touch, and then place her food down. While she is eating I walk close to her, drop better food all around her. We have had many repetitions of doing this so she is very comfortable with me around her food bowl. She associates me with great tasty morsels...better then what is in her bowl or interactive toy. Sometimes I place a trail of those tasty morsels away from her food bowl as I say give...she eats those morsels as I pick up her bowl or interactive toy. She then looks up I place the remainder of her meal down as I say take it. We practice the same with toys, and bones. It's a pretty good deal for Melissa, she allows me to take her meals, toys or bones while she is eating some tasty morsels, and then she gets her valued object back.

It is never too early to start this training. Last week Melissa met a new friend, a 4 month old German Shepherd named Tate. We hiked together, the two pups were a great match for each other as they romped thru the fields. When we got back to our cars, Tate's owner Sue put him in her car with a bone. I came over to say goodbye, Tate was relaxed with me coming close by as he laid next to his bone. I just had to do little training with him, it took less then 30 seconds. I showered yummy treats all around his bone. He had a nice association of a my hands coming towards him while he had a bone, people reaching bring great things! He is well on his way to becoming as comfortable as Melissa is around valued objects. Adventures of Melissa and Tate in upcoming blogs.

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