What is the Two-Cookie Game and How Can it Help You?

January 16, 2021

The Two-Cookie Game is a great way to teach your dog several important lessons.  First, the dog will learn that he should reorient to you after a distraction.  Second, the dog will be less likely to disconnect after the first reward if he knows another may be coming.  Also, you’re rewarding the dog for coming closer and paying attention to you, which is never a bad thing!


So What Is the Two-Cookie Game?


For the two-cookie game, you will reward your dog for doing whatever behavior you cued (in position if it makes sense to do so), then you will back away from the dog and give a second cookie for coming with you.

We often use the two-cookie game in distraction training.  We cue the dog in the presence of a distraction, and reward the dog for the behavior, then back away from the distraction and give a second cookie.


How Can the Two-Cookie Game Help You?


Distractions “distract” your dog and captures his attention.  That’s why we call them distractions!  One common way to teach attention around distractions is to wait until the dog looks away from the distraction and at you and the dog will receive a reward for looking at you.  But what typically happens after the reward?  The dog looks back at the distraction.  You and the dog get into a cycle of dog looks at distraction, dog looks at you, gets reward, dog looks at distraction, etc.


Instead, what if there was a way we could teach the dog to stay engaged with you after the reward?  There is – and it’s the two-cookie game!


If the dog receives a reward for looking at you, and then receives a second reward for coming with you after the distraction, he’s going to stay engaged with you longer.  You can then build on that to encourage longer engagement and start adding cues to your behavior chain.


But wait!  This game will help you in another big way!  It’s common for dogs to disconnect after receiving a reward.  Their job is done, they got the payment, so why remain engaged?  If we teach the dog that a second cookie might be coming, the dog will stay in the game.  Once the dog understands the two-cookie game, we can start using a cue in placement of the second treat, then reward that cue.  All of a sudden we have a dog that gets a reward and looks at us expecting a cue!  And eventually, we can add a whole chain of cues, each rewarding the one before!  How cool is that!?!


This game is pretty easy to teach, but sometimes dogs struggle, especially in the presence of a distraction.  Here are some troubleshooting tips.


My dog won’t follow the second cookie!


Put the second cookie right on the dog’s nose and try to lure him/her backward to face you.  Reward as soon as he does.  Then lure the dog toward you a step or two.  As soon as the dog moves and follows the cookie, reward.


If your dog still will not follow the cookie after breaking it down as described above, the dog needs a change.  Is the dog over-threshold, meaning he just can’t concentrate because something else has his attention?  If so, find a different environment.  Is she refusing the cookie because it’s not motivating to her?  Get a higher-value reward.  If you think your dog is shut down or fearful, please realize that he is not able to learn, and work on helping him be more comfortable in that environment.  This game may not work well for a fearful dog.


I hope this is a useful game for you! Try the two-cookie game and let me know in the comments how it helps you and your dog!

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