Play Biting A young puppy plays with his littermates by wrestling and nipping. If he nips too hard, his siblings will yelp and walk away. If the puppy nips Mom too hard, she will either get up and leave or correct him. Thus a puppy starts learning that his behavior affects others. Spending time with mom, littermates and other friendly dogs at a young age is vitally important. Puppies that have learned to inhibit their bite strength early in life might be less likely to cause injury with their teeth as adults. Although no one can guarantee an animal’s behavior, it is wise to be proactive. It is very difficult if not impossible to teach an adolescent dog to reliably have a “soft mouth” during times of excitement. This lesson must be started at early as possible (before 4 or 5 months of age). If your dog has had a lot of practice nipping people while playing, be patient while you help him break this dangerous habit. Refrain from using a squirt bottle, holding his mouth shut, or smacking his nose in response to play biting. That can backfire and make the problem worse. The most important part of training a puppy to stop nipping is to teach him what to do instead at the moment he wants to nip that meets his need to use his mouth. This is the “big secret” that is often missing from advice you may have received from family and friends. Place your puppy in a small confined area like a bathroom with a baby gate, or tether him to a sturdy piece of furniture with a 6 ft leash. Play with him using a soft toy and frequently praise him as long as he is not biting you. As soon as you feel his teeth on your skin, sharply say “Ouch!” and step out of his reach. Go out of sight or totally ignore him while counting to 20. If he is quiet, return to him and start playing again and repeat the process. For puppies under 4 months of age, accept soft mouthing initially and correct any hard bites. Gradually forbid all mouthing by 5 months of age. Never allow teeth on your clothes; you can’t gauge the hardness of bites to clothing. You must be very clear in telling him what he is doing right as well as what he is doing wrong. You will need to repeat this sequence many times over the next few weeks. Keep a soft toy in your pocket or within easy reach so you can quickly put it in your dog’s mouth before he starts to nip. Don’t give up; be consistent. Provide plenty of opportunities to chew on toys and bones of various textures. Feed all meals in sturdy hollow toys like Kongs™ that are specifically made for stuffing with food. Everyone who interacts with your dog should abide by these rules. When around people who are unwilling or unable to help with training, prevent your dog from practicing bad behaviors by keeping him with you on a leash, or confine him to a crate. Don’t overdo the crating though, just because you don’t have the time to train. If your puppy is awake he is learning regardless of your intentions. What people do or don’t do in response to your dog’s actions will be the biggest factor in how well your dog behaves.
Trusting Paws Dog Training, LLC Naomi Heck, M.Ed., CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA
Copyright 2014, Naomi Heck. All rights reserved.