It’s difficult to enjoy training your dog if he fails to comprehend that your fingers are not part of the snack. I affectionately call these snappy-dogs a “Poochie Piranha”. Usually, Poochie Piranha does not mean to bite at your hands when you offer him a snack; he’s just oh-so excited to snatch his reward that he doesn’t understand that dog teeth hurt our sensitive human hands. If you are living with a Poochie Piranha do not despair, it is surprisingly easy to train him how to control his snapping.
Teaching “Take it Gently” … Before you Begin
Start with a variety of edible rewards. You’ll want to begin with low-value treats (such as kibble) and then progress to medium (a hard biscuit) and finally high value (boiled chicken or liver) treats. Set Poochie up for success by tempting him with a goody that he will be able to resist and then progress as he begins to learn impulse-control. Few of us would be seized with greed at the sight of a mere one-dollar bill, but if we were offered a few hundred dollars, we may forget our manners and snatch them.
Transforming Poochie Piranha into Poochie Polite
Take Poochie into a quiet, empty room of your home where he won’t feel as though he is competing with other pets for your attention or the treats.
Put one low-value reward into your hand and show it to Poochie, then close your hand so you are making a solid fist around the treat.
Poochie should put his mouth on your fist to try and steal the reward. As soon as you feel any teeth, say: “Ouch!” and do not open your fist. Poochie will probably continue mouthing your hand or perhaps even paw at it – but be patient – wait for the nano-second that Poochie stops and then calmly say: “Yes! Take It Gently” and allow him to have the treat. If you feel any teeth when he goes for the treat, close your fist again at once and start over. Poochie must learn that any teeth equal no treat.
Repeat these steps with the low-value reward until Poochie stops mouthing your hand. Do not accept even licking or soft mouthing. Poochie must learn impulse-control and that he cannot have the reward at all if his mouth is on our hand. After several repetitions most dogs will just stare at your fist, waiting for your cue to take the treat. When that happens immediately give your dog permission to enjoy the treat by saying “Yes! Take It Gently” and celebrate. What a clever dog.
Once Poochie has mastered his manners on a low-value treat, up the ante by putting medium and then high-value treats in your fist. Remember that Poochie may become excited and snappy again as you increase the temptation. That is okay, this is how he will learn. Keep your response consistent: using any teeth equals no treat.
Remember that teaching “Take It Gently” should be a game to Poochie. Don’t yell or be rough in any way if he mouths you. Poochie should enjoy learning from you. Poochie is not snapping treats to purposely be nasty; he simply hasn’t yet been trained to accept treats in any other way. A common saying among trainers is “you have the dog you trained” this means that Poochie would not be snapping treats in the first place if he did not learn that that was the fastest way to get a treat. Usually, owners of a Poochie Piranha will just quickly drop treats trying to avoid getting nibbled, but your dog translates this as: Snapping gets me cookies Fast! If Poochie is a very rough biter, you may want to wear gloves when you first begin your “Take It Gently” training. I do not recommend that children or anyone with sensitive fingers do the initial stages of “Take It Gently” training. It’s best for an adult to train Poochie first. Once he understands the behavior allow the children to assist you. As always keep your training session short, end on a success and have fun.
Tara Baggerman, is the Trainer & Owner of Caliber Canines Positive Dog Training.