An Easy Pill to Swallow – Training To Take Pills the Easy Way, Part 2

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series An Easy Pill to Swallow

When I wrote about , one commenter asked about what would happen if the pills were really nasty; would the behavior remain?  Great question!

Well, Laev had to take some antibiotics for a leg abscess which were apparently VILE. She did NOT want these. I really wish I’d gotten video of her firmly turning her head away as I presented them and turning back happily as I withdrew the pill. It was quite… unambiguous.

At the same time, Laev began exploring the parameters of the behavior, even with easy pills, with my husband, who is a big ex-quarterback but is known on the canine street as The Big Softie. She asked perfectly valid questions — do I have to take both pills? Can I take it in my mouth and drop it? What if I just target the pill and wait for my treat? This left Jon, who hadn’t trained the behavior himself, tempted to wheedle.

Inky, our Rottweiler, can hold a pill in her mouth for minutes or a week, spitting it aside at the first chance. The throat-stroking trick and others do not work on this dog. She can eat repeated spoonfuls of gooey creamy treats around the pill in her mouth, swallowing all but the pill, and spit. Laev isn’t quite that talented, but she’s skilled enough that I didn’t want to go down that road. Besides, we had this great pill behavior trained, and I wanted to keep using it!

So I moved backward in the training plan, back to presenting treats close together, and I presented a treat and pill in the same hand, held beside one another in fingertips. I also had reward treats ready, and when Laev opted (after careful thought) to take the nasty pill and treat together, I immediately rewarded with several small wonderful treats. It didn’t take many reps before she was reliably taking the nasty pills in the usual fashion, back on track. I just had to slow down and increase the pay for the more difficult behavior.

So yes, the behavior can certainly withstand nasty pills; we just have to pay accordingly. Keep the training plan handy to review in case of need, and remember that splitting is your friend!

About Laura VanArendonk Baugh CPDT-KA KPACTP

Laura was born at a very young age and started playing with animals immediately after. She never grew out of it, and it looks to be incurable. She is the author of the bestselling FIRED UP, FRANTIC, AND FREAKED OUT. She owns Canines In Action, Inc. in Indianapolis, speaks at workshops and seminars, and is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.
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  1. Thank you for this great training entry. I have a puppy who sadly is not in great health and takes 12 pills a day. With this method I have her taking all but the really large pills now, however with the larger ones wrapped lightly in bread she does take it. I think its mostly due to the promise of the high value reward after and the build up I have trained with a closed fist, cue… “take it!!!!!” and she gobbles the reasonable sized ones down without hesitation. Still working on the larger pills. It could be 6 months of pill taking so i am really happy I came to Clicker Expo, attended your Lab and found out about this method!!

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