If you want to offer your dog some treats, you may be concerned (or even offended) if he doesn’t take them from your hand. Why won’t your dog take treats from you? Should you give him treats that way, or is another method better? And how can you get your dog to accept hand-fed treats? Well, here’s the answers to all of these questions and more!
So, why won’t my dog take treats from my hand? Dogs may not take treats from their owners’ hands if their mouths are sore. Other dogs are afraid of human hands because of past experience, or are just a little uncertainty of you. And still, other dogs have generally high levels of fear or anxiety, which can prevent them from wanting to eat or even play.
It ultimately depends on the context and the dog; there is no one and definitive reason.
But tthankfully, by identifying the root cause, you can get your dog to start eating from your hand.
And there are many benefits in doing so (as we shall soon shortly explore).
So keep reading. The bond with your dog depends on it!
Why Won’t My Dog Take Treats from My Hand?
There could be several explanations as to why your dog isn’t taking treats from your hand. His mouth could be sore, he could be “hand shy,” or he could be suffering from stress or fear.
His Mouth Could Be Sore
Your dog may be refusing to take treats from your hand simply because his mouth is sore.
If he is also having difficulty eating, have your vet check to see if he has gum or tooth problems.
If your dog used to accept treats from your hand and has suddenly stopped, a sore mouth could be the root of the problem.
It can be difficult to know if your dog’s mouth is sore, as many dogs won’t show obvious signs of mouth pain.
Sometimes, though, you’ll see certain signs of oral pain, such as:
- Lack of interest in hard treats (even in a bowl) or dry food
- Excessive drooling
- Pawing at his mouth
- Chewing more slowly than he usually does or dropping food while he chews
- Not wanting his face or mouth to be touched
- Bad breath
- Swollen muzzle
- Visibly loose teeth
If you see any of the above signs, get your dog to the vet for a dental checkup.
He Could Be Hand Shy
Some dogs are “hand shy,” meaning that they’ll duck if you try to feed them a treat from your hand.
These dogs can sometimes shy away from your hand at other times, such as when you’re trying to pet them.
Dogs who have been abused by a human’s hand are often afraid and mistrusting of anyone’s hand.
If you also see your dog shying away from anything that moves quickly, such as closing doors, he could be “hand shy” and sensitive to past trauma.
He Could Be Suffering from Anxiety or Fear
Although your dog can’t tell you how he’s feeling, you can watch for certain early warning signs of fear or anxiety.
By recognizing when your dog is triggered, you can address those triggers to prevent future mishaps.
Some obvious signs of fear are:
- Running away
However, there are less obvious signs that you can pick up on to avoid things becoming too unbearable for your dog.
If you suspect your dog isn’t taking treats from your hand out of fear or anxiety, look for these early warning signs:
- Panting. Panting is not only useful for cooling down but also as a way to seek relief from stress.
- Lunging or growling. Some dogs may become aggressive in the hopes of scaring off whoever or whatever appears to be threatening to them.
- Smelling the ground. Just like human beings, dogs can show displacement behaviors: doing something to avoid facing painful emotions. For your four-legged friend, sniffing the floor is one way of avoiding how he’s feeling.
- Apathy or disinterest. If your dog suddenly starts ignoring treats or toys that he previously enjoyed, it could be that he’s overwhelmed by anxiety.
- Yawning. Just because your dog is yawning doesn’t necessarily mean he’s tired or bored. Dogs sometimes yawn to express emotional discomfort.
Should You Feed A Dog Treats from Your Hand?
Feeding a dog treats from your hand has many benefits, including impulse control, relationship building, and improving overall behavior around food.
Better Impulse Control
If your dog has a tendency to struggle with strong impulses, you can help him calm down by keeping your hand closed around the treat or food until your dog stops asking for it.
Once your dog looks away or stops trying to get the food, open your hand and let him eat.
This is a brilliant way to build your dog’s self-control.
If your dog tends to inhale his food at the speed of light, hand-feeding him his treats (and his food) can help him learn not to eat too fast.
You can even fit in obedience training between handfuls.
Improved Trust and Bonding
Hand-feeding your dog treats will help you bond with him.
You’re teaching him to associate you (and your hand) with good things by feeding him from your hand.
In addition, your dog’s focus will improve, as he’ll learn that he needs to pay attention to you to be fed.
Resource-guarding dogs also benefit from hand feeding since you are preventing your dog from guarding his food/treats.
You are helping your dog see that you are the keeper of valuable items, and when you reach out to your dog, he can expect yummy things.
Less Fear or Shyness
If your dog is usually fearful or shy around people, hand-feeding can help him overcome that, especially if you involve other family members.
Over time you can enlist the help of family, friends, or neighbors you want your dog to get to know and trust.
Just be sure always to take things at your dog’s pace.
Be mindful of your dog’s emotional state and work slowly towards more and more contact.
How Do I Get My Dog to Eat from My Hand?
You can get your dog to eat from your hand by addressing his fear or anxiety if needed, making sure he’s in good oral health, and feeding him all of his meals by hand (a temporary measure, see below).
Help Him Overcome His Fear or Anxiety
If your dog is fearful of your hand or is anxious overall, it’s essential to address this in a gentle and loving way so that you don’t increase his anxiety levels.
There are many ways you can help build your dog’s confidence and increase his sense of security.
Implement a Solid Routine
Implementing a solid routine for your dog’s day is the fastest and easiest way to do this.
If your dog knows what to expect throughout the day, he will feel safer and more secure.
Teach Your Dog Obedience Behaviors
You can also teach your dog obedience behaviors, such as asking for a “sit” before each meal or a “down” before he can go out into the yard to play.
By asking your dog for certain behaviors before certain events (meals, going outside), you are instilling in your dog a sense of control over his environment.
Train Your Dog in Dog Sports
There are lots of fun dog sports that can go a long way in building your dog’s confidence.
The idea isn’t for your dog to compete but rather to have fun and play while facing new challenges.
Depending on your dog’s breed and preferences, you could try things like:
- Agility training (conquering obstacles like hurdles and seesaws)
- Pulling training (carting, mushing, weight pulling, dog scootering, etc.)
- Dock jumping (jumping off a dock into a body of water, sometimes to retrieve an object or swim to a goal)
- Lure coursing (chasing a lure around an informal doggie racetrack)
- Frisbee trials (playing with a Frisbee)
- Herding trials (having a go at herding other animals)
If your dog is particularly anxious or fearful, you may need to enlist the help of a professional dog behaviorist or trainer.
Make Sure He’s in Good Oral Health
You want to be sure he doesn’t have a sore mouth (see above).
If you suspect dental disease is the problem, you’ll want to get that sorted before trying to get him to eat from your hand.
Pain medication can help mitigate the pain for a short while, but as long as there’s an underlying issue, your dog will suffer and will struggle to eat anything, let alone treats.
Your vet will carry out an oral health check.
If your dog’s teeth need work, your vet will usually use general anesthesia to perform any dental work.
Depending on the causes of the dental problems, your vet may prescribe a treatment plan or a change in diet.
Oral pain medication may be needed (suitable for dogs, of course).
Help Your Dog If He’s Hand Shy
If your dog is “hand shy,” here’s how to help him, step by step (you’ll need a clicker for these tips):
- Take some delicious treats such as cheese, hot dogs, or cooked chicken and cut them into bits.
- Reward your dog when he moves toward you by clicking the clicker (or saying “yes”). If your dog doesn’t walk towards you, reward him for smaller movements such as a step forward or shifting his body weight towards you.
- Once your dog learns to touch your hand with his nose (he’ll do this gradually with practice), you can then move on to the next phase. Remember to reward him when he does this with the clicker and a treat.
- You may need to leave the treat on the ground at first, but you can leave it closer to him each time he moves further forward.
Note: Don’t force your dog at any point – it will only increase his fear. Focus on rewarding your dog for coming toward you, engaging with your hand, and keeping calm while being touched.
Limit Meals to Hand-Fed Ones
If you know that your dog isn’t refusing treats out of dental problems, stress, or fear, try limiting his food intake to hand-fed meals only.
Many people prefer hand-feeding their dogs because of the many benefits (see above).
Once your dog is used to taking his meals from your hand, he will most likely be more than happy to accept treats from your hand as well.
Here’s how to begin giving your dog hand-fed meals:
- Put some food in your cupped hand.
- If your dog goes for the food, but you feel the sharp edge of a tooth, close your hand.
- Open your hand enough to enable your dog to lick his food out of the opening (think of your hand as a Kong toy).
- Your dog will soon learn that if he is gentle, he’ll get his meal.
If your dog doesn’t eat out of your hand, something is up.
Its up to you to find out why.
It could be something that can be resolved quickly, or it may even need the assistance of a vet.
Just rest assured that with the right approach, your dog should be eating treats out of your hand in no time.
Related guides you may want to read:
- Why Does My Dog Take His Treats To Another Room?
- Why Does My Dog Bring Me His Treats?
- Why Does My Dog Hide His Treats?
- Why Does My Dog Stay In Another Room?
- Why Does My Dog Bring Me Random Things?
- Why Does My Dog Drop The Ball Away From Me?
- Should You Take A Bone Away From A Dog?
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.