Puppy Biting, Nipping, Mouthing & Chewing

Biting, nipping, mouthing or chewing is your pup’s way of telling you her needs are not being met. Try to figure out why your dog is mouthing or nipping. She may need more attention, be bored or using the behavior to try to keep you from touching her. Whatever the reason, try to be proactive. Don’t wait until your dog is acting up and then try to fix it. Instead, be sure your dog has plenty of interactive food dispensing toys that she must earn with a spontaneous sit with eye contact and give to your dog on a regular basis, and make a point of playing (and chasing) your dog when she has something she is allowed to have, so she doesn’t feel the need to steal personal items to get you to play chase with her. There are many ways to deal with nipping and mouthing. Below are many different suggestions.

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Love Your Crate – Crate Training

All dogs should be crate trained. Some people seem to think crate training is cruel. I think it is cruel to not crate train your dog. There will be times in your life when you may have to hospitalize your dog or kennel your dog while you go on vacation. If your dog has never been crate trained, this will be a very stressful experience for your dog. Yes, crate use can certainly be abused, but training your dog to like being in a crate a couple hours a day, and to find it a safe and secure place, is not abusive. Continue reading


Your dog must already understand that the Spontaneous Sit with Eye Contact is the way he can earn resources in order for this exercise to work.


  • It is unsafe for dogs to dash out doors. Instead, we want them to choose to wait, until they are given permission to go through the door. This is not about you being the leader and going through the door first, as there is no scientific evidence to prove that has any meaning for dogs. Instead, it is about your dog learning to have the self-control to remain sitting voluntarily until verbally freed to pass through the door. It’s all about safety.

Here is my dog Nova working the DOOR exercise. Doors are very challenging for her and it took a few weeks for her to get good at this.

Mark = say YEA or CLICK
Reinforce = give a treat
MR = mark and reinforce
SS = spontaneous sit(s)
EC = eye contact

  • With your dog on lead approach the door. You should be between the dog and the door. Position your dog so that you can open the door while the dog remains in a sit (or down). Wait for the SS and MR.
    • Touch knob, MR
    • Jiggle knob, MR
    • Turn knob, MR
    • Crack open door, MR
    • Open door farther, MR
    • Open door all the way, MR
    • Move one of your feet (only 1 not both) and take one step towards the door, mark, return your foot and then treat.
    • Move both feet one step towards the door, mark, return to the front of your dog and then treat. Gradually move closer to the threshold, one foot at a time, and always returning to the dog to treat. Do not stretch to treat or you will pull the dog out of the sit.
    • Step onto threshold, mark, return to the front of your dog, then treat.
    • Open door all the way and talk to an imaginary person, MR. You may only be able to say one word at first – “Hi”.
    • Step out the door and talk to the invisible person.
    • Have a helper go outside. Knock softly once, MR. Gradually increase the loudness and number of knocks.
    • Let your dog see the helper outside the door.
    • Open the door and allow the guest to enter but stay by the door.
    • OR
    • Step out the door, MR and invite dog out door.
  •  If the dog gets up at any point, simply close the door and wait for the SS again.
  • As the dog becomes more experienced with this, you can taper off the treats. This can happen fairly quickly as going out the door is the true reinforcement in this case (assuming your dog likes walks and going out!).

Food Bowl

Your dog must already understand that the Spontaneous Sit with Eye Contact is the way she can earn resources in order for this exercise to work.

 FOOD BOWL EXERCISE: Dog’s butt stays on the ground, food bowl moves towards or stays on the ground. Dog’s butt comes off the ground, food bowl is raised off the ground.

Purpose: To teach your dog to be calm and relaxed around a valuable resource like food.

◆    Before starting this exercise, the SIT W/EYE CONTACT should already be a default behavior for your dog. If it is not, practice the SIT W/EYE CONTACT for a day or two before starting this exercise.

◆    This exercise makes it black and white to your dog that only calm, polite behavior earns her dinner. It really helps your dog to understand the concept behind the SPONTANEOUS BEHAVIOR PROTOCOL and teaches her very good self control. The only thing your dog will be hearing is the MARKER and light praise, followed by a release signal (e.g. “free!”) to go eat her food. Resist the temptation to use a No Reward Marker or reprimand (e.g. No, Uh Uh, nope, oops, phooey, etc.) of any kind, as that is you telling your dog she did it wrong, rather than her figuring out for herself she did it wrong.

Some dogs may choose to lay down during this exercise, which is completely fine. Old dogs with arthritis or younger dogs with any kind of joint problems may find it difficult to sit. If that is the case, this exercise can be done from a stand as well, the same rules apply no matter what position your dog is in.

◆    For this exercise, use your verbal MARKER (YEA or YEP are my favorites). I don’t recommend using the clicker here because you will have your hands full with the bowl in one hand and a treat in the other.

◆    Keep practice sessions short. Dogs learn best in short training sessions. About 3 minutes is perfect. Get as far as you can in 3 minutes and release your dog to eat her food. At each meal, and during training sessions between meals, work towards completing the whole exercise.

◆    This exercise will be easiest for your dog if she has a rug or mat to wait on. It gives her a place holder or boundary which makes it easier for her to grasp the concept of voluntarily sitting and waiting in one spot to get her food. Also, it’s hard for some dogs to maintain a sit on a slippery floor; sitting on a rug or mat fixes that problem.

◆    Wait for the sit, MARK (YEA or YEP) and REINFORCE. Stand sideways, so you are not leaning and looming toward or over the dog. Hold the bowl in the hand farthest away from the dog.

Lower the bowl 6″. If the dog remains in a sit, MARK and REINFORCE. The key here is to lower the bowl first, wait for the dog to have only one second of self-control. If she can do that, MARK and REINFORCE. Do NOT keep food in your hand. The treats/food should be taken out of the bowl after the dog has shown self-control. If you have food in your hand, the dog knows that and the treat in your hand sort of “glues” the dog in place, making it easier for her to maintain the sit. I want her self-control to hold her in place, not the treat in your hand. Keep lowering the bowl 6″ at a time, reinforcing with a piece of kibble or a treat each time you lower the bowl as long as your dog maintains the sit.

If at any point the dog gets up or even leans forward like she’s thinking about getting up, simply remove the bowl and stand up. Don’t say anything. Try again, making your steps easier. If the dog gets up, you made it too hard.

After the dog has made a mistake and gotten up. Simply stand there and wait for her to sit again. Don’t tell her to do anything, although you can talk sweetly to your dog to keep her attention. When she does sit, MARK but use only praise as her reinforcement, no treats!!! Once she re-sits herself, begin the process again.

Once the bowl is on the ground, immediately MARK and REINFORCE. Before you stand up, remove a few pieces of food/treats from the bowl and hold in the hand farthest away from the dog. Stand up 1/4 of the way, MARK and REINFORCE. Stand up half way, MARK and REINFORCE. Stand up 3/4 of the way, MARK and REINFORCE. Stand up all the way. At this point your dog will probably be sitting but looking at the food. Give the dog very light and quiet praise. The praise will cause the dog to look up. When she gives you eye contact, MARK and release your dog with a RELEASE CUE to eat the food.

The dog may initially get “stuck” there in the sit. This is common. Just walk away after you release the dog and encourage her with your body language to get up. She will then know it’s OK to eat the food.

◆    Here is a video of my dog Cassie (R.I.P.) demonstrating the exercise:  http://youtu.be/9XATROu6WF8

◆    Each time you do this exercise it should require 1-2 fewer pieces of food until no extra food is needed. Your dog will be getting a whole bowl of food as her reinforcement at the end of the exercise.

All static exercises should have a beginning and an end. You get to decide when that is. Choose a word, FREE, FREE DOG, BREAK, AT EASE, etc. and begin to use it each time you want to release your dog from a sit stay, down stay, stand stay, or even sustained eye contact. I recommend you stay away from OK which is too commonly used. You can accidentally release your dog from a position without meaning to.

Say your word, we’ll assume it is FREE. Wait one second. If your dog does not release, use your body language and pat your leg to encourage her to come. Initially praise, pet or treat your dog for getting up.

We want your dog to learn that only the release word frees her from the exercise you were working on.

◆    If your dog gets up during the exercise, pick up the bowl and use the bowl to lure your dog back to her original spot (on her mat, or a couple feet away from the bowl if you’re not using a mat).

◆     Make this exercise harder by working towards having your dog do a SPONTANEOUS SIT or DOWN for the entire meal preparation process. If she gets up at any point, simply stop all food prep, walk over to the spot where you would like her to sit, and then wait for a SPONTANEOUS SIT again before continuing food prep. The following video is of my girls doing the advanced version of this exercise: http://youtu.be/J1FUkFVwcNk.

Go Around

Mark = say YEA or CLICK
Reinforce = give a treat
MR = mark and reinforce
SS = spontaneous sit(s)
EC = eye contact

Your dog must already understand that the Spontaneous Sit with Eye Contact is the way she can earn resources in order for this exercise to work.

GO AROUND: Untangling from obstacles, from around you and from around themselves.

Some dogs constantly get their leashes tangled in a variety of ways. If you constantly fix the leash when it tangles, your dog will continue to get tangled. Help your dog learn to fix tangled leashes by herself.

  • Try this very simple exercise when you are out walking. Go up to a tree or pole. Let your dog choose to go on one side of the pole. You automatically go to the other side of the pole, stop and stand still. Set your dog up for success by not letting her get past the tree/pole. Stop your dog next to the pole by removing all the slack from the leash–but don’t pull her. Just stand, wait and ignore your dog. Eventually, your dog will figure out that if she wants to continue on the walk she has to come around to your side of the pole. When she figures this out, praise her and tell her how clever she is and continue your walk. If you choose to, you can MR with a treat, but it’s not necessary as the walk is the reinforcement.
  • After you’ve done this several times, and your dog is getting the idea, you can attach a cue to it. As your dog is in the process of coming around say GO AROUND. Eventually you can use the cue to elicit the behavior.
  • You can use this same concept if the dog gets tangled around you. Stand still and wait for her to untangle herself, praise her, tell her how clever she is, and off you go on your walk. You may have to help her a bit initially by turning your head and looking to the side where she will have to go to get herself untangled. I don’t reinforce with a treat for this as the reinforcement is continuing the walk.
  • If the dog tangles herself in the leash, lower the leash to the ground and lean into the dog so she steps back out of the tangle, praise her, tell her how clever she is and continue your walk. No need to reinforce with a treat for this as the reinforcement is continuing the walk.


Your dog must already understand that the Spontaneous Sit with Eye Contact is the way he can earn resources in order for this exercise to work.


Many dogs get overly aroused and act silly when you get out their leashes to take them for walks. This exercise teaches dogs to calmly accept the leash before they ever get outside. If your dog is calm inside, you have a better chance of getting attention from him outside. Break this exercise down into as many parts as is necessary for your dog to be as close to 100% successful as possible.

◆    Wait for a SPONTANEOUS SIT, then MARK (click or say YEA or YEP) and REINFORCE (give a treat).
◆    Touch the leash, mark and reinforce.
◆    Jiggle the leash, mark and reinforce.
◆    Pick up the leash, 1 inch, mark and reinforce.
◆    Gradually pick up the leash farther each time, mark and reinforce each time you pick up the leash until you are holding the leash in front of you.
◆    Stretch out the leash, mark and reinforce.
◆    Stoop or sit down (no leaning and looming), mark and reinforce. If you are using a clicker DO NOT CLICK IN YOUR DOG’S FACE!
◆    Attach leash, mark and reinforce.

If your dog gets up at any point, simply put the leash down and calmly wait for the spontaneous sit before you try again. Your dog should remain sitting as you attach the lead. Then verbally release him (say FREE) after the leash is attached. Repeat as necessary.

If your dog makes a mistake, verbally mark the dog when he re-sits himself, but DO NOT give a treat. Use only praise as a reinforcement after a fixed mistake. He must be successful the first time you try a step in order to earn a treat reinforcement. If you give a treat after the dog fixes his own mistake, you can inadvertently reinforce the mistake. I always want to make sure the dog to gets positive feedback for fixing a mistake.

Spontaneous Sits and Eye Contact

Mark = say YEA or CLICK
Reinforce = give a treat
MR = mark and reinforce
SS = spontaneous sit(s)
EC = eye contact

SPONTANEOUS SITS (keep treats out of sight)

  •  Ask your dog to sit a few times. When he does MR. Be sure he remains in the sit as you deliver the treat. If you deliver the treat to your dog and he starts to get up, withdraw the treat, don’t say anything, wait for the SS again, then MARK and try to deliver the treat again.
  • Change positions so your dog has to get up. Now smile at him and wait for him to sit. Don’t cue him to sit either verbally or with your body language. Many people move in towards their dogs to get them to sit. This is somewhat threatening to the dog and is really just an extra cue anyway. Let your dog figure out sitting on his own pays off, then MR. I always move away from dogs to get them to sit.
  • After MRing your dog for voluntarily sitting a couple times, make it more difficult by now requiring a sit and eye contact, then MR.
  • To get eye contact, wait for your dog to voluntarily give you eye contact, then MR the moment he does so.
  • After he’s done several reps with eye contact, attach a cue to the eye contact, WATCH ME or LOOK works. You are not using the cue to get the behavior, you are just attaching it to the behavior he already does. After attaching it several times, you can try using the cue to elicit the behavior.

While using a cue to get the behavior is obviously not “spontaneous”, it is nice to have the behavior on cue as well so you can cue it if necessary.

SPONTANEOUS EYE CONTACT (keep treats out of sight)

I don’t like to lure eye contact as I feel the dog is only following the food lure. I usually start waiting for the dog to sit, then keeping my hands by my side or behind my back, simply waiting for your dog to voluntarily look up at you, mark and reinforce the moment that happens.

You can test or proof the behavior by holding the treat out to the side and waiting for your dog to ignore the food and look at you. This makes it black and white to your dog–“looking at this food does not pay off, but looking at me does.” You are teaching him right from the first trial to ignore the food and pay attention to you.

Some dogs get overly excited about seeing the treat off to the side and may jump to try to get the treat. For those dogs, you can do one of two things.  (1) Hold the treat higher so your dog doesn’t think you are trying to tease him into jumping to get the treat. (2) Wait for your dog to offer a spontaneous sit. Patiently wait for your dog to glance up at your eyes and MR. You can prompt your dog by simply shifting your weight a little, which is usually enough to get your dog’s attention.

This can be played independently of spontaneous sits or combined with it. Be sure to practice this with the dog in a down or stand as well as a sit.

  • Hold a treat out to the side and just wait. Eventually, your dog will look away from the treat and at you. When he does, MR. You may have to accept a quick glance initially. But try to MR longer looks with each trial.
  • Now do the same thing but switch hands or try both hands. Gradually work your distracting treat hand closer and closer to your dog, until your hand is right next to your dog’s face and he can give you eye contact. Practice both on and off lead.
  • It is not necessary to hold your treat out to the side forever to get eye contact. The purpose is just to make it very clear to your dog that looking at you pays off. Once your dog will sit and look at you, you can stop holding the treat to the side. However, holding the treat out to the side and moving it closer to the dog is a good way to test if your dog really understands that the eye contact is what he is being paid for.
  • Watch your dog (don’t stare). Smile and look happy but do not cue your dog to watch you in any way. Each time your dog glances in your direction, MR.
  • Each time your dog looks at your face, MR.