Day 12: Mother, May I?

A lot of dogs get pushy about taking treats and snagging food off of countertops. The dog sees the treat pouch and his nose instantly finds itself in the bag. Alternatively, you go to hand your dog a treat and find that your hand has disappeared into the black hole of your starving dog, there is no other explanation. Food that is set on the coffee table or even a high counter top is free game. Afterall, you didn’t eat it so it must be theirs!


Dog’s don’t understand the difference between right and wrong. Dogs don’t even feel guilt. Although, some YouTube videos would have you think otherwise. Dogs understand safe and unsafe. They understand risk-benefit analysis very well. If I grab this sandwich can I swallow it faster than “Dad” can get to me? If the answer is yes they will certainly grab it. The same goes for taking treats hard. At some point in the training process your dog probably got excited took a treat a little harder than usual and still got to eat the treat. This pattern establishes itself and now you have a dog that takes treats hard or gets grabby with your hands.

Okay so what do we do about this. The answer is simple. Make it very rewarding for waiting for treats to come to the dog and then graduate to leaving whole sandwiches and sticks of butter (my dog’s favorite) where they are, on the counter.

Today’s Training Exercise: Mother, May I?

Remember that awesome game we played when we were children? “Mother, May I?” Well, this is the doggie take on it. It’s a lot like teaching leave it except you don’t have to micromanage your dog’s every move. I find it obnoxious to have to watch the environment constantly so I can tell my dog to leave it repeatedly. Using this training process the cue to leave an object will be the presence of a distraction (ie: the cookie/sandwich/etc).

  1. Get a fistful of treats. Hold your fist, closed, off to your side. If your dog is a repeat offender he will most likely lick, nibble, nudge, and possibly paw your hand. Wait until these pushy, “give me”, behaviors stop.
  2. As soon as your dog’s nose leaves your hand open it palm up to expose the treats. If your dog returns to his previous antics quickly close your fist. Be patient and wait for your dog to leave your fist again before opening your hand palm up. Repeat this process until your dog no longer nudges your hand for treats while it is open.
  3. When your dog can wait a moment without lunging for the treats, use your empty hand to reach into your open palm with treats to pick up a treat and deliver it to your dog’s mouth. If at any point your dog goes for the open palm, close your fist and wait for some self control again.
  4. As your dog gets better and better at this game you will be able to move the treats around in your palm before handing him a treat.
  5. If your dog remains successful you can move your palm closer to the floor. Repeat the process. Always closing your palm if your dog goes for it.
  6. Once your hand is on the floor you can spill the cookies onto the floor. Be ready to cover them with your hand and wait for your dog to return to waiting for you to hand a treat to him.
  7. Slowly stand up so that you are standing and able to place or drop treats on the floor. Be ready to cover the treats with your foot should your dog take a dive. However, if your dog maintains his self control reward him.
 These are just the beginning steps to teaching your dog full self control and asking permission for something they desire. However, starting with these simple steps to teach your dog to ask “Mother, may I?” rather than “Gimme” does help your dog to understand the more advanced steps down the road. Oh, and it also makes it much more pleasant to train, when your dog doesn’t have his nose in your treat bag!

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