Training a young puppy with food can be a great and quick way to teach lessons, however in the initial stages of training, it can also be painful! Those needle teeth are sharp and they hurt - especially with an exuberant puppy who doesn't know how to be gentle with their teeth.
Thankfully, there is a simple solution to this! We can quite easily teach dogs to be responsible for their own mouths with a bit of consistency and some good technique.
1 - Start with bland food
Using kibble from the outset will make this easier for your puppy. The smell of something really exciting, like meat or cheese can be overwhelming to a hungry puppy. Initially, we don't want them to be overwhelmed by too much temptation. It's difficult to learn to be calm when the food value is too high. Start with kibble and build to more exciting treats as your dog learns to understand how to control their mouths.
2 - Use good holding technique
Rather than pinching food in your fingers, try placing the food at the base of your fingers where your fingers meet your hand. This will make it easier for your pup to sniff and lick, rather than using their teeth to try to get the food. See the video below for this technique. It's sure to help!
3 - Be quick to reinforce either way!
If you feel teeth at all, be sure to remove the hand delivering the treat immediately. You can mark it with an "ouch" if you'd like, but with most puppies, the negative of the food being withdrawn is enough. Offer the treat back to them right away so they can try again.
Remember that if your dog is gentle, say "yes" or click and reward them by moving your thumb to release the treat right away. The longer you wait, the more your pup will troubleshoot and they may go to biting at the treat. You don't want to lose your window of reward by holding out too long. Quick rewards when they make the right choices will make your dog's understanding easier.
4 - Be consistent
Dogs learn through repetition and consistency. Be sure that you are clear and consistent every time you offer your dog a treat. A good way to get in lots of repetition is to use a handful of your dog's kibble each time you go to feed them. Set these lessons up as part of your regular training program, but make sure you insist on gentle teeth EVERY time you feed by hand.
We've put together some demos for you in this short video with Reggie!