July/August 2010 Issue

Mouthing is a normal behavior in puppies and often disappears by the time the puppy is between four and five months of age. Many puppies continue to bite after that simply because biting is inadvertently rewarded. Many common corrections for biting are seen as rewarding for puppies because they involve interaction which is what he wants.

The best way to discourage biting is to cease any interaction with puppy when he is not careful with his mouth. This is called a time out. Time outs are like penalties and should last about 30 to 60 seconds, no longer.  There are several ways to deliver time outs to your puppy:

Take the puppy away from the fun

Immediately escort puppy to his crate/safe area. Remain unemotional, you are not angry and he is not “in trouble”. Release him after the allotted time and carry on. If he re-offends, simply repeat the time-out. Make sure there are no toys in the crate. This method is problematic because puppy does earn interaction as you touch him to take him to his crate. A better option is:

Take the fun away from the puppy

If puppy is not careful with his teeth, get up and leave the room immediately, taking any toys around with you. Puppy will learn that no one will play with him if he bites hard. This can prove difficult as your puppy may see your leaving as a chase game. A great way to set your puppy up is to tether him to a doorknob or stable piece of furniture. The tether should only be about 3 feet long. Sit with your puppy and either play with a toy or cuddle. If your puppy plays nicely, the fun continues, but if he bites hard say “OUCH” and immediately move out of your puppy’s reach taking the toy/treats with you. Ignore
him for the 30-60 seconds. Once he is quiet, return to puppy and interact with him again. Every time he re-offends, repeat the time-out.

It is important to completely ignore your puppy while he is on a time-out. Do not try to quiet him if he is vocal in his objections. If he is crying or barking, he really doesn’t like the fact that the fun is over. That is the whole point!

Another option, is to simply stop the fun without leaving the puppy. Signal you felt the bite and don’t like it with an “Ouch!” then freeze. Hold the puppy still not allowing any fun and wait for polite behavior. Once you get it, you can continue playing with or handling your puppy. You don’t have to sound angry,
however you do want your puppy to understand that the biting was not appreciated.

The Anything But Biting Game

This game will help teach your puppy to keep his teeth off skin and clothes and will also teach your puppy to love being handled by people. Everyone in your puppy’s life should regularly play this game. It focuses on rewarding the absence of mouthing(When behavior is rewarded, it is more likely to happen
again). There is no punishment for your puppy in this game for not getting it right.

You will need many small treats (or your puppy’s dinner). You can do this with your pup on the floor, on the bed, on the table at the vet’s, in the car (as long as you aren’t driving!) just about anywhere! Touch your puppy and hold for a few seconds, if he doesn’t put his teeth on you say “good” and give him a treat.

Now touch again a little different, maybe on the leg and reward your puppy again as long as he doesn’t put his teeth on you or your clothes. Handle your puppy all over, his face, ears, front paws, back paws, tail, belly etc. Keep your handling gentle and gradually make it more difficult but holding for longer and
longer. At first you are just looking for 2-3 seconds of “not biting”, eventually you will expect over a minute and then…infinity!

While playing this game, if your puppy puts his teeth on you or your clothes he does not get a treat. He is not in trouble. Simply say “OUCH” and freeze. Do not take your hand away. When your puppy stops biting, take your hand off and try again. The only consequence for your puppy for biting in this game is no
treats for puppy.

Other Tips

Do not play “wrestly” games that encourage your puppy to play bite at this time.

Handle your pup with gentle, slow motions. Messing up his fur will encourage him to play bite. Teach others how to touch him too.

Be consistent and patient. Sometimes you simply need a break so go for a walk, play in the yard or set puppy up in his crate with a filled Kong or other yummy chew toy.

It is important to actually allow your puppy to bite you but to bite gently. If you do not allow your puppy to ever put his mouth on you, he will not learn bite inhibition. It is important that he learns that human skin is fragile and that he must be careful with his mouth and the best way to teach this is to let him mouth you while you monitor and give him feedback on how much pressure you will allow. In the first month, deliver a time out if your puppy bites hard or bites anything but your hands.

Once he gets the idea, then you can deliver time outs for soft biting, and finally for any biting at all.

© 2010 Dogs Naturally Magazine. This article may not be reproduced or reprinted in whole or in part without prior written consent of Intuition Publishing.