My puppy is almost 9 weeks old. I got him when he was 5 weeks. He's
playful and fun but I can't get him to stop biting me. That seems to
be the only way he likes to play anymore - rough! I've been telling
him No!, holding his mouth shut while saying 'No bite!" and even
shoving my hand back in his mouth like a trainer told me to do.
Nothing seems to work. In fact, he thinks I'm playing a game with him
and gets more excited the more I try to stop him. Sometimes he walks
right up and attacks me. What can I do? Is he vicious?
A: No, he's not vicious, he's just
being a normal, rambunctious, and sometimes obnoxious puppy. To get
control of your pup's biting, it helps to understand why puppies bite
in the first place.
Biting and mouthing are normal
behaviors for puppies. Dogs don't have hands so they investigate
objects and their environment with their mouths. To a curious puppy,
everything about this big world is brand new and exciting. He learns
as he goes along. You can almost hear his thought processes as he
discovers something he's never seen before: "Hmmmm.. what's this?
[chomping on it] Something to eat? No? [tossing it around] Can I play
with it? Maybe. Can I make it squeak?"
Playing is also a normal learning
behavior for puppies, especially play-fighting. Play-fighting with
littermates and other animals develops reflexes, coordination and
physical skill. It also helps them develop social skills and teaches
them how to interact positively within their canine society, their
"pack". And it's great fun for them. Sometimes their
fighting and "attacks" on us appear frighteningly fierce but
to them, it's just a game. Much like a group of kids playing
make-believe games and pretending to be grown-ups, puppies have their
own games and pretend to be "grown-ups", too!
A dog's ability to control the force
of his biting is called "bite inhibition". It's a critically
important skill that every puppy needs to learn, the earlier the
better. At first, they don't know their own strength nor how sharp
their little teeth really are. Puppies learn to control the force of
their biting from the reactions of their mothers and littermates
during play and especially, play-fighting.
can teach puppies about bite inhibition, too, but some of the methods
most often recommended aren't effective. Mother dogs' methods,
however, are very effective, often more so than ours. I believe
this is because they're speaking to their pups in the language they
understand best - dog language! A baby puppy is much too busy learning
how to be a dog to take time to understand our human words and ways.
That takes time and maturity. Puppies respond to dog language in a
very powerful, instinctive way. We can take advantage of that by
copying a mother dog's actions and using them for ourselves. The idea
of using mother dog's natural training techniques isn't new. Respected
trainers like Carol Lea Benjamin have been using them for years. To
understand these methods, let's take a look at a typical mother dog
disciplining her brood. We'll use my Heather (Chow) and her four rowdy
puppies as an example.
When a playful puppy bites Heather
hard enough to hurt, she squeals in shocked indignation. The puppy,
surprised at her reaction, usually hesitates a moment, unsure of
himself, then tries to bite again. Heather yelps even louder this time
and whirls on the puppy, growling, showing her teeth and scowling at
him fiercely. Then she turns her back on him and storms away,
completely ignoring him and any further attempts to get her to play. A
smart puppy picks up her clear message quickly: "if you can't
play nice, I won't play with you at all!"
If the puppy persists or doesn't take
the hint, Heather doesn't fool around. With a menacing growl and using
her teeth, she grabs him by the scruff of his neck and gives him a
shake. If he sasses back, she gives him another little shake, tougher
this time. She doesn't let go of the pup till he's acknowledged her
authority (in dog language) by relaxing his body, laying his ears back
and keeping still for a moment. Heather disciplines especially
obnoxious puppies by knocking them over with her paw and pinning them
to the ground, growling angrily and pinching them with her teeth. The
puppies shriek but they're not really hurt. She doesn't let them up
again until they relax and lie still. After the correction, the puppy
shakes his fur back into place and goes off in search of a playmate
with a better sense of humor.
We don't have to growl at our puppies
or shake them with our teeth, but we can modify Heather's technique
for ourselves. The next time your puppy bites you, scream OW! in
high-pitched voice. Exaggerate a little. Then refuse to play with him
or pay attention to him for a few minutes. If he doesn't get the
message, give him a little scruff shake and scold him in a low-toned,
threatening voice. You can exaggerate a little on that, too! Sound
meaner than you really are. For puppies that just won't quit or seem
to get wilder with every correction, flip them over on their backs,
scold them in that same low, scary voice (growling) and gently but
frrmly, hold them in that position until they stop struggling.
We sometimes give puppies the wrong
message about biting by some of the games we play with them. Wrestling
and tug of war can encourage a puppy to bite and makes it hard for him
to distinguish when it's okay to use his teeth and when it's not. To
make it easier for your puppy to learn good manners, it's a good idea
to avoid these games.
Puppies seem to learn a great deal
about bite inhibition and authority between 5-8 weeks of age through
play with their mothers and littermates. This is an especially good
reason not to buy very young puppies. Puppies that were acquired
earlier need to be taught these important things by their owners. They
might require a little more intense use of Heather's methods than
puppies that stayed with their litters longer. Puppies that receive
little or no training in bite inhibition, either from their mothers or
their people, may grow up to develop behavior problems.
I noticed that Heather picked out
certain puppies for a little "extra" correction two or three
times a day. She'd roll them over, pin them down for no apparent
reason, growling at them if they didn't lie quietly. I noticed, too,
that the puppies she chose were the most outgoing and dominant in the
litter. She gave them regular reminders of her authority and the
behavior she expected from them. I've found that using her technique
myself works very well on puppies that've become too big for their
Even with their mothers, puppies act
a lot like kids - they're always testing and pushing their limits.
They have angel days and devil days. With patience, persistence and a
few hints from your puppy's mother, you'll be able to tip the balance
toward the angel's side!
Photos © Vicki DeGruy, all rights reserved.
This article was written and copyrighted by Vicki DeGruy.
Originally published in the DOG OWNERS GUIDE, an award winning
newspaper, it is reproduced here with permission. Reproduction for other than personal home use is prohibited.
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Knows Best - The Natural Way To Train Your Dog
by Carol Lea Benjamin
Carol Benjamin has a gift for making dog training
concepts easy to understand and put into practice as well as
being fun to read. Carol's methods are gentle but firm and
always based on common sense. You won't find any gimmicks
here! "Mother Knows Best" explains how to use a
puppy's natural instincts to obey its mother to your advantage
and how to use your best tool - your brain - to keep your dog on
his best behavior throughout his life. This is one of our
personal favorites. Our training methods at
Wisconsin Chow Chow Rescue are based on the writings of this
Owners, Great Dogs
by Brian Kilcommons
Like Carol Benjamin, Brian Kilcommons is down to earth,
entertaining and a believer in training based on common sense.
Brian's popular methods are easy to follow and to put into daily
Pearsall Guide to Successful Dog Training : Obedience 'from the
Dog's Point of View'
by Milo Pearsall
This book is a classic! The Pearsalls pioneered
positive motivation methods in dog training during a
time when more forceful techniques were the norm.
Believers in the capabilities of puppies to learn at an early
age, they developed the concept of "puppy
kindergarten". This book is in its third edition and
is every bit as useful and valid today as it was when it was
first published. One of our personal favorites.