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!