Home > Dog Behavior, Dog Training > Treat and Retreat – Something to try with a shy dog (or your own dog)

Treat and Retreat – Something to try with a shy dog (or your own dog)

September 29, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Man and Dog Lying on FloorBack when I was a pet sitter, I would schedule an initial meeting with my potential clients and their pets as way for all of us to get to know one another. This meeting was their chance to interview me and to determine if I would be a good fit for their pet, but it was also a chance for their dog or cat to get to know me.

I think many of my new dog clients were surprised when I showed up for the meeting and didn’t make an immediate beeline towards their dog, or in some cases, completely ignored them. It might seem like an odd thing to do for a pet sitter, but I had a good reason for doing it. I wanted the dogs to know that THEY were the ones who got to decide how they wanted to interact with me.  I let them decide how close they wanted to get to me, whether they wanted to be petted or just wanted to sniff me first. If they wanted one of the treats I carried in the pouch hanging at my side, they could have one but they got to decide whether it would be from my open hand or tossed to them (because they felt safer there).

Being a professional pet sitter requires you to work with people as well as their pets, but when it came to my client’s dogs, I wanted them to know from the beginning that I respected their need for space.

Earlier this year, I wrote about attending an educational seminar with Suzanne Clothier. In the day-long session, Suzanne demonstrated (with a Great Dane) how to tell at what distance a dog is comfortable meeting a new person (in this case her and the other attendees). As she explained at that time, every dog is different, but each one has a spatial parameter in which they feel comfortable and uncomfortable. What most people, including experienced dog owners, don’t realize is that space is often much larger than our own.

In her demonstration with the Great Dane, Suzanne used a game that she developed herself when working with dogs. It’s called Treat and Retreat. It’s a wonderful way to observe a dog and to get a better understanding of the spatial perimeter at which they feel most comfortable. It’s also a great way to help a shy or fearful dog to gain confidence and maybe even shorten their spatial perimeter. Even though I didn’t know it as Treat and Retreat back then, it is very similar to what I did with Daisy in the early days.

I thought it might be fun to share a video of this game with you. It’s definitely something you can try with your own dog. As you watch the video, notice how the dog in the video tells the people in the room, the people tossing the treats, at what distance she feels most comfortable. Also, notice how the trainer has them switch off throwing the treats near and far, allowing the dog to retreat to a more comfortable distance. You also see as the dog progresses that the people tossing treats start walking around and kneeling down. This is after weeks of work and progress,but it is a great example how treat and retreat can help a fearful dog.

If you do decide to try this with your own dog, I would love to hear what you discovered. Were you surprised by anything? How close or far did your dog get to you? Did it make a difference if you were sitting down or standing up? Let us know.

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  1. September 29, 2013 at 9:29 PM

    I would have to do this with each person she comes in contact with. I give people treats to give her when she meets them. It takes a lot of work. But 4 years and I don’t think she will every trust easily.

    • Mel
      September 29, 2013 at 9:56 PM

      Totally understandable. It definitely takes time. But, the fact that you do this is huge! Your dog is so lucky to have you.

      • September 30, 2013 at 6:54 AM

        Well, I am lucky to have her, as fearful as she is. We learn from each other. Thanks

  2. September 29, 2013 at 9:38 PM

    Great article — I do this too with my meet and greets.

    • Mel
      September 29, 2013 at 9:55 PM

      I’m guessing that’s why you are probably a great pet sitter Kasey. So awesome to meet someone else who does this when greating new clients. 🙂

  3. September 30, 2013 at 5:50 AM

    I have a question for you. My neighbor has a little dog (not sure as to the breed), but you cannot touch or pet the dog inside her house, but when you take the dog outdoors, you can pet it. Have you ever heard of this before?

    • Mel
      September 30, 2013 at 6:24 AM

      How interesting. I have not, but I am intrigued. What does the little dog do when you pet her inside the house?

      • September 30, 2013 at 6:47 AM

        She bites your hand. But if I or anyone (even her owner) pets her outside, she is fine.

  4. September 30, 2013 at 9:03 AM

    Mine all love people, they are skeptical of other dogs sometimes.

  5. September 30, 2013 at 9:59 AM

    Very interesting! I like how it also demonstrates the relationship people’s body language has in greetings!

  6. September 30, 2013 at 1:46 PM

    Very good game. I might give it a go to see what Dina’s safety distance is.

  7. October 14, 2013 at 4:16 PM

    Hi – Glad you enjoyed watching me work with the Great Dane. Unfortunately, this clip does not show Treat/Retreat done properly at all, and it is unfortunate that the author opted to label this as Treat/Retreat. Done correctly, dogs progress rapidly in just a few sessions. We’ll be publishing correct versions of this technique in the next few months. For a more appropriate & approved version of my technique, see what the good folks at the Richmond SPCA did with a red-nose pit named Lenora. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgJiYY42Aq0 This was a dog who was being considered for euthanasia!

    • Mel
      October 14, 2013 at 5:32 PM

      Thanks Suzanne! I will definitely check it
      Out and share!

    • Mel
      October 14, 2013 at 7:59 PM

      I’ll be looking for the correct versions when they are available. Thanks Suzanne. I’ll be replacing the video with the one you shared. It’s really good and represents what you showed us in your seminar.

      • October 14, 2013 at 9:27 PM

        Thank you very much! I hate seeing a really effective technique being inaccurately shown, and/or misunderstood. Jacquie Lauerbach at Richmond SPCA absolutely understands the goals of my Treat/Retreat, and the progress this dog shows demonstrates that. We’re working on getting good video out there!

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