Bite as Cookie

So far we have been thinking of bitework in the context of a game.

Sometimes with that zoomed out view it is easy to miss the forest for the trees. The Bitework game, at base level, is reinforcement; the game itself is a cookie. Sure behaviors and skills are isolated, but the power is in the game.

Well, yes and no.

Skinner vs Pavlov

The Bitework game is very valuable, but to get the most out of bitework, it is immensely helpful if the dog has a clear understanding that the cued Bite is a Cookie.

This is operant behavior – behavior affects consequence.  Correct behaviors are reinforced with a Bite or the energy level of good bitework game while the handler limits the available choices to reinforce behavior. If a marker is used, this is simply standard Operant Conditioning, like BF Skinner. It’s just a little faster and more intense, but it’s Operant Conditioning all the same.

If bitework is always done in a frenzy of Bite, Drop, and Give and always involves the best toy on the planet wielded by a highly active handler, a dog can easily go over threshold at the mere presence of a tug toy. The physiological and emotional results of pairing an object or stimulus with awesome stuff — the tug toy with high energy, rapid fire, biting and dropping — is Classical Conditioning (aka – Pavlovian Conditioning).

Condition some thoughtful work with a cued Bite as reinforcement: Attention/”Yes!”Cookie Bite.

Keep the energy levels low and turn the Bite and Drop into a somewhat ho-hum experience. The dog’s excitement level will drop and a more thoughtful and patient style of bitework can be cultivated. It will look and feel like clicker training. You can even shape!

Earned Opportunity

When a Bite is offered as a cookie the dog has earned the right to attempt to Bite that object. It’s a very empowering experience. The dog learns that he can make the bite happen by showing some patience, giving eye contact, offering a Back Up behavior, or whatever behavior is the likely path to the cue bite.

Not only does the earned opportunity add value to behaviors and the act of working, but it also adds value to the tug toy or the act of Biting.

An earned opportunity is always more valuable than a gimme and a missed opportunity is always more memorable than a semi-successful third chance.

Uncommon Sense

Attention/Yes!… Cookie is very familiar to just almost all positive trainers when it comes working to settle an excited dog. Well, why isn’t Attention/Yes!… Bite part of every body’s training regiment?

It should be. Let’s get to it…


Start thinking of a cued Bite as a cookie instead of a target behavior.
Treat Biting as a cookie with some of the behaviors already installed on your dog. Attention and Targeting would be a great start.
Here are some behaviors you can try out:

  • Attention
  • Targeting
  • Drop
  • Spin/Twist
  • Heel/Side
  • Recall
  • Reorientation
  • Sit
  • Down
  • Back Up
  • Spot

Keep sessions short and successful, and treat the Bite Cue as a cookie.

Ask questions and talk about your sessions in the comments below.

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  1. Hi Ron,

    Love this idea! I do not know what reorientation means or Spot?


    1. Reorientation is turning back towards the handler.

      Spot is ‘Go to Place’ or ‘Go to Mat” – Go over there, to that place and lie down.

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