When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad
I’ve been thinking a lot about the words Julie Andrews croons in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved song from the Sound of Music. Specifically, the line “when the dog bites“. Imagine if all we did when our puppies bit us was think of our favorite things and then not feel so bad!
The Struggle Is Real
As pet dogs gain in popularity it seems like we are putting more pressure on them to fit into a mould impossible for them to live up to.
For my students, who have primarily puppies and adolescent dogs, biting is the number one ‘issue’ or complaint. Bathroom woes come in at a close second.
There is nothing that you can do to ‘stop’ a puppy from biting. This would be like having a human baby and wanting to know how to ‘stop’ the baby from doing baby specific behaviors like crying in order to communicate.
I understand how frustrating and painful puppy biting can be. But, I think if you are getting a puppy it is important to wrap your head around the fact that a healthy, youngster will display this behavior. When you get a puppy along with that bundle of joy there will come species specific behaviors. Things like biting, chasing and jumping up. As you raise your puppy, a combination of thoughtful training, management and maturity will contribute to puppy biting gradually giving way to adult behaviors.
Stopping a puppy from mouthing you may be potentially dangerous. Allowing gentle mouthing is bonding and also ensures you know how hard they are biting. When they bite too hard you can discourage this by disengaging from the interaction which in turn gives them the information that they bit you too hard.
Caveats to consider when using this approach are;
- This exercise is not effective when a pup is super charged up.
- This exercise doesn’t work if the pup can just chase you and jump on the back of your leg.
To prevent the puppy from being able to reach you, use an anchor (leash attached to harness on one end and something safe and secure on the other) or gate, so that he doesn’t have access to you or something else that he finds reinforcing.
Your timing also matters, you disengage for 5 to 10 seconds, nothing longer.
The Magic Pill Combination
What’s a gal to do when stressing over puppy behaviors? Provide structure in the form of gates, crates and leashes that help you manage the behavior. Learn about enrichment toys and games that allow a pup to get their doggy-ness on. Redirect to appropriate things to bite. Here is a super fun tip from the folks at Doggone Crazy. A stuffed toy tied to a rope! Give yourself 5-6 feet of light weight rope, tie a stuffed toy to the end and you have yourself an awesome toy. Fun for the pup, kids and you.
Meet Your Puppy Where They Are
Be patient and allow them this time to be a puppy. It all comes together down the road. You will be pain free and have yourself the dog that may be in your head when you get a puppy.