This is a question that comes up each puppy course.
All trainers will have material on the subject and methods to assist new puppy owners. So WHY am I still hearing the topic come up course after course, whether with experienced trainers or experienced dog owners? Is it because the biting phase does not last that long and we just forget from one pup to another with a 12 year gap? Possibly, but that is little consolation to the person/family being bitten or confidence building. If it is so common, why are owners not given information when they get the pup ? Is it that breeders or shelter staff don’t want to put your off purchasing / adopting your pup?
So what can you do?
- manage your pup to prevent them getting over excited
- recognise signs you dog is getting excited and aroused
- Select appropriate games
- Teach your pup to let go… Swap/Give
- Teach your pup to settle down.
It’s not one method but more a sequence. What does this mean?
Management seems to be the big factor that gets glossed over and guess what it is the number one on the list of how to prevent /reduce bites.
Why is it being glossed over?
Management… Yep, that word implies compliance to rules, responsibility, within a role and most importantly not always bring a people or puppy pleaser.
Puppies are like all young animals, they need a lot of sleep and lack of sleep or over tiredness causes a massive reduction in good behaviour choices. Do you know how long you puppy has between sleep times?
Like all immature animals, play and social interactions are physically and mentally strenuous…
So you need to be a guardian for your pup and stop over arousal and tiredness. How do you do this?
High excitement levels is a usual trigger for mouthing. If your puppy is exhibiting the below signs, they are likely to bite and you need to settle them down or redirect their attention before they do.
- Frantically wagging tail
- Jumping up at people
- Crouching down then pouncing
- ‘zooming’ around and grabbing items or grabbing at people as they zoom past
- Barking at the person they want to interact with
Typical situations puppies bite in include;
- Interactions after alone time
- Family returning home from work/school
- Being released from crate/pen or confinement area
- Movement around the house. E.g mornings getting ready for work
Forewarned is forearmed. So be ready to use the strategies below when any of the situations above occur. Huh? .. Yep we need to be organised .
Redirect their attention
If your puppy begins to mouth your hands, offer them something else to direct their attention on. The key to this method being effective is recognising the signs of arousal before they bite and redirecting them to bite something else before they bite you.
If you redirect them to an item and they leave it to continue biting you, the item you have chosen is too low in value. You need to up the value of the reward. For example, a toy on it’s own is lower value than interacting with you. A toy that you are tugging on is much more valuable. If redirecting to a toy, play tug with them. If you do this enough, they may eventually bring you the toy to play tug with instead of going straight for your pant leg.
You might choose to redirect them to training exercises or having quiet time with a food puzzle or chew items.
NEVER play with your hands or wave your hands around your puppy’s face. You are telling them to bite and undoing any progress you make.
Withdraw your attention
The moment they bite you, withdraw your full attention from them. This means no eye contact and no verbal or physical interactions at all. Stand still and ignore them for 5-10 seconds MAXIMUM!
*If your pup is persistent in mouthing and you cannot reach 5-10 seconds, you may need to withdraw yourself from the situation or even room It sounds like they need a nap. If this continues, please talk to your trainer. We are not recognising the signals or the pup is not getting enough down time for whatever reason.
But most importantly more than taking your self away, you must be able to teach your puppy to settle /calm. This is different to distracting them.
Biting often happens in times of arousal so being able to settle and calm your puppy is extremely important.
Settling is not exciting, you are not doing cool stuff with your puppy but it is so important. Your puppy needs to be able to self calm. We need to feel we can calm our puppies down so we feel confident to expose them to more freedom or new situations.
Settle your puppy by asking them to look at you, to stop and just focus on one thing for a moment. Give them something to chew on, so encouraging them to lie down and relax whilst they chew. Keep telling them how good they are when they are relaxing , keep making a point of this. A great test is to ask your pup to look at you, when they do, give them a treat and keep asking them to look at you until they relax into the game and just sit and look at you and finally that is too much energy they lie down and look at you. Yeah.
If you find your pup barking at you, I would suggest that you are bribing them and they think you are teasing them with the food in your hand .Talk to your local trainer about your training techniques. Be attentive with settling exercises. It is also a good idea to interrupt play time with a short settling period before resuming, to prevent their arousal levels from peaking.
Again, this method is most effective when you can predict times of arousal and settle them before they have the opportunity to bite/mouth.
For example, if you are having visitors over or there are children playing in the yard, put the puppy on-lead and do settling exercises
Planning is key in preventing biting.
*If you are having issues with mouthing/biting please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our website Lets Go Fido for more information.