Friday, November 4, 2011

Friends with cookies: good or evil?

Obviously any friends with (people) cookies are GOOD! Linda's snickerdoodles. Meg's sugar cookies! Michele's Rice Krispie treats in all their varied forms. Paula's cranberry and white chocolate chip. Vern cookies (not sure exactly what they are, they're just Vern cookies).

But that's not quite what today's post is about.

Yesterday Graydogz asked, “Do you let your friends treat your dog?”

This brings up a whole bunch of interesting ideas and theories.

In a nutshell, yes.

But there are rules.

Sigh. So many rules. So sad. Poor deprived dogs.

Rule #1: Dog cannot self-release and rush to greet Cookie Dispensing Friend when she appears. Dog must remain engaged and on-task until (if/when) I choose to release him specifically to “go say hi.” Simply releasing from an exercise is not permission to take off. If dog is a little too interested in going to say hi vs staying and working with me, I don't let him. Yep, I'm mean that way. But I'll make it worth his while.

Rule #2: If dog is demanding or pushy, Cookie Dispensing Friend has complete authorization to tell him to knock it off or ignore him. Some of my friends are mean that way, too.

Rule #3: Cookie Dispensing Friend is under absolutely no obligation to dispense cookies just because dog presents himself, drooling, in her vicinity. Petting and sweet words are perfectly acceptable substitutes.

Rule #4: Cookie Dispensing Friend is encouraged to ask dog to do something before handing over the cookie. Anything. Front. Touch. Git yer tail. Give air snaps. (This is ridiculously popular with some of my friends for some bizarre reason.) Since friends’ performance criteria may or may not match my own this isn’t exactly making the dog work for his treat but at least it’s not a total freebie just because he wanted it.

Rule #5: Dog is not allowed to start a deep and involved relationship with Cookie Dispensing Friend just because she has treats in her pocket. In other words — this is a casual “hi,” not a long term commitment.

The bottom line — for me — is that a few cookies from friends now and then aren’t going to spoil anything. This is kind of a personal thing, though, because different trainers have different goals for their dogs and while having a social butterfly might be acceptable for one person, it might not be for another. It's one of those "It depends . . ." answers.

I want Phoenix to understand that staying connected with me is his number one priority when we are working, no matter who else is around. I believe he understands this. For example: he adores the Farmer and they do all sorts of wild wrestling and silly play but on the rare occasions the Farmer helps me train, he is essentially invisible as far as Phoenix is concerned. This drives the Farmer crazy. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard, “Your dog won’t listen to me!”

I also think Phoenix understands environmental context: this is how I behave at the training building, at the agility trial, at the school demonstration, at the nursing home, when we visit Grandma, at a holiday party at home, etc. I also believe he looks to me for cues about what is expected if we’re in a “new” environment. If I ever felt his interactions with other people were having a negative effect on our training and performance, then I’d make some changes.

Denise Fenzi shares her thoughts on a very similar topic today at her blog,


  1. So, I have to ask. How do you train your dog to "air snap"?

  2. Air snaps are one of those delightful malinois behaviors I just put on cue. Mal people call it "clacking." Phoenix air snaps/clacks when he's very happy and/or in greeting (first thing in the morning when I get up, when I get home from work, etc.) And no, he never "misses" and makes contact w/skin. Air snaps are a happy thing, not like a warning snap. ( :

  3. And it's hilarious to try to get him to snap without squeaking!! LOL

  4. Heh. My Canaan Dog learned to focus on me fully in training environments. He also learned such places were full of suckers with dog treats. He was ridiculously good at manipulating even experienced dog folks out of their treats!

  5. I LOVE Phoenix's air snaps!!

    Very interesting post. Falkor doesn't seem to have a problem obsessing about friends with cookies but Famke, being a food spaniel, can forget I even exist if someone presents a treat. We are working on that. ;)

  6. I'm of of the said "dispensers" for Phoenix, Jamie or most any dog of friends. But I do know/respect the rules. Yep, love the air snaps, sitting up, "tail work". Nothing is free and the treats only come from me when everyone is just "hanging out". And you are so right Melinda on the "it just depends". I would love Ryelee to be confident enough to want to take treats from anyone/everyone but that just isn't going to happen. Friends know it, I know it, Ryelee knows it. Nike however is another story. She happily will takes treats and I happily let her but I still have a couple rules too - nothing is free, you at least have to be sitting. Seems like most of us have "dispenser" rules and knowing them ahead of time makes it easier for everyone. Can a mini schnauzer "clack"!?????

  7. Thanks for the post! I concur 100%, I'm ok with my friends dispensing cookies and in MOST cases they 1) ask if they can give them a cookie, and 2) make them do a behavior before dispensing said cookie. Now these are my "training" friend so they get it. But there are/were one or two folks that will just willy-nilly hand out a cookie! I've retrieved my dog from them when they have raced to greet them upon entering the bldg. but it is challenging when they want to race over to them every time they are released. Thankfully I don't see the guiltiest offender any more and when the other comes in I take a "break" until they are in and settled. I like my dogs to be sociable with people but not ready to stop our training just for the chance at that treat. Like Jennifer, it's a work in progress with my food hound (my little girl just wants to give everyone a hug, ok while she's an almost 40lb puppy, not so ok when she's bigger). I just know some trainers would never allow others to treat their dogs and vice versa.

  8. I pretty much handle it the same way. And in terms of handling the dogs between me and mr. WD, like Phoenix, Loki is CRAZY for Mr WD, but when it comes time to "handle" him, Loki insists on me. He won't be handled by anyone else, except a few of our old trainers in the states. Sure I can hand his leash to someone to watch him but he will never work for them....except for caual social do treat tricks....

    I know that air snap move. Loki has one too called gleib lout (speak) starts off as air snapping then goes to bark. People love it!