In this unit we introduce several ways that puppies can learn self-control, including softening their bite, moving away from food in your hand, and waiting for you to set their food bowl on the floor.  We also look at helping your puppy to enjoy being handled, even by the vet!

As always we open with:


    • Shaping go to Mat
      Clicking and treating for the offered behavior of going to the Mat. Marking and rewarding increasing approximations of the final desired behavior of going all the way to the Mat.
    • Clicking and treating for relaxation on a Mat
      Marking increasing relaxation or calm behavior on the Mat.


Puppy Mouthing: Bite Inhibition
Puppies need to mouth! It teaches them “bite inhibition” (the ability to soften their mouths for a gentle grip). This will be very important when they become adults, and have more powerful jaws and bigger teeth! Much bite inhibition is learned within the litter before puppies leave their mother and siblings, but the lesson continues when they come to live with their human families.

Laurie Luck of Smart Dog University has a beautifully straightforward protocol to teach puppies to soften their bite in a few weeks. Laurie trains dogs for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and is an instructor for the Karen Pryor Academy, one of the pre-eminent schools for clicker trainers.

Basically Laurie breaks the bites into four levels:

  1. gentle teeth on skin without any pressure
  2. firm pressure
  3. indented skin (you’re surprised there isn’t any blood!)
  4. blood!

In her protocol you respond only to the strongest bites—level 4 in the first week—by simply saying “OW”, standing up, and leaving. For all other bites you redirect with an appropriate toy to chew. In week 2, as the level 4 bites diminish, you respond to level 3 bites the same way: simply saying “OW”, standing up, and leaving. In week 3, as level 3 and 4 bites diminish, you’d add level 2s to the protocol, and finally level 1 bites in the final week. It’s important to redirect the bites for which you don’t use the “OW” protocol to appropriate toys.

Visit Laurie Luck’s Smart Dog University page “Puppy Biting Solved” for her complete instructions.

Puppy Mouthing: Attention-Seeking
Mouthing can also be an attention-seeking behavior.  As we do with other problematic behaviors, click and treat your puppy for remaining quiet before she bites, and give her some attention for being good.

Puppy Mouthing: Tired Puppy
You may know that your puppy will become mouthy at certain times of the day, or after certain activities. This is much like a child who is overtired and needs a nap, but who gets all wound up! Before your puppy has a chance to start mouthing, let her chill out in a crate or other happy quiet place, and give her a stuffed Kong or other engaging toy to help her relax.

Note that if you yell at your puppy for mouthing, or punish her, the nipping is likely to get worse because of the additional stress and excitement. Also, even yelling and punishing are attention, which can reinforce an attention-seeking behavior.


Your puppy learns to give up what he wants in order to get what he wants. This is the foundation for teaching your pup to “Leave It”.

  1. Put your clicker and several treats (5 or 10) in one hand.
  2. Hold a treat in your other hand, which you close to protect the treat.
  3. Put your hand somewhere to stabilize it so that you won’t be tempted to pull it away from your puppy. I like to rest my hand against my knee for this.
  4. Let your puppy try to get the treat. She will likely lick, paw, nibble, mouth, etc. The instant she stops trying to get the treat, click and treat from your other hand.
  5. As your puppy moves further and further away from the hand closed around the treat, open the hand, and click and treat your puppy for not moving toward the exposed treat. If she does move toward the exposed treat simply close your hand around the treat again, don’t click, but don’t say anything either. Go back to a slightly easier step.

In this behavior your puppy learns to wait patiently while you lower her food bowl to the floor.

  1. Put some kibble or treats in a bowl.
  2. Ask your dog to sit or lie down, and wait.
  3. Lower the food bowl ever so slightly.
  4. Click and raise the bowl back up to the starting point.
  5. Deliver a treat from the bowl.
  6. Repeat the process, lowering the bowl a tiny bit more each time as long as your dog succeeds.
  7. If at some point your dog doesn’t “wait” don’t say anything, just go back to an earlier, easier, step.


Not all puppies or dogs enjoy being handled. We coupled handling with food to build a happy association with being touched. Susan Sanderson wrote this great protocol for conditioning to being handled.

We want our dogs to be comfortable with us handling them in a variety of ways. In addition, your dog needs to be okay with the vet, a friend, or the groomer handling him. To get this concept started, we are using something called classical conditioning — having your dog associate a human touching him with something pleasurable, such as his favorite treat. In your dog’s mind, a human touching him will predict something yummy.

  1. Grab about 10 super yummy treats — you could even use extra special treats set aside for this exercise.
  2. Gently touch your dog, lift your hand, then immediately treat your dog.
  3. When you are starting this out, do not roughly handle your dog; like all of the other behaviors and exercise we do, we start out small and easy, and build on that.
  4. Begin by touching him in places you know he enjoys. Some people start out touching their dog’s chest, then his back, moving on to more sensitive areas like ears, paws, tail, and top of head after they’ve worked on the easier areas first.
  5. Repeat the touch/treat pairing about 5-10 times.
  6. Watch your dog carefully! If you handle an area that makes your dog move away from you or quickly turn his head to see what’s going on, you now know that this is a sensitive area.
  7. You can work on the sensitive areas after awhile, but don’t do it so much that your dog is worried or annoyed — keep this exercise fun and lighthearted.

Remember: easy does it! You’ll get nothing by pushing your dog in this exercise, except a dog who is uncomfortable with people touching him.

This is an exercise you can do with your dog multiple times throughout the day. It only takes a minute and soon he’ll start looking forward to you handling him.


    • Have your dog “Wait” for you to put her food bowl down for each meal.
    • Couple handling with treats a few times a day.



Things to Bring

  • Your Pup!
  • Well-behaved children and spouses 8 or older.
  • A flat collar, harness, or martingale collar.
  • Lots of pea-sized soft treats in at least two different flavors. 200 tiny pieces are not too many. Some suggestions: Hot dogs, String cheese, Meatballs, Chicken or Tuna, Baby food (in a camping tube), Vienna sausages, Liverwurst, Thin-sliced Beef.
  • A fanny pack, carpenter’s apron, or treat pouch to hold your 200 tiny pieces.
  • A 6-foot leash.
  • A mat, bathmat, towel, or blanket for your puppy or dog to rest on.
  • Water and a bowl for when your pup gets thirsty.

Do's and Don'ts

  • Do let us know if your pup has any food allergies so that we can be careful not to give him a troublesome treat.
  • Don’t bring prong, choke, shock, or citronella collars.
  • Don’t bring Flexi or other retractable leashes.
  • Puppies and dogs should not meet while on leash in class, or while coming and going. There will be opportunities for off-leash play for compatible puppies, and good neighbor exercises for older pups and dogs.
  • Don’t feed a heavy meal before coming to class. In fact, your in-class treats can serve as your dog’s breakfast on class day!
  • If your puppy or dog is ill, please leave him at home to recuperate, but feel free to come to class without him so that you can learn what’s on the agenda for that day.

Puppy eBooks

Training Video


Homework 1

  • Play with your puppy.
  • Catch your pup in the act of doing five different things you like. Click and Treat. Repeat.

Homework 2

  • Have your dog “Wait” for you to put her food bowl down for each meal.
  • Couple handling with treats a few times a day.

Homework 3

  • Practice Loose Leash Walking in a new location. Remember that three good steps are so much better than thirty steps on a tight leash.
  • Look for features on your walks that can serve as parts of an Out-and-About Confidence Course.

Homework 4

  • Surprise your dog with ten treats in ten seconds at least three times a day.
  • Practice the Name Game three times a day.

Homework 5

  • Discover a new opportunity to help your dog choose an appropriate behavior.
  • Write down the first five steps that you would train.