How to Teach a Dog to Take Treats Gently

Some dogs will naturally take treats gently from a person’s hand, while others can be quite careless!

If you have a dog that snaps at your hand in a frantic attempt to get a treat, the following are some tips you can use to teach him to be more patient and gentle.

These are also good tips to try if you recently adopted a puppy. It's much easier to start out by teaching good manners than it is to try correcting a problem later on.

Tips to get a dog to take treats nicely

Melissa Viera is a professional dog trainer with MJ’s Pet Training Academy, and she shared the tips she uses to teach her clients' dogs to take treats nicely.

First, she said to place a treat in your hand and close your fist over the treat while your dog is watching. Calmly hold out your fist, and your dog will probably try to open your fist to get the treat. That's OK. Just wait patiently.

“The instant your dog takes a break from trying to get the treat, tell your dog ‘Yes!’ and open your hand so they have the treat,” she said. “Just like with all training, timing is the key to success. Let your dog know the moment they do what you want and reward them.”

In this case, you only reward your dog when he is gently taking the food.

Professional dog trainer Amy Robinson of Amy Robinson Dog Training uses the same technique.

When she holds out her closed hand with the treat, she tells the dog “Gentle” in a soothing voice, allowing the dog to touch her hand, even nibbling at it a bit.

“Once he stops using his teeth, slowly turn your hand around and open it so he can access his prize,” Robinson said. “If he gets too grabby, just close your fist again and start over.”

With consistency, Robinson said the dog will understand that “speed and force make the treat go away.”

Viera suggested a great time for practicing this technique is before your dog’s feeding time. Rather than putting your dog’s food down in a bowl right away, take a few pieces and practice teaching your dog to take them nicely.

As you keep practicing, she said your dog should eventually begin to wait for you to open your hand so he can get the treat rather than trying to take it from you. It’s also important for everyone who feeds your dog treats to follow the same rules.

“Clear communication will help your dog be successful,” Viera said.

What if the dog tries to nip or snap?

“An eager dog will chomp a treat like a hungry alligator,” Robinson said.

If the treat comes down from above, the dog has to jump a bit, and that’s where the snapping happens, she said. This is why it’s important to hold the treat in your closed fist and calmly bring it right down to the dog’s eye level.

For dog owners who are worried the dog will be too rough trying to get the treat, or if the dog nips or snaps at people's hands, Viera suggested wearing gloves. Another option is to place the treat in a closed container instead of your hand for the time being.

A final tip Viera suggested is to simply keep your hand closed and just turn away from the dog when he gets too rough or too excited. Then, after a minute or so, try working with him again to see if he’s calmed down.

Do any of your dogs snap when trying to get a treat? What do you do?