How Do I Teach My Puppy to Take Food Gently?

Little puppies often nip before they learn it's a no-no.

Little puppies often nip before they learn it's a no-no.

Teaching a puppy to take treats gently is one of the most important skills you'll ever teach. You can't begin positive training without it when treats are offered as a reward. If you're getting nipped every time you reward the dog for a "sit" command, you may get discouraged and give up.

Basic Training

Puppies nip. It's a canine fact of life. Puppies who've had the benefit of staying with their mothers the first full eight weeks of life have a definite advantage over those who don't. When a puppy nips its mother, she retaliates swiftly and harshly with a growl or a nip of her own, teaching him that nipping hurts. You can extend this training by simulating that consequence. Do this prior to teaching your puppy to take a treat nicely so he begins to get the idea.


Choose a word to associate with taking the treat gently. Some people use "take nice," "nicely" or "gentle." Whichever word you use, be consistent. Select a treat for the training. The treat should be something small and soft. This will help keep him on task. If you have to wait for him to chew and swallow the treat before moving on with the lesson, it slows down your progress and he could forget why he was rewarded and fail to offer the behavior automatically. Begin by making sure you have his full attention by showing him the treat.

Teaching the Skill

Place the treat between the pad of your thumb and the knuckle of your index finger. Close the rest of your hand into a tight fist. The treat should be just visible enough to see it, but not protruding in such a way as to allow the puppy to take it. Allow your puppy to sniff the treat. If he nips or bites, pull your hand away quickly and say "no" or "ouch" sharply. Then put your hand back by his nose and say, for example, "gentle." Continue to do this until the puppy begins to lick at the treat. When he first starts licking the treat, release the treat, praise him and say "good gentle" in a happy voice.

Completing the Training

Continue to allow him to have the treat when he licks it for the next few sessions, which should last about 5 minutes each time. Gradually expose a little more of the treat, enough for him to grab with just his front teeth if he does so delicately. When he applies his front teeth to the treat, release it and say "good gentle" and praise. Continue to expose more and more of the treat until he's got the idea. Most dogs get this concept quickly. The older the puppy, the faster the results. Now that you've taught him to take a treat nicely, you can move on to his basic training lessons.

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About the Author

Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.

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