So, you brought home your new dog and you're excited to get started on training. You lure your dog into a sit, and when his butt hits the ground you say "yes!" and deliver a treat... and then lose your fingers! DUN DUN DUN. Alright, that's a total exaggeration, but anyone who's trained a few dogs knows exactly what I'm talking about. Some dogs get so excited about food, or don't have great bite inhibition to begin with, that when they take treats from your hands they nip so hard that they sometimes draw blood. This whole situation can make training a lot less fun and can impede the whole learning process for both dog and person! So, what's a dog guardian to do? Well, here are 4 solutions that may be of some help!
1) Hand shape matters!
First of all, ask yourself how you are handing your dog the treat. If you are pinching the treats between your fingers to deliver them that drastically increases the likelihood of you getting your fingers nipped at. When possible deliver the food from your mostly flattened palm; it's as if you are feeding a horse a treat. This will help protect your fingers from your pup's incisors.
2) The treat and toss
One of the nice things about marker/clicker training (where we use either a verbal word or clicker to mark the moment the behavior happens) is that if you time your marker efficiently you can be more creative with how you deliver the treat. This means you can mark the moment your dog offers the behavior, then reinforce by dropping the treat on the floor nearby or tossing it to your dog. In fact, this is an efficient way to get lots of reps of stationary behaviors (i.e. ask your dog for a sit, then toss the treat to get the dog up so you can ask for another sit). If you choose to deliver treats this way try to avoid "bouncy" treats, as that can make it more difficult for your dog to get to the treat.
3) Squeeze toobs
Fill your own refillable squeeze tubes and have your dog lick their treat from the tubes rather than directly from your hand! This brand of tube is a popular choice for this: https://amzn.to/2YOJWnr. You can use peanut butter, wet dog food, yogurt, or any other soft food that is easily stuffed into the tube, watering it down as necessary to find the right texture.
You can also purchase commercially made treat tubes (like those found here: https://amzn.to/2YOKdqt), use human grade squeeze cheese, or baby food pouches (such as these: https://amzn.to/2YQfrO5), although filling your own tends to be less wasteful and more cost effective!
4) Spoon by spoon
This is also one of my favorite tactics for teaching polite leash walking with shorter dogs (less bending for me!). Put a glob of peanut butter or some other gooey treat on the end of a spoon, and allow your dog a few licks from the spoon as a reward. Pro tip: Designate a jar of peanut butter as "dog pb" so that you don't stick the spoon back into the human peanut butter jar after your dog licks it!
The science is still unclear on whether we can teach adult dogs to control the pressure of their bites when emotionally aroused; some trainers and behavior professionals believe that the ability to learn bite inhibition is relegated to puppyhood, and that even if you teach a "gentle" or "soft mouth" cue that will never become their default behavior. I do believe that teaching your dog "gentle" or soft mouth can be helpful, even if it's just an exercise in self control, but the above solutions may help to expedite your training journey!