The topic today is: Get Your Hands Out of the Treat Pouch. So this is one of the big coaching points that I still have to get coached on. I’m also coaching beginners, more advanced people, and even dog training competitors on the subject. And the reason for this is we don’t want our dogs to build too strong of an association with the fact that we’re using scent to drive their behaviors. Let me unpack that a little bit.
Scent Is Very Powerful
So scent is very powerful. Actually, a German Shepherd has 300 million scent receptors as compared to our 5 million. 5 million is not bad, but 300 million is quite impressive. So when you begin training with a dog, it’s instrumental in using a scent that your dog will enjoy and pursue to get them to do the things you want.
Practically every dog trainer that I know of will use food in that way for a short period of time. The problem is the prolonged use of putting the food to the dog’s nose to influence the action they’re going to take next. And then reinforcing them after that. Because what the dog’s brain remembers is what they smelled and the action they did to get the reward.
Voice Leads To Reward
It makes a lot of sense for the dog to continue to look for the scent to continue to do that. So one of the things that I’ve tried to do as we train dogs; is to coach people to keep their hands out of the treat pouch. By using a mechanism that I’ve called my voice leads to the reward. You want to show your dog that your voice is a thing worth paying attention to.
So, I’d like you to go and train with your dog today, don’t really think about your technique. I want you to train your dog, and I want you to film yourself. What you’re going to notice is that you’re going to move your hand into the treat pouch before you’ve actually started praising your dog. This is a very normal thing to do.
And if you pay attention while you’re doing this, you’re going to notice that your dog’s eyes will most likely not come up to your face. But will rather track your hand to the pouch and then obviously track your hand to their mouth so they can receive the food even though you’re talking the entire time.
This presents a problem because you’ll teach the dog to watch your hands if you continue to train like that. So rather, if you just started that process by taking some very neutral body language. Then when you’re standing neutrally, begin the process of saying “good dog.” You could also use a clicker.
For this example, you could say “good dog” and then reach into the pouch and feed your dog. I bet you that practically every dog would begin to look at its owner’s eyes within 5-30 repetitions of following that exact process. The process of saying “good dog,” then moving into the pouch, feeding the dog, and ultimately petting the dog. You are literally saying “good dog” virtually the entire time. I bet you would get much better eye contact if you were to do something like that.
Even the obedience command is directly related to the reward. This is important because as obedience trainers and dog trainers, if you were to say sit, the dog did it, and it was immediately followed by “good dog”. And then that was immediately followed by you reaching into the pouch and feeding the dog. Now your dog is going to see that. And now the dog will watch your face even more because who doesn’t want better eye contact from their dog?
So the thing to do here is you want to say “good dog” and then reach into the treat pouch. Don’t have your hands in there before you’ve actually started the process of telling the dog with your voice that they’re right and then move into the pouch.