The Old Trainer: Finger nibbling getting out of hand

April 20, 2013 

Dear Old Trainer: Roscoe is a year old Dane-pit bull mix. He is very loving, but if not given attention, will nip at my hands, clothes or feet. When we stop petting him, he starts nipping again. I've tried ignoring him or putting him in his kennel. He knows "sit," "wait" and "let's go" as well as several other commands. I would spend more time with him if I could stop all the nipping. How do I stop him?

-- Stefanie, Winton

Answer: First, forget putting Roscoe in a kennel as punishment. Never use a crate or kennel to train a dog. Confining a dog or ignoring a dog is not training at all. It is a way to avoid training.

You train a dog by showing him you are the leader of the pack and making it clear what you expect him to do.

Roscoe is still a baby, and is doing what all dogs do -- plotting to get you to stop what you're doing and play with him. To his young mind nipping and playing are the same.

That's how puppies play with each other. You solve the problem by teaching him "easy" and "no."

"Easy" means continue the activity, but dial back the intensity. "No" means stop what you're doing right now.

The fact Roscoe already knows "sit" makes training easier. All training, human or canine, starts with a basic command. The first thing Army recruits learn is to stand at attention. Everything begins with that command. If they make a mistake they snap to attention while the sergeant delivers a lecture.

"Sit" is the basic command for canines, and the one you use to train Roscoe. Have a rolled up newspaper on your lap. As soon as Roscoe starts to nip, slap your thigh with the paper and say "no biting." The instant he stops, pet him and tell him what a smart dog he is. Be firm, not harsh.

If he nips again, whack your leg, stand up, and order him to sit. Lecture him just like a sergeant and tell him he is not allowed to bite. Then pet him and love on him, tell him how smart he is and you know he will do it right. Take a seat and go through the same routine each time he starts to nip.

Do it as many times as it takes to teach him to stop on command.

Once he does, change your strategy slightly. If he starts to nip, look at him and say "easy." Remind him of the rules and that he has to obey them. He will learn he can mouth your hand as long as he is gentle.

These two commands are a lot of fun to teach because the love is more important than the discipline.

Every time you praise him and love on him he tries a little harder and gets a little better. The training itself becomes a game for him.

But remember, he still wants attention. Don't ignore him. Toss a ball or toy for him or let him mouth your hand when he needs love.

Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained, and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to

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