The Case of the Treat-Grabbing Puppy

You're trying to teach your puppy to lie down on cue, but she bounces up, she nips at your hand for the treats, and in general she acts like a hooligan. What to do?

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #224

Dealing with a Sharky Mouth

As for those sharky little teeth, check out my episode called Puppy Nipping for general pointers on teaching your puppy not to treat your body like her own personal chew toy. To teach her, specifically, to take food with a gentle mouth, here’s a time-honored strategy: Hold a treat between your fingers and offer it to your pup. Grabbalini will grab for it, as per usual, but you’re just going to hang on, right up until the moment when she gives up on trying to chew her way through your fingers. She might lick at the treat or just rest her mouth against it – anything but chomping on you is fine. The instant she stops with the teeth, open your fingers and release the food. Repeat until your puppy gets the message to keep her mouth gentle.

Now, this obviously can get to be hard on your fingertips if your puppy’s is especially persistent or has strong jaws for her age. Try wearing a glove – remember, this is just a temporary measure! It can also help to use plain kibble for your first no-sharking lessons, because it’s less exciting than most treats. And try holding lessons after a meal, so hunger doesn’t increase the motivation to grab.

It’s Easier for a Tired Pup to Practice Self-Control

Once Georgia has learned to wait for a treat and to take it gently when it arrives, she’s prepared to do these same things while she learns to lie down on cue. Puppies act like maniacs because everything’s new, everything’s exciting, and they have all the energy on the planet plus a short attention span. Yellow Labs have a reputation for being less high-speed than black Labs and, especially, chocolate Labs, so Sandy can be thankful for that much. For any young, energetic dog, it can be a challenge to learn behaviors that require impulse control or holding still – like a down that lasts longer than it takes to grab your human and pop right back up again.

Georgia will have an easier time learning to hold still for more than a nanosecond without bouncing, rolling, and grabbing if she’s relaxed and somewhat tired to begin with. Sandy can help by scheduling training sessions after Georgia has had some play and exercise. And, even though puppy lessons usually need to be kept short, she can try playing with the order in which she teaches: see if Georgia can focus better on the down after she’s had some practice targeting, or looking at Sandy on cue.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading! As always, you can write to me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. I get so many questions that I can’t respond individually, but check out past episodes at quickanddirtytips.com/dog-trainer – I might already have answered yours. And please visit me on Facebook, where I’m The Dog Trainer.

And if you'd like to have a handy guide for training your puppy, or adult dog, check out my book The Dog Trainer's Complete Guide to a Happy, Well-behaved Pet. It's chock full of tips to raise a well-mannered, sociable dog who likes to play and cuddle, but doesn't chew up your favorite shoes or chase children.




About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).

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