by Niki Elliott
Puppies bite, this is a fact. Puppy biting is normal, natural and necessary puppy behaviour. It is the way that puppies develop bite inhibition & a soft mouth. Bite inhibition is the single most important lesson a dog must learn.
Adult dogs have teeth & jaws that can hurt & harm. All animals must learn to inhibit use of their weapons against their own kind, but domestic animals must learn to be gentle with all animals, especially people & other dogs. The narrow time window for developing a “soft mouth” begins to close at 4½ months of age, about the time when the adult canine teeth first show.
The more your puppy bites & receives the appropriate feedback, the safer his jaws will be in adulthood. The combination of weak jaws, extremely sharp teeth & the puppy’s inclination for biting result in lots of play bites, none of which cause any injuries. This is how the developing puppy receives essential feedback on the force of its bites before it develops strong jaws. The more opportunity the pup has to play bite with human and other dogs the better his bite inhibition will be in later life.
For puppies that do not grow up or have interaction with other dogs the responsibility of teaching bite inhibition lies with the owner.
Puppy biting behaviour must eventually be eliminated, however the biting behaviour should not be eradicated all at once. Puppies must learn to inhibit the force of their biting before they are taught to stop biting & mouthing altogether.
The first step is to stop your puppy from hurting people.
It is not necessary to reprimand the pup & physical punishments are contra indicated as they generally make matters worse, it can make some pups more excited and can damage the puppy’s temperament by eroding its trust in the owner. But it is essential to let your puppy know that bites can hurt. A loud high-pitched “Yelp”, for a tough puppy, or a softer tone for a sensitive pup, like one puppy would sound to another, is usually sufficient.
When the puppy backs off, take a short time out to “lick your wounds”, instruct your pup to come, sit & lie down to apologise and make up.
Then resume playing. If your puppy does not respond to your yelp by easing up or backing off, an effective technique is to call the puppy a “Bully” & leave the room & shut the door. It is much better to leave the puppy in isolation rather than trying to physically restrain it and pick it up to remove it to a confinement area when it is already out of control!
This means that you should make a point of playing with your pup where it would be safe to leave it unattended should its play get out of hand. ie. in the pups long term confinement area.
This is exactly the way puppies learn when playing with each other. They cannot bear to loose a playmate so they soon learn to bite more softly when play continues.
Allow the puppy a minute or two time-out to reflect on the association between his painful bite & the immediate departure of his favourite human chew toy & then return & make up. The biter soon learns that hard bites interrupt an otherwise enjoyable play session. He learns to bite more softly once play resumes.
The next step is to eliminate bite pressure entirely, even though the bites no longer hurt. While your puppy is chewing his human chew toy, wait for a bite that is harder than the rest and respond as if it really hurt, even though it did not. “Ouch, gently, that really hurt, you bully”
Puppy thinks you are soft & he must be more careful, that is what you want. Ideally, the puppy should not be exerting any pressure when mouthing by the time he is 4 – 5 months old.
Once your puppy has been taught to mouth gently, it is time to reduce the frequency.
The puppy must learn to stop mouthing when requested. It is better to teach “Leave” using food both as a distraction & a reward.. Have the food in your hand & using this command extend the time between the command of “Leave” & when the pup actually gets the treat.
If the puppy touches your hand, start from the beginning with your counting to 30. The hand feeding during this exercise also encourages a soft mouth in your puppy. Once the puppy has been taught, “Leave” with food, you can then use the same instruction to get your puppy to leave you hand when mouthing.
While the puppy is mouthing say “Leave”, as soon the puppy lets go praise & treat. The object of the exercise is to practice stopping the puppy from mouthing, so each time the pup leaves praise & treat and allow the mouthing to start again.
Stop & start the mouthing lots of times in a single session. Since the puppy really wants to mouth, the greatest reward for stopping is to allow it to mouth again. When you decide the session is over, say “Leave”, call the puppy away, ask it to settle down and give it a stuffed chew toy to keep it busy. If your puppy refuses to release your hand, remove your hand and yourself from the puppy and leave it on it’s own for a few minutes. Go back, call the puppy to you and sit and make up. DO NOT DO ANY MORE MOUTHING EXERCISES FOR AT LEAST A COUPLE OF HOURS. THEN START AGAIN.
- TTouch Mouth Work. In previous newsletters Eugenie has explained how to do mouth work. For teething puppies this is a must.
- Avoid aggressive play. Wrestling, “boxing” at the puppy’s mouth with your hands and tug-of-war can get your puppy excited & teach him that hands are appropriate chew toys. See thank you/take it and tug of peace games (courtesy of Eugenie).
- Redirect the puppy to appropriate toys. Virtually all puppies need to chew on something, so make sure there are plenty of acceptable chew toys available. Do not give puppy and old shoe, hosepipe or something of yours, as the pup will think that all shoes etc. are available just for him to chew! If puppy attacks your hand, ankle or clothing offer him a favourite toy instead. When he goes for the toy give lots of praise & attention.
- Practice the high pitched “yelp”. This will startle most puppies and cause them to stop biting for a moment. Withdraw your hand and substitute something else.
- Keep your fingers curled and your thumb tucked in. Many puppies will not bite at a closed hand.
- Use time out. If your puppy gets too riled up and won’t listen, and immediately starts to bite again after you have tried some of the other approaches, then isolating him for a brief period in a confined area may be necessary. It is important not to isolate him for very long, as he will forget exactly why he has “lost” his favourite chew toy and get up to other mischief or fall asleep.
- Supervise play between kids & puppies. Many children are not able to use these techniques on their own and will need your help. Puppies quickly learn that young children can be intimidated by rough play and biting. Adult supervision will be needed until both puppy and child learn how to play appropriately.
- It is important to continue with bite inhibition exercises otherwise, your dog’s bite will become harder as he gets older. Regularly hand feed your dog & clean his teeth. By the time your puppy is 5 months old, it should have a mouth as soft as a 14-year-old Labrador.
THANK YOU/TAKE IT”
This game teaches your dog to take an object gently and then release it when asked. The cue words for this game were selected for their polite sound. If you prefer a different cue than “Thank you” (such as “give” or “drop”) this game will still work, it just won’t sound quite as polite.
What to do: To teach Thank You/Take It, use a toy the pup can hold one end of while you hold the other. A plush toy or knotted rope works well.
First liven up the toy by shaking it, then say “Take It” and offer it to your dog. Hold the toy while the pup mouths and plays with it
To teach your dog to release, say “Thank you” and offer a treat in trade for the toy. Hold one end of the toy and show your pup a treat held in your other hand six inches or so away from the side of his mouth. Most pups will opt for the treat and let go of the toy. If your pup is more toy-oriented than treat-oriented, then offer to trade another favourite toy instead of food.
With either method, when your pup lets go, praise “Good Thank You” and give the reward. Then immediately offer the toy back, saying “Take It!” Praise “Good Take it!” and let your dog play with the toy (while you hold it too).
Repeat this several times, ending with “Take it” and allowing your dog to keep the toy. Everyone wins in this game!
“TUG OF PEACE” Once your dog knows Thank you/Take it, you can increase the excitement level and add exercise with this tug game.
NOTE: This is NOT the competitive tug-o-war that behaviour experts warn owners not to play. Tug of Peace is energetic, but not competitive and it builds an “off-switch” for doggie excitement.
What to do: Start the game by offering your pup a toy that you’ll both be able to hang onto at the same time. Tell the pup to “Take it” and encourage him to do so. Then instead of releasing your hold on the toy, so he owns it, begin tugging gently. Note: Do not shake the toy hard or pull upwards as these movements could hurt the dog. Tug with a slight give-and-take motion straight ahead, in line with your dog’s neck. Pull only as hard as the dog himself pulls. DO NOT try to yank the toy away, and DO resist the temptation to use your true strength. Tugging too roughly can injure a puppy’s mouth or neck.
The act of pulling on the toy will encourage the dog to tug. Play this way for a few moments, then stop pulling, but continue holding the toy. Wait a moment for your pup to realize you’re not actively tugging. Then say “Thank you,” and receive the toy from him. Praise and give a treat.
Pause momentarily, then offer the toy back in an exciting way and begin another round of Tug of Peace.
Niki Elliott is a Tellington TTouch Practitioner II and is co-owner of Thinking Pets.
Grooming, Puppy Classes/Obedience Classes/Clicker classes for Dogs & Cats,
www.puppiesinbalance.co.za, or www.thinkingpets.com 082 451 0433082 451 0433082 451 0433082 451 0433