Dog Training Done Right: When Owners Should Be the Ones Getting the Treats

In this post, I just want to share a fabulous story about some clients who showed absolute commitment to helping their dog.  Although I give my clients guidance and suggestions, it is up to them to do the work to help their dogs, day in and day out.  Clients like the ones in this story show just how much that commitment can pay off.  

The Beastie Herself!

Three weeks ago, I walked into a house to find a crated dog in the bedroom, screaming its head off because I dared to pass through the front door. A stranger!  Danger! Danger!  As stressed as the dog was, I was pleased that the client apparently understood that having the dog out of the crate at that moment would be dangerous- both to me and to the dog’s mental health!

After I was seated on the couch, treat pouch at the ready, the client put the dog on leash and brought her into the living room, keeping her at a safe distance.  As the dog barked, lunged, and generally carried on, I started tossing treats in her direction.  As it turned out, the dog was exactly as food-motivated as I had been promised, and her attention was quickly diverted.  Within minutes, I could start tossing the treats to her for looking at me without barking.  Shortly thereafter, I transitioned the treating responsibilities to Mom, to take any pressure off the dog to interact with me.

The session was not easy and not quiet.  The dog did settle down and work for Mom and dealt with me being there, but it was an uneasy truce. As long as I stayed still, all was well.  As soon as I moved, the dog got very concerned and we returned to working with her on tolerating my movements.  Every time I moved, she got a click for noticing me, and a treat tossed in the opposite direction.  Every time.  For the whole two hours.  And she was still annoyed with me at the end!  However, we did manage her reactions well enough that we had enough time to clarify the owners’ goals and set up a plan to get visitors safely into their house. Today, I got to go back for my second visit.  And holy cow! What a change!! The owners had clearly worked extensively with the door.  When I arrived, the dog was able to meet me at the door, as treats fell around her and were tossed away from the door, and only one muffled bark made it through her lips the whole time.  At the previous visit, every piece of the “door opening” scenario was a trigger- the door knob turning, the door opening a crack, a person being on the other side, a foot coming through the entryway- you name it and it was a trigger.  This time, everyone involved was cool as a cucumber.

As I entered the house and moved around, treats rained down out of Mom’s hands.  The dog checked in on me a couple of times, but always with polite interest, and each time turned back to Mom to look for treats.  We got right to work.

At the previous visit, I had suggested a Treat and Train (an automatic, remote-controlled treat dispenser) for this dog. They had purchased one, found batteries, and had it ready to go.  We could move right into working with it and focusing on how it could be used to help the dog settle when people were in the house.

We had started “go to your bed” training, and the dog could already target the spread-out towel we were using and lie right down, so we were able to move on to the next step of building a duration of staying on the bed and then combine this with the Treat and Train.

Due to a mild (but persistent) bite history, we had discussed muzzle training.  The owners had purchased a correctly-sized muzzle and had worked on presenting it to the dog along with food, so the dog had a positive association with it.  We could move onto having her put her nose inside for a click/treat.

Every little thing we had covered three weeks earlier, the owners had trained reliably.  Every tool I had suggested to make this progress faster, to approach their goal of having visitors for the holidays, they had purchased.  Consequently, during this second lesson, I could work with their dog, move freely around the room, help them extend their training to the next level, and truly help them meet the goals that were important to them.

The biggest change of all was in the dog.  In the first session, she was extremely stressed and on high alert the entire time I was there.  This time, she was relaxed- loose body, offering downs, mouth open in a happy grin- the whole package.  She was a happy, happy dog.

It was an amazing session, and I feel lucky to work with clients like this.  These clients understand what it really takes to make behavior change happen.  Can I help you with your “crazy” dog? The answer is always, “It depends.”  Do you have the time, energy, and commitment to make that change happen?  It isn’t always easy, but if you really want to make that change, the science of behavior will be there for you.


I love my job and it is the many, many people I work with who are so committed to their dogs that make it worthwhile. Many, many click/treats to these owners for doing what needed to be done to make an important change in one dog’s life!