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Some dogs regularly chomp on fingers while taking their treats. Some only do it when they are excited or all revved up.  Either way, taking things gently in the mouth is a learned skill for some dogs, especially when they are excited!

If your dog is a regular “Jaws,” he needs to learn that fingers are YOURS and are to be treated nicely. If excitement is the cause, the intensity of the chomp indicates their arousal level and – for the time being – that can mean it’s time to end practice and allow them to calm down. Save your fingers and add to your dog’s repertoire of manners. Try this “gentle” game, adapted from renowned dog trainer Susan Garrett’s “It’s Yer Choice” impulse control game.

During this game, it is best not to say anything or cue your dog in any way.  Your dog will learn faster if he figures it out on his own.  This exercise encourages them to think and problem solve, will teach your dog to accept a treat gently and instill some impulse control to boot. It’s also a great foundation for “Leave It.” How will he do that, you ask? Just give him some time and allow him to learn from how you respond to his actions.

Every step in this exercise is in response to what your dog does. You will find yourself moving up and down through the steps according to what your dog does. For example, you may get to step 3 (pick up a treat) but your dog moves forward to take the treat from your fingers. Because he moved in to take it, you will immediately put it back in your open hand (step 2). If he then moves toward your open hand, you will close your hand back into a fist, bringing you back to step 1. When this happens, don’t get discouraged! This is how they learn that staying away from the treat beings them closer to getting it.

Important things to remember:

1) Say nothing

2) Any time your dog moves towards the treat, go back to the previous step only until he removes his nose

3) Start small – moving his nose about 4 inches away from the treat is enough.

Ready? Great! Read through the steps, gather several treats in your hand (small or pieces of cookies are best- moist treats will stick to your hand making it difficult to control the food), and get ready for your dog to try almost anything for you.

With several cookies in your hand, close your treat hand into a fist. Sit down on the floor with your dog and rest your cookie hand on your knee, fingers up. Mentally glue the back of your hand to your knee. Your dog will investigate your hand and try to get to the treats that are stashed in there. RESIST the temptation to move your hand away… unless they start nibbling or pawing at it with pressure. If they do, hide your treat hand behind your back for 5 seconds and try again. Some dogs will give up fairly quickly; some will persist. Just quietly wait them out – and when they move away for a second, move on to step 2.
Immediately open your hand, showing the delicacies that await. Most dogs will immediately move towards the treats. When they do, close your hand up again.  Open when they move away; close when move toward it. Don’t be surprised if you need to open and close your hand many times. When they stop moving towards your open hand (it’s okay if they stare at it – they just can’t take it on their own!), move to step 3.
Pick up a treat out of your open hand and hold it 8 inches away from your dog’s nose. If he leans forward to take it, immediately put the treat back in your palm with the rest of them. If he goes for the treats in your palm again, close your hand into a fist (step 1) and wait for him to back off.  When he can wait and not move to take it from your fingers, THAT’s when he has finally earned it! Hurray, success!   Move quickly but gently and pop the treat in his mouth. Remember that you are placing the treat in his mouth – he is not taking it from your fingers.
Repeat from step 1. When he gets the hang of it and you have placed a treat in his mouth 3 or 4 times, say “gentle” every time you place a hard-earned treat in his mouth.

Once you have done this with your dog a few times, he should have a pretty solid understanding of “gentle.”  The next time he gets overexcited and chomps a finger, stop what you are doing and play a round of this “gentle” game as a reminder.