My coworker Amanda passed along yet another brilliant dog-training technique to me.
I didn’t realize this, but most dogs really enjoy scavenging for food. So sometimes it’s fun, instead of simply handing over a treat as a reward, to toss some treats into the grass and let the dogs search for them. This exercise is ideal for my multidog household because it’s more efficient and the rewards can be delivered much more quickly.
So now, while I’m outside cleaning up the back yard, I’ll pause to address a whole group of dogs, usually Dexter and the three Chihuahuas (Sunny sometimes joins in, but Rowdy is kind of above all that silliness).
I gesture and tell them in a serious tone, “Stay,” back up 20 feet or so, make them hold the stay for a respectable length of time (maybe 20 seconds), and then gleefully call out, “Come!” As quick as a flash, they all come tearing over to me while I toss treats into the grass for them to search out. They look like they love it! And they spend a lot of time at it, really making 100 percent sure that every morsel is totally gone. I even do it indoors. It’s a big hit wherever I do it.
With waistlines in mind, it’s best to use the smallest possible treats available – even cat treats will work- and if you do this very often, you might have to cut back a bit on meal size. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to do this in a multidog household if any of the dogs are food-aggressive.
Dexter used to be pretty food aggressive. In fact, on Rowdy’s first day in our household, I was offering everyone a treat, when suddenly Dexter attacked him, bit him on the paw, which Rowdy has taken a long time to forget. I even took to separating them with a doggie gate during mealtimes, just to be on the safe side.
Then along came little foster Chihuahua Joey. That little guy gave Dexter a taste of his own medicine. Of course I corrected him, but from that day forward, Dexter started to improve. It got to the point where Rowdy became comfortable accepting treats in Dexter’s presence, and Dexter never made another aggressive move again.
Today, he scavenges peacefully alongside the three little Chihuahua girls with no sign of trouble. It’s a beautiful sight.