Puppy Biting and Mouthing
Puppy biting and mouthing is one of the most common puppy problem and concern that we hear about at The Dog Squad. Most new puppy owners have a difficult time understanding and dealing with this very normal puppy behavior. Puppy Play-fighting and Play-biting are natural and a necessary part of a puppy's developmental process.
Teaching a puppy to inhibit the force of his biting is something we need to do before the dog develops strong jaws and the ability to bite with damaging force. A puppy's bite though painful seldom causes major damage. Because we want the puppy to learn how to inhibit his biting we do not want to forbid all play-biting. The puppy needs to learn that if the biting inflicts pain then the interaction with us will stop. The puppy can learn to restrain its bite in order to keep our attention and the game going.
Why does your puppy want to use your hands as pin cushions? Puppy mouthing and biting are naturally rewarding behaviors in that they relieve some discomfort associated with the puppy's teething. Your puppy doesn't have hands, so he explores his world with his mouth. This is why puppies put everything they can into their mouths. They are exploring and discovering what their world is made of, what's good to eat, what's fun to chew, etc. For example wood has a very different texture than plastic or your hands. Biting or mouthing can be stimulating and fun for your puppy. Dog owners often have a tendency to make it even more fun through ineffective efforts to stop the puppy from biting. Such as pushing the dog away, yelling at him, lightly spanking or swatting him, etc. These behaviors by the owner may not be viewed as punishment by the puppy and can actually be more rewarding making his behavior even worse.
Let's explore the game of reinforcing unwanted dog and puppy behaviors like play biting and mouthing. If your puppy comes to you and starts to chew on your hands or feet your natural response would be to take your hands away from him. But in doing so you see that he now jumps to get to them and is having even more fun than when he was just chewing on them. This is where the problem usually starts. If you can't take your hands away and I don't want to get chewed on, what do you do?
The solution here is to teach the puppy or dog what we call "bite inhibition" by using a command word to get him to stop biting us. The command word can be, "No", "Off" or "Leave it", but they all mean about the same thing in this case. How we teach the puppy to understand these commands depends on the dog's temperament and how much the puppy wants or needs to chew.
Some common dog and puppy training methods for teaching bite inhibition are: using a squirt bottle or something to spray in the puppy's mouth like "Bitter Apple" (which is sold in pet stores), a can filled with pennies that makes a loud noise for the purpose of startling the dog, or using what we as dog trainers call an "alpha roll." This is the act of putting your puppy or dog onto its back as a way of putting him in his place for the offending act. At The Dog Squad we only recommend these techniques as a last resort and recommend that a professional teach you how to execute them.
While these techniques may stop the biting for a short while they are often times only quick fixes and may stop working over time. There is a downside to using some of these methods for example loud noises can make a dog afraid of any sudden and unexpected noise which can be more harmful to the puppy's normal development. Using a squirt bottle may make a puppy afraid of water. If the methods are too negative they can they can also make the puppy fearful of its owners and other people. We would rather see a puppy coming to its owner without hesitation or worry about punishment. If every time a puppy came to its owner he was rolled on his back, sprayed with water or had bitter apple sprayed into his mouth he may want to avoid the owner altogether.
There are many things that puppy owners do that inadvertently reinforce bad dog behavior. The owners of course do not do this intentionally, but find themselves reacting out of frustration to the puppy in ways that are ineffectual and counter productive to the puppy's natural development.
As an example when the puppy starts to bite us we may try to pacify him by petting him. The puppy quickly realizes that by biting us he can get us to pet him. Petting unintentionally reinforces more biting.
We at The Dog Squad prefer to teach a gentle physical restraining technique that calmly gets the puppy to stop biting, while still looking to its owner as the leader he wants to follow.
The following training technique is best used with puppies from 8 to 16 weeks of age. When using this training method it is a good idea to have a leash on your puppy. The leash will give you better control of your dog so that if he tries to run away or play you can immediately get control. The leash should not be used to correct the puppy's behavior it is only used as a restraint.
Once the puppy starts biting you should gently but firmly get a hold of the puppy and kneel down on the floor. Turn the puppy away from you and position him between your knees so he cannot squeeze out from the rear or sides. Then with one hand gently but firmly hold the puppy's muzzle closed while the other hand acts as a head rest so he can't pull his head back from your grip. While holding the puppy repeat in a low calm voice the command word you have chosen such as "No" or "Off" or whatever word you like. Repeat the command or "talk the dog down" as you keep him from biting you. Because you are physically showing the dog what you want him to do, i.e. "stop biting," while you repeat the command he will learn to associate that word with being calm and not biting. Note that we want to see the puppy give some type of signal that he has resigned himself to not continue biting. This signal may be a sigh or a relaxed look in the eyes as opposed to fighting and wiggling to get free or eyes darting around the room looking for a way to start the game again.
By teaching the dog or puppy through the use of calm assertiveness we don't have to yell at him, physically punish him or be harsh. We can teach the puppy bite inhibition and to perform the desired behavior while he still sees us as a being a fair and consistent leader. Both dog and owner will enjoy each other's company much more by having established a bond of trust through using fair and consistent discipline. Dogs and puppies are not natural leaders and prefer to follow strong, fair and consistent leaders.
If you are having problems training your puppy The Dog Squad has a Puppy Pre-School Program that can help you. We are based in the East Bay, specifically Oakland, CA and work in both Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.
Call 877-632-3647 to set up an evaluation.
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