If you have a reactive dog, any measure of how stressed your dog is a helpful thing to know. How dogs take treats can be a fabulous indicator of how stressed your dog is and provide you valuable information on how your dog is feeling before those feelings become a reaction.
Pumba has a fantastically soft mouth and his ability to take treats in training rarely causes me concern regarding his bite pressure when taking treats. Any nips or increase in pressure in safe training environments is usually an accident on my part – I forgot to present a treat in a suitable manner and that led to him not expecting how to take that treat appropriately.
That said, when warming Pumba up for a class, particularly in new environments or walking him around the block, the pressure he takes treats with is hugely important. When he’s worried about his environment or feels the need to keep an eye on it more, he loses the ability to take treats calmly and gently. I used to find this hugely frustrating and part of a collection of behaviours that I thought was him ‘playing up’. Now I know that he’s struggling to take his focus away from the environment and a result of that is attention being away from taking treats carefully. I use his ability to take treats as a way of gathering information.
When I enter a new environment I reinforce behaviours that he offers for the first 5-15 minutes before asking for anything. When I’m reinforcing these offered behaviours if his bite is harder than usual or he’s taking longer than usual to orientate to the treat then I know he’s struggling with the environment and can adjust my expectations and training as a result of this. If I were trying to work on skills such as my competition obedience homework, then I’ll seriously lower my expectations and ask for less. If I’m working on behavioural modification work then I will either move away from the environment (if not controlled) or drop the intensity of the environment I’m working in (if controlled). I’m able to do all of this and have a far more successful session before anything completely falls to bits just by looking at something as simple as how my dog is taking treats!