Good morning, seeing that I just nearly lost several of my fingers giving my Jack Russell her morning cookie I thought I would discuss this grabbing issue. Grabbing food fast or in a harsh manner is a very natural behavior for a dog although most of our domesticated dogs of today have learned that there is no a need to grab and dart. We have by example; taught them that there is no end in the food supply and that there is no need to fight for their food.
Most dogs have figured it all out but there are still many that have that built in grab and dash behavior when it comes to food. My Jack Russell is one; being that she is on prednisone for the rest of her life and the sheer fact that she is a Jack Russell makes her pretty much a crazed maniac around food. My poodles on the other hand are so gentle when they take food from your hand that I could let an infant feed them.
There are two types of grabbers, one who actually grabs the food and because of this reckless grabbing you can accidentally be bitten. Two the type who's jaws have too much pressure when taking food. I have only twice had to deal with the steel jaw type in my training and they are by far; much more difficult to change their habits. So just how do you stop a crazed food grabber? These grabbers take time, patience and great stealth to change their grabby behaviors.
For the speed grabbers you first need to take great control of the food, no dangling or loosely held food. You cannot suspend food over or infront of them. The food must be purposefully delivered directly to the mouth area and in a very tightly held hand. The whole idea around this training is "grab and you get nothing." It works because my little Jack Russell after becoming increasingly worse is now better.
1. Hold only a small portion of the food outside of your hand and the rest in a tightly closed hand so there is no accidental grabs. Put the food right down 1/2 inch away from their mouth. You don't want lunge grabbing so put it right at their mouth. The piece outside of your hand should be small enough that they have to work to get it. If they try nice and easy to get it, let them have it. If they grab fast or hard, quickly turn your hand with a firm OUCH or AHHH letting them know they are not getting it by grabbing.
Your feedback must be immediate, if not your dog will not get the message and will become frustrated with the whole exercise.
2. Watch closely, as they get better at this you are going to leave more and more food outside of your hand. You must watch for the smallest sign of lunge grabbing and stop it in its tracks. One grab will set you back in all of your work.
If you've ever given a steel jaw dog a treat and come out of it with a good blood blister then you know of whom I am speaking. These dogs will be given the same exercise but more carefully and with much more patience needed. They must begin to nibble softly from your hand before you move on to large nibble sizes. It is much more difficult for a dog to control the bite pressure of a grab than the speed of a grab.
It is always easier to teach a dog a new behavior when they are young but if you've missed that stage start today. Once they have a good understanding of what you are asking them do to with regards to grabbing then you can add the EASY or GENTLE word before offering food. Use your feedback; both vocal and body. Don't forget how much impact a body message gives our dogs.
With grabbers they can quickly forget all when aroused or over excited so never let your guard down. This is one behavior that can definitely come back to bite you in the a*&.
Now get to work on those little sharks.