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The Right (and Wrong) Way to Give a Dog a Treat

treat blogOffering your dog a treat may seem like a simple task, but doing it wrong can encourage undesirable behaviors and even put your fingers at risk. Below are a few common mistakes:

Mistake #1: Holding the treat too high

If your dog has to stand on his hind legs or jump to get a treat, you may be unknowingly reinforcing bad behavior. Your dog probably doesn’t understand why it’s okay to jump up on you to get a treat, but it’s not okay to jump up on people when greeting them.


Instead of waving the treat above your dog’s head, bring it close to his mouth or at chest level.

Mistake #2: Holding the treat with your fingers

If your dog gets super excited when anticipating that tasty snack, holding the treat with your fingers is asking for it. It may be an accident, but your dog could easily nip your fingers while trying to get ahold of the treat.


Close your fist as you lower it to your dog’s level. Then, offer the treat with a flat, open palm to avoid any accidental finger biting.

Mistake #3: Giving treats for the wrong reasons

Giving your dog a treat to “calm him down” when he’s overly excited, jumping to get your attention, or whining will only reinforce these undesirable behaviors.


Save the treats for when your dog really deserves them. Doing a trick, walking well on a leash, staying calm when the doorbell rings… all of these moments are worthy of treating.

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{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Duane Lambeth July 22, 2015, 12:41 pm

    I regularly purchase three (3) Hill Science Diet J/D Formula (27-lb. bags) monthly from you to feed my four (4) labrador retrievers. What flavors does this food come in? Please advise. Thank you.

  • Kate July 24, 2015, 3:04 pm

    I’ve always given treats as a ‘positive behavior re-enforcer’. From what I’m reading this is the only reason to give a treat. Many of my clients substitute a portion of the daily food with treats throughout the day or mini-meals…your thoughts on this please….

  • Becky Voissem July 29, 2015, 3:54 pm

    I agree with all of these…but I have trouble with one situation regarding only giving treats as positive reinforcement for good behavior. My dog loves to escape out the front door of the house. The ONLY way I can lure him back inside is with the promise of a cheese snack. The little goon knows exactly what he’s doing but I really DO need to get him back inside. If I trick him, he’ll get smart and will not come in for me. Any thoughts?

    • Lisa A. Hartman July 30, 2015, 1:21 pm

      Once we started fostering, we learned a “double door” (or “airlock system”) was the only way to go (unless you’re willing to crate your pet while departing). Is there an attached garage or mudroom through which you could exit, so that if he does escape the 1st door, he ISN’T actually free & you can easily swoop him back inside? The cheese treat, albeit required to get him back in presently, is actually REWARDING the escape planning & execution. Another approach: Teach him the Sit-Stay command. Repeat for days on end until it’s reliable & you can briefly leave the room, REWARDING when you return in a few moments. Then, extend that to giving the Release command (OK!) as you are going thru a door, but leave the high-value treat behind on the inside door mat so he doesn’t feel cheated or punk’d. You can practice at other doorways at first, like the bathroom or bedroom, then transition to front door. Once he realizes WHAT you’re leaving behind, he should be far less likely to bolt thru because he’ll be busy gobbling that yummy treat down as you promptly slip away, and you’re now rewarding obedient behavior (staying in) rather than reinforcing dangerous escape tactics to ” win” that morsel.

  • Heather July 30, 2015, 8:57 am

    To combat getting my fingers nipped, I hold my hand flat when giving out treats. 🙂

  • Rue August 26, 2015, 4:59 am

    There will always be dogs over eager for the treat that one is holding. I put a treat in a closed fist, lower it to the dogs head area, fingers in the back toward me. He can’t se it, brings his muzzle curiously around the back of my hand – when he’s calm, I release it slowly.

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