Share |

Inhibiting Pet Puppy Biting by Mary Mazzeri

Not all puppy biting is created equal. First you need to determine if a given puppy is play biting or protest biting. Younger puppies usually use their mouths a LOT and some are very mouthy. With very young puppies 7-12 weeks, a toy designed to by chewed may be given to the pup in the place of ‘ human fingers’. Certain breeds are very oral (retrievers come to mind:) For simple play biting, especially with younger puppies, I suggest simply quietly and deliberately withdrawing from the pup. Especially if biting is directed at the hands, as when trying to pet the pup. Sometimes this has to be done slowly, deliberately, and many times in a row before the pup realizes it is turning off the petting machine when it bites at it. Once a pup settles somewhat, I try to pet the pup again when the pup is not mouthing. All should be done quietly and calmly, no sudden moves to trigger the prey drive. Puppies do need to chew and appropriate toys should be provided as the correct chewing alternative.

To discourage biting at clothing and chomping on children, I use Grannick's Bitter apple (R) anti-chew spray on the clothing and on the children. I also immediately wipe it on the pup's tongue from my fingers so the pup gets a strong taste of it. They are more likely to associate the smell if they remember the strong, bad taste. (Once it dries, it isn't as potent.)

The need to chew must be considered too. Provide pups with plenty of safe chewables. With younger pups, when possible, a chewable toy should be substituted when they start chewing on people.

Now protest biting is another matter. When a pup bites in response to restraint or over possessions, I handle it differently and again according to age, size etc.. Sometimes when pups are overtired they get crabby, just like young children, so the best solution for that is a time out -rest in the cage. But since the pup can't realistically live in the cage, somewhere along the line we need to communicate to puppies that human flesh is off limits to teeth.

When I raise a litter, I start teaching bite inhibition at the time their first set of teeth come in, around 4 weeks or so. I hand feed one pup at a time, using ground meat. They are pretty ravenous about meat, so when they grab at my fingers roughly with their teeth, I fold back my middle finger under my thumb and flick them under the chin to startle them. Usually it takes 3-4 flicks during the first few feedings, but gradually they distinguish between beef/chicken and human and come back very carefully to lick the meat out of my fingers. When they do this I praise them very soothingly and allow them to eat.

I allow NO 'rough and rile 'em up' games from family or visitors as the pups are growing. (I usually send my pups home at 10 weeks 80% housebroken, bite inhibited and started on come, sit, and down with lures.) I also follow up by requiring puppy and basic obedience classes of my puppy buyers.

Many pups that go home too early (before 7 weeks at a minimum) tend to be very mouthy because they didn't have enough time to develop social skills with other dogs. During that time, if they bite a littermate, it bites them back or stops playing with it and goes away. But even older pups need to learn what they can and cannot chew on! Human flesh is off limits. (Now I know a lot of dogs 'affectionately' hold their owners arm in their mouths, I have an Irish Wolfhound that does it, but I do not encourage a pet owner to allow this.) I want to inhibit biting in a pet home.

These people may want their pet to be a watchdog, but a biting puppy is not a protection dog, it is a Lawsuit on four paws. So for the 4 month and older puppy that bites in response to being held or because someone walked past their food bowl etc., I teach the 'scruff and cuff'. It must occur within 1/2 second of the protest and it must 'end the discussion'. That means taking hold of the pup by its neck scruff/collar behind the ears and lifting the pup's front just enough for the weight to come off the pup's front paws. My other hand sneaks up under the jaw and cuffs it. This is done with an upturned, open hand and stiffened fingers, enough to cause a submissive reaction. I don't let go of the scruff until this has occurred. Sometimes a pup will come back at the person giving the correction. This indicates that the cuff was inadequate and the pup thought you were either baiting it or that it still thinks it has a right to bite or threaten. That cuff needs to be swift and just enough to startle the pup. Too little is as bad as too much. A calm, quiet warning growl should accompany the correction. (Angh, -how DO you spell that?)

Once the dog 'changes its tune' and indicates submission I relax the grip on the scruff and turn it into a slow massage about the neck with soothing conversation. If you are unable to affect this change, it is usually because your timing is off, or you are not cuffing the pup in a startling manner that says STOP. Again, you should not hit at the pup’s face from the top or the front, but are instead 'chucking' it from under the chin. All of this is done unemotionally. It must be a swift 'cause and reflex' reaction.

I've had good success with this over a broad range of puppies. The pup with strong aggressive defensive reflex (ADR) is the type most likely to continue to snap or snarl. It is important to be dead calm about dealing with excitable puppies. If a pup is really worked up over something, I may restrain it on its side' until it relaxes. (Sort of like restraining someone having a seizure to prevent them from hurting themselves or anyone else.) When I release the pup, if it goes right back and 'takes up its aggression where it left off', I'll repeat the restraint until the pup gets up and goes away quietly. There is no negative emotion, no shouting, no malice, just calm, inevitable restraint. In the end -when it finally accepts the restraint and relaxes, the pup is always brought to the point where it can and should be redirected into a desired behavior and praised.