Q: We have adopted a dog. He is very friendly and has really great manners, except for one thing: He snatches food. A couple of times his teeth have grazed our fingers. How can we break him of this bad habit?
A: That’s definitely a common problem. Sometimes hard mouthing indicates a dog who is anxious, fearful or overstimulated. There are a couple of things you can try to make the situation less overwhelming for the dog and teach him to take food (and other objects) gently.
First, always deliver treats below the mouth. When you hold them up high, the dog’s natural inclination is to jump up and grab. Sometimes dogs jump and bite because they’re used to treats being dropped and are trying to grab them before they fall. This may call for a bit more bending on your part, especially if you have a small dog.
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Deliver the treat straight to the dog’s mouth. This takes practice, because sometimes it’s hard to hold a treat without fumbling and starting to drop it, but once you get the hang of it, he’ll be less likely to grab at it.
Another way to teach your dog to take treats more gently is what’s sometimes called the “Zen” game. Place a treat on your palm and close your hand over it. Show the dog your closed hand. He will probably mouth it, but wait until only his tongue or nose is touching the outside of your hand. Then you can open it to give him the treat. The hand opens only when the mouth is gentle and soft without teeth. Let him know you like that behavior by saying “Good” and opening your palm.
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Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton.