Help for Your Land Shark
I was on the phone with a client just the other day who was having somewhat of a familiar problem with her puppy. She is becoming the entertainment and chew toy in their relationship. She called because she has scratches, bite marks and lesions and was fed up with her puppy’s bad behavior.
Puppies play with each other with their teeth. Dogs don’t have hands and opposable thumbs to hold, throw objects or play with things. They aren’t able to use their hands to explore their environments.
Puppies are born deaf and blind, they do not begin to hear or see until they are about 2 weeks old. They learn use their mouths, shortly after they are born, to explore their environment. As they grow they are constantly learning about their environment by biting and mouthing. They bite their littermates, they mouth on things in their environment, and they even bite their mother.
It is essential that puppies stay with their mother until at least 8 weeks of age so that she can begin to teach them about bite inhibition. When a pup bites mom too hard, mom is swift to bite back and teach the pup about the inappropriateness of rough play. Without mom’s help during this crucial period in a puppy’s life, they often don’t learn about bite inhibition and frequently develop into hard biters and bullies.
It is normal for dogs to bare their teeth, nip, bite, and growl at their littermates and playmates. Often puppies play hard or soft depending on their playmate. I have seen dogs throw each other around by their necks, growling and body slamming each other but doing so in play and never breaking skin.
Dogs can only learn to play with other dogs by playing with other appropriate non-aggressive dogs. I think dog play is a crucial behavior for puppies to learn when they are young! Older dogs will teach them the appropriateness of how hard to bite, and young dogs can teach them how fun it is to play rough sometimes.
Although it is normal for a puppy to explore its environment using its teeth and mouth, it is inappropriate for them to put their teeth on humans and they must be taught not to do this under any circumstances.
What Makes the Problem Worse?
- Getting a puppy before 8 weeks of age or a puppy that was separated from its mother and or litter mates prior to 8 weeks.
- Many people think that a nipping puppy is cute, they don’t mind when an 8 week old puppy nips but no one wants to be bitten by a 6 month or older puppy, especially a large breed puppy.
- Regularly people play with their hands with their new puppies, pushing, pulling, tugging incite puppies and encourage biting.
- Treating the puppy like a human by spoiling him/her and treating him/her like royalty encourages a blur in the dynamics and respect in the family structure.
- And, in my opinion the #1 reason for inappropriate biting, not enough exercise and obedience.
How to Curb Even a Chronic Biter?
- I cannot be adamant enough about waiting until a pup is at least 8 weeks old before separating it from its mom and littermates. There is so much learning that goes on during those last few weeks that simply cannot be repeated by us humans, no matter how diligent we are. However sometimes it is impossible to keep this situation from happening. If you and your pup are in this minority, you must be even more diligent, because the early imprinting from mom was not available.
- Nipping and biting is not cute at any age. Unless you are training a professional police dog (which very few people are) biting in any situation is simply unacceptable. Develop a no tolerance rule! If teeth come out any time during play, get up and walk away! It does not matter where you are or what you are doing, you must deal with this immediately by pausing the DVR or getting up from the couch or stopping whatever you are doing to vacate the area
- Puppies must learn: Teeth=A stop in all fun and interactive activities
- You can cry out like another puppy would and then leave to see if your pup is sensitive and realizes by your cries that teeth and biting hurts. However, in some situations and for some puppies crying out can excite the pup and make the behavior worse, if your puppy becomes worse when you cry discontinue this training.
- When the pup is young you can exchange the idea of biting with giving your pup a toy to chew and play on, by redirecting your pup you are teaching him what can be chewed and played with instead. Remember mouthing is normal bite inhibition must be taught.
- DO NOT play tug with your puppy, unless you want to make the problem worse! Tug teaches them to control their environment with their mouths!
- I often suggest spraying a little bitter apple on your skin or you or your children’s clothes in order to teach your pup that “you taste awful”. Puppies regularly get spunky during a certain time of day; first thing in the morning or after supper and they are more likely to nip. Simply spray your hands and arms with a bitter deterrent, my favorite Bitter Apple ™ and your pup will think biting you is an awful idea! Just remember to wash your hands before you handle food!
- Do not spoil and cater to your canine companion! This blurs the lines of who is in charge, in your puppy’s mind. If your puppy gets everything he/she wants without ever having to learn a new skill or do anything in return your pup begins to feel entitled to everything in his world, which can make him into a bully. When he feels you are robbing him of something he is entitled to, he will use his teeth to cajole you to obey! This is especially true of small breed dogs because they are carried everywhere and given everything they want. Put your dog down and set up some boundaries and rules, you will both be happier!
- Add obedience into your dog’s regimen, no matter what age your dog is he can begin to learn the basics and more! Obedience provides mental stimulation and is fun for your dog, no matter his age or breed. Entertain his mind and you will see less naughty behaviors.
- Many dogs and puppies have an extreme lack of exercise. They have ten times the energy for the small amount of exercise they are getting. Lack of exercise and mental stimulation causes all kinds of naughty behaviors to arise and often cause them to use their teeth in inappropriate ways to persuade you to interact with them. Exercise creates tired dogs and tired puppies, sleeping dogs and puppies are good dogs! Give him the stimulation he needs by engaging his mind and body in an exercise and obedience program!
Imagine having a 2 year old child and never teaching them manners or allowing him to get any exercise, but giving him everything he wants! I can’t imagine such a situation for a child, but we often create this situation for our dogs. Our dogs need just as much interaction, teaching, rules, and exercise as our children!
The woman I was talking with on the phone was physically disabled and confined to a wheel chair. Her pup had been biting and mouthing since she brought her home at 6 weeks and now the pup was 5 months old. Because the problem had not been dealt with sooner, it has become a behavioral habit and will be harder to break. This is the only relationship the dog knows. I believe that, unfortunately, all of the afore mentioned, problems are factors for her.
- She got the dog when it was 6 weeks old,
- She didn’t see the biting as a problem at first and even played and used her hands as prey encouraging biting in the beginning
- This is a small breed dog, and the dog gets everything she wants and spends most of her time on mom’s lap and has become a bully
- The dog had little to no leash experience, obedience, exercise, or mental stimulation.
Although her intentions were admirable, she has set their relationship up for failure. Many dogs end up in the local shelter at this stage.
She needs to change the dynamics of their relationship and become more of a parent/owner and less of a littermate/servant. Although it is a small breed dog, she can still be taught basic and advanced obedience. And, although her owner is in a wheelchair, she can still provide exercise! She can exercise the dog next to her chair and can even take the dog to a day care or play group during the day to help wear her out.
Play groups can be great because you can drop your dog off, get some errands done or some much needed rest and you can pick up a tired dog at the end of the day or a few hours. Your dog can learn how to use his/her teeth while playing with other dogs. It is normal for dogs to bare their teeth and bite and shake one another with their mouths, just be sure that the staff is educated and responsible and ask to watch a few play groups so that you can see the staff and dog/dog interaction.
It is never too late to teach your dog appropriate behavior when it comes to using his/her teeth. Develop a no tolerance rule with humans and provide ample training and exercise and if you can allow your dog to play with other dogs as a way to use their teeth in an appropriate environment with other playful well behaved dogs.