Taming the Tooth Monster

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By Lori Wainio-Carman, VSPDT

Does your dog take its treats too seriously? In other words, does it manage to scrape your hands painfully when it grabs the goody? In most cases dogs aren’t taught as puppies what is an acceptable amount of pressure from their big pearly canines on human skin. They are not trying to hurt us; they just never learned to regulate jaw pressure.  Sometimes this tendency is exacerbated by excitement (Ooh! my favorite treat!) or stress (Yikes, another dog is close by and she might also be interested in my favorite treat.).

What to do about it

Stop letting go. Get a good hold on a treat before you offer it and only release the treat if your dog uses a soft mouth, i.e., light pressure or, preferably, all lips and no teeth. If your dog grabs too hard, say, “Too bad” or “Bummer” in an oh-what-a-shame tone of voice and pull the treat away. As long as your dog isn’t grabbing for the treat, try offering it again. Release the treat if she is gentle or repeat the pull-away maneuver if not. Repeat until she gets it right. (If your dog is taking treats so hard that it hurts or even breaks skin, hold the treat in your closed fist instead of the tips of your fingers to protect yourself.)

Once you and your dog have practiced this to the point that she takes her treats gently most of the time, you can up the ante. From now on, if you offer a treat and your dog grabs too hard, she loses the treat for good—no more second or third chances to be gentle. Switch to a zero tolerance policy.

Remember: consistency is key

To really soften your dog’s mouth for good, you must insist on a gentle mouth every time you offer something. Dogs may revert to rough grabbing at moments of excitement or stress. Just stick to your guns in these situations and don’t release the treat until your dog remembers to be gentle.

Lori Wainio-Carman, VSPDT, professional dog trainer and owner of Dream Dogs, has been successfully training for over 20 years. 760-899-7272, www.dreamdogs.com, www.Positively.com

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