Stopping The Puppy From Biting
By Michael Russell
A puppy often bites and nips as part of his natural play behavior. Biting and nipping by a puppy when in the dog family is an acceptable form of play behavior and if the puppy becomes overly aggressive the biting is dealt with immediately by the other member of the dog pack who is being bitten too harshly. If the puppy should bite another puppy too hard,the offended puppy will yelp loudly and scurry away, to go nurse his wounds or play with someone else. In the case of the alpha dog or the mother of the pup, she will firmly and immediately place her entire mouth over the pup’s head and neck and hold him down, or she will gently but equally as firmly place her foot over him and hold him down. Often this is accompanied with a low growl. Sometimes the disciplined puppy will yelp out of surprise for her punishment is swift and intended to teach a lesson. The mother is a firm but gentle disciplinarian. In either case, the puppy who is the aggressive biter is quickly taught that he committed a serious offense.
When a puppy doesn’t know the body language of other dogs, he can get into more trouble in many areas other than the biting problem. Not only does he not know how to bite gently, he doesn’t know how to greet alpha members of the pack, or how to behave submissively upon meeting new dogs, or how to respond to aggression from other dogs so that a fight does not ensue. He has never learned pack behavior and how to respond to other dogs, how to inhibit his bite, how to face discipline and how to submit to discipline.
This is quite common if a family acquires a puppy who was removed early from his littermates and his dog family. Unfortunately there are many puppies who have come from backgrounds where the breeders do not know or do not care if the pup is taken away from the littermates at an early age. For optimum learning of pack behavior a puppy should remain within the canine family unit until the age of at least 8 weeks and preferably 12 weeks. It is common for new puppies in a human family to bite and nip the children they are playing with and to bite and nip the adults in the family also. If he has never learned appropriate pack behavior, he often bites too hard.
There is a very successful way to teach bite inhibition, which is not painful to the puppy but actually utilizes natural dog language. “Bite inhibition” is geared to teaching the puppy to bite softly, rather than stopping the behavior entirely. This is especially useful if you have a working dog that you will be training to retrieve, or to work as an assistance dog, where he must pick up and carry items in his mouth. It is also useful for training herding dogs who may still be expected to nip at livestock. This is not necessarily important for other breeds such as toy dogs, however, it is still an effective method of teaching a dog so that his nipping behaviors will not physically lead to breaking the skin or actually biting.
What the human master will actually do is take over the part of the littermate of the puppy or the dam of the puppy. You have to inform the puppy in no uncertain terms, that biting HURTS. This is done by yelling “OUCH” loudly when the puppy nips at you and immediately retreating away from the puppy. This is exactly what another puppy would do if he was bitten too hard by a littermate. You can expand upon this by actually allowing the puppy to nip at your hand, even quite softly and when he does, act as if he really did hurt you, even when he didn’t! The puppy will believe that he has hurt you and will mouth even more gently the next time!
Alternatively, you can also grab the puppy by the scruff of the neck and pin him down for a moment or two to the floor, which is what the puppy’s dam would do when teaching him not to bite. When you use this maneuver, you can growl menacingly at the pup, “don’t bite!”
It is important that you administer either one of these quickly and immediately when the puppy bites. Both of these methods are much more effective if used on a puppy before the age of 12 weeks. After that age, the best way to inform the puppy of his bad behavior is to simply stalk away haughtily when the puppy nips; show him quite obviously that you will have absolutely nothing to do with him the instant he uses his teeth.
An important component of training this behavior is to inform all members of the family and all people who come into contact with your puppy that they are not to play tug of war with the dog. This is the opposite of “soft mouthing” behavior and will quickly undo the changes that you have accomplished in the puppy’s behavior.
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