Teaching a Big Dog to Calm Down to Stop Future Hand Nipping

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 3, 2018

For this Los Angeles dog training session we worked with 10 year-old Black Lab Zeus and a 3 year-old Pit Bull / Mastiff named Prince who gets excited at times and recently nipped / mouthed a neighbor’s hand while on a walk.

Knowing that Prince gets excited and liked to jump up on people who come to visit, I called ahead with some instructions. I have developed an exercise to stop dogs from jumping up on people which teaches them how to calm themselves down. You can find out how to stop any dog from getting overexcited and jumping on people by watching the free dog training video below.

The great thing about this approach is the dog is the one who makes the decision to calm down and stop jumping on the guest. The key is to stop with perfect timing and step right outside of the dog’s reach while you are positioned sideways until the dog calms down.

The leash helps limit the dog’s range and allows the humans to avoid verbal or leash corrections and the habit of micromanaging the dog’s behavior. Many people tell their dog to do this and that, but then when the human isn’t present or paying attention, the dog can easily get into trouble. By teaching the dog the way the human wants it to behave (calm and sitting instead of jumping when guests come inside), the dog is able to replicate the behavior over and over on its own until it becomes a habit.

I have read many case studies of dogs who nip when excited and I wonder if this is possibly why or a contributing factor to Prince’s hand nipping with the neighbor.

Later in the session I experienced a little mouthing from Prince. It was absolutely not a nip, more of a hand tug with a little teeth. I spent some time going over the importance of developing good bite inhibition in dogs.

  1. Yelp immediately any time Prince’s teeth though his guardians skin, even if it was by accident.
  2. Teaching Prince to drop on command instead of trying to pull things out of his mouth.
  3. Once the drop command has been established, playing tug of war games with Prince where the human yelps and stops the game momentarily any time his teeth touches skin.
  4. Guardian should also practice asking Prince to drop it when playing tug games. At first, when he is only mildly excited, but continuing to practice under progressively more excited situations.

I also recommended the guardians teach the dogs to stay as this exercise requires a lot or self control and helps the dog practice listening and paying attention to the human. The more commands the dogs know, the more confident they will be and the more in tune to their energy and body language the guardians will become.

Another positive dog training tip is to exercise a dog before taking them for a walk. This seems counterintuitive to many people but it can really help.  Since the guardians have a large back yard, another suggestion was to practice walks there while incorporating a lot of sits (within every 5 steps or so) to help Prince practice loose leash walking in an environment he is already familiar with.

Keeping an exercise journal may also help the guardians identify the proper amount of exercise for the dogs. Being much younger, Prince will need more and by playing around with the number of exercise activities and variables (like a dog back pack, exercise before the walk) they can come up with a strategy that leaves him feeling good and spent.

We also went over a Focus exercise which is a great way to redirect a dog’s attention before it gets into trouble. The guardians will need to practice this a few times a day in different locations to help Prince really develop a good focus.

I made sure to go over dog body language and suggested the guardians film Prince on a walk from the side (about 10 feet away) when encountering new people. This way they can watch the interaction later and identify the warning signs he is giving if he feels uncomfortable. If the humans learn these, it will allow them to move away any time Prince feels anxious which will help eliminate any future nipping incidents.

The guardians were very concerned after Prince’s hand nip of the neighbor as he had never demonstrated that kind of behavior before and they had never had a dog act that way. Fortunately they took this single minor incident very seriously and acted responsibly to bring in an LA Dog Behavior Expert to help.

Its going to take a few weeks of practice to see how well Prince picks up the new rules, structure and exercises. Its possible we may need to set up a follow up session to focus on some new drills like loose leash walking and fine tune any other issues.

To make sure the guardians can remember all the in home dog training tips I shared in this session, we shot a roadmap to success video.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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