Finding out how to train a dog to be gentle can be life changing for you and your pet.
Dogs that are too rough to handle can very sadly quickly fall out of favor with the humans in their lives.
Being repeatedly bitten, scratched, jumped up at or barged about is damaging to any relationship.
Especially if you have very young kids or are physically vulnerable.
The good news is that many of these issues that families face with their dogs can be successfully combated with training.
And the method you’ll need to use depends upon what they are doing to upset you.
How to train a dog to be gentle
Encouraging gentle behavior is important, and to do it you need to first establish what it is that you are finding too rough.
The following are the most common physical things that upset dog owners:
- Puppy biting
- Taking treats roughly
- Jumping up and scratching
Each one of these can be tackled, so let’s look at how!
Puppy biting is an issue which usually rears its head around 8 – 10 weeks of age, and can pose a problem for several months if it’s not dealt with the right way.
In order to reduce or stop puppy biting you will need to do the following:
- Collect your puppy at 8 weeks old
- Teach bite inhibition
- Stay calm
- Distract and redirect
In the first few weeks of their lives your dog will learn a lot about how to behave from their mother and littermates. This includes early lessons in bite inhibition.
Their family will help them to understand when they’ve gone too far.
Due to the rate at which puppy’s develop, many of these vital lessons are learned at 6 – 8 weeks old.
Which is one of the reasons it’s so important to wait until 8 weeks old to bring them home.
Bite inhibition is the term used to describe your puppy’s self control with their teeth.
The way that they learn not to bite down so hard that it hurts or breaks the skin.
How they are taught to inhibit their urge to chomp on you!
This is a big topic! You can find out all about teaching bite inhibition here.
In the meantime staying calm, redirecting and distracting will help.
How you behave around your puppy
Puppies are very easily wound into a frenzy of excitement.
Sitting on the floor alone can be too much for them to contain. Start rough housing or tickling them and that’s it. Tooth city.
Training a biting puppy to be gentle involves staying really calm.
Containing your puppy
Knowing how to train a dog to be gentle is all well and good, but this takes time.
While you are teaching them the right way to behave, it’s important to have somewhere they can go to calm down.
Somewhere safe they can relax, and you can put them for a moment when they get too rough.
We highly recommend crate training, ideally with a nice daytime set up of a crate and playpen.
Then when they do inevitably get over excited, you just pop them in with some toys and give them space to calm back down to a more gentle disposition.
How to train a dog to be gentle when taking treats
There is a nice method you can use to teach your dog to be more gentle when you offer them treats.
- Put a pot of treats on the counter next to you.
- Remove one and pinch it between your thumb and finger.
- Offer it to your dog.
- Do not let go of that treat until it’s only her lips on your skin, not her teeth.
It sounds simple, but it takes a while for most dogs to catch on.
It also depends upon you having a small enough treat that they can’t break off a bit without you letting go.
And on your fingers holding up to their chomping until they’ve got what is going on.
Jumping up and scratching
Some dogs are so pleased to see you, or be with you, that it’s hard for them to remember to be gentle.
Jumping up alone hurts if they are a larger breed, and even more so if they catch your bare skin with their claws.
To train a dog to be more gentle in their greetings, we teach them to keep all four of their paws on the floor.
Puppies jumping up
Many puppies naturally jump up, and we often don’t stop them. They are small, cute and don’t really do any damage.
When they start jumping up and nipping we are likely to want to put a stop to it, but not all pups jump to nip.
Many just jump as a greeting or for attention.
We bend down and give them a scratch when they pop up our legs, and accidentally reward and therefore reinforce the action.
By the time they are nine months old and big enough to cause annoyance and damage to clothes and skin, the habit is well ingrained.
How to train a dog to be gentle when greeting you
To break this habit, we need to stop rewarding the jumping up and start rewarding them for keeping their feet on the floor.
Whilst they are learning to stay grounded, you will still find they jump up occasionally. Make sure you don’t reward them.
When your dog jumps up:
- Turn your back on them
- Fold your arms across your chest
- Don’t make eye contact
- Stay silent
- Wait them out
Pushing your pup back down is actually rewarding, because they love to be touched! So don’t react at all.
Four on the floor
Here’s a fun little training exercise that helps to reward your dog for staying on the ground.
- Sit on a chair in an empty room with just your dog.
- Have a clicker in one hand and some kibble in the other.
- Ignore every effort he makes to climb up your legs and paw at you
- As soon as he puts his paws back on the ground CLICK and give him a treat.
- Immediately give him nine more pieces of kibble, one after the other. In a stream.
- Move your hands back away from him and wait.
- If he paws at you again, wait until he stops, then CLICK and treat stream again. This time wait for a quick count of one between each treat.
- Move your hands back into your lap and ignore him.
- If he looks up at you and doesn’t try to put his feet up, CLICK and treat stream again.
Each time you stream treats you can leave a very slightly longer gap between each treat.
The stream of treats is essential here, or your dog will learn to jump up even more so that you give them a treat when they get down again!
Do this five times, then stop. Repeat later in the day, making sure the first stream of treats is rapid again.
When they have nailed doing it in the calm chair scenario, move on to repeating it when you have just come through the door.
Simulate the different situations in which your dog jumps up, starting with the least distracting and tempting.
Your aim is to get eye contact, but no paw contact!
How to train a dog to be gentle
The method you will use to train a dog to be gentle will depend upon the way in which they are being rough.
But with reward based methods, patience and time, you will help them to learn to be more gentle.
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