How to stop a dog constantly begging for treats, by top trainer Ben Randall

Reward-based training has transformed our relationships with our dogs — but it can go wrong. Ben Randall explains how to put things right if your pooch goes off track.

There’s no doubt that, during the past 30 or 40 years, dog-training methods have changed immeasurably.

Once it was all strict discipline and stern commands. Now, we know and understand so much more about dog psychology, the emphasis has changed to positive and reward-based training.

However, using rewards — and special food rewards in the form of dog treats — is not without its issues, either. Not least because, if you tend to over-treat your dog without any consistent rules for prolonged good behaviour, they’ll soon start to take the constant source of food for granted. Once that happens, they are likely to start snatching and persistently nudging and nipping at your hands until they get what they want.

This is exactly the dilemma being faced by K.F. from the USA, who has written to us via our email address to ask how she can prevent her young Golden retriever, Hank, from jumping up and nipping, usually in search of treats, in all sorts of situations. It’s a long letter, but I’ve not edited it down since — as you’ll see — K.F.’s question covers a problem that spreads across lots of different scenarios.

Dear Ben,

I follow you and have learned and used most of your advice, prior to my adoption of my beautiful five-month-old Golden retriever puppy, Hank. However, I am not very well — I’ve been undergoing cancer treatment for nearly two years — and although having a lively puppy helps me in so many ways, it can also be difficult on my down days. Fortunately, Hank has been super easy to train and all the puppy training has worked well.

However, my problem, since he’s treat-oriented, is that he’s constantly looking for treats. He does not beg for food when I eat and sits quietly until I’ve finished, when I give him praise for not staring or begging. Nonetheless, after getting a treat, or after seeing me eat, he jumps up at my hands looking for more. Then, when I sit down after my meal, he keeps jumping up, sniffing around and even bites at my hands for quite some time until he realises there is nothing for him.  

The weird thing is that he does the same when he wants attention, needs something or when someone comes into the house. It’s constant biting, nipping, jumping until he gets what he wants. I realise it’s a form of communication, but the nipping and jumping is bad. It’s also very difficult for me while working at home and worse for visitors, as it takes at least five or more minutes before he eventually gives up.

He does the same on walks — as soon as he sees another person, he starts jumping. And, if they come to say hello, he jumps and nips at their hands. Also, I’m preparing for a major operation and I will be unable to handle him on walks if he continues to display this type of behaviour, especially now he’s getting bigger. Apart from this, he’s an absolute champ for his age. Any links to where I can read about this behaviour and how to correct it would be greatly appreciated — thank you.

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Firstly, I am really sorry to hear about your cancer treatment and I wish you all the best for a swift recovery after your operation. Unfortunately, the issue that you are experiencing with your Golden retriever puppy is a very common problem that I come across on a regular basis.

Usually, it arises from dogs being given too many treats and then developing spoilt-child behaviour; dogs can quickly start to see their loving and well-intentioned owner as someone that they can jump up at, scratch and take things off as they please… and if they don’t get what they want — whether that be food or a toy — they will pester and pester you until you give in.

I’ve been perfecting my BG (Beggarbush) foundation methods for nearly 20 years and understand that even experienced dog owners come up against issues that they are not sure how to handle. However, with a little retraining and patience, it’s possible to stop your dog nipping and jumping up at you in search of treats. You can learn more via @beggarbush on Instagram and my dog-training app (this link will let you get a free trial) or ask me your own question by emailing

Ben’s three top tips to retrain a treat-obsessed dog

1. Stop giving ANY treats for now

So, how do we start to improve these bad behaviours? First of all, I would like you to stop the treats for now and rethink the word ‘treat’ as a ‘reward’ for continued and sustained good behaviour.

2. Teach your dog the ‘leave’ command in all situations

You also need to get to work on establishing the leave command. Once the ‘leave’ command is established, it should be used to discourage any negative behaviour, such as jumping up or nipping for attention.

3. Encourage calm and patient behaviour at your dog’s meal times

When you have been successfully using the ‘leave’ command for a few weeks, what I would like you to start doing is to establish lots of other essential commands at each mealtimes — which, for a puppy will be three times a day.

This is a vital part of fixing this problem, as Hank will quickly learn that his reward is coming from the bowl and not your fingers.

Once you start to instil this new routine, you’ll be amazed at how many commands you can start to establish and reinforce in and around each mealtime. If you’re feeding Hank three meals a day, that means that, in only one month you’ll have around 90 small sessions in which you can retrain your dog without him really realising, as it becomes part of your normal routine.

This will give the dog a new focus: we are rewarding, not ‘bribing’ Hank, and he will start to work harder for longer for each reward. That, in turn, will encourage him to have a greater partnership with you. The more he believes that the reward is coming from you, the better your bond will be.

For more detailed advice about Ben Randall’s positive, reward-based and proven BG training methods, one-to-one training sessions, residential training or five-star dog-boarding at his BGHQ in Herefordshire, telephone 01531 670960 or visit For a free seven-day trial of the Gundog app, which costs £24.99 a month or £249.99 a year, visit

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