I have just met Henry.
Henry is the most adorable ten-week-old Labrador imaginable – with some of the sharpest teeth!
When he’s excited, Henry morphs into a nipping, biting puppy.
Faced with him in this mood, his family feel helpless.
People instinctively quickly withdraw their hands away from the sharp biting puppy teeth. The teenage daughter has learnt that this isn’t a good thing. She has understandably been getting quite upset and nervous of him.
It’s natural when faced with nipping behaviour to try and teach the biting puppy ‘not to bite’. The family’s advice from internet and friends has included tapping Henry’s nose, shouting ‘no’ and generally scolding him. If trying to stop him biting worked, Henry wouldn’t be getting worse.
How about trying to start him being gentle instead?
Firstly, all people with young puppies need a degree of temporary environmental management for their own sanity if nothing else. There are a few basic things that an experienced puppy owner would have in place from the start, the most important being a smaller ‘puppy-proof’ area where puppy can be contained and can do no damage.
Like little children, the more tired and excited the puppy gets, the more out of control he becomes. It’s when he is stirred up that the nipping and biting is worst. He flies at ankles and hands, chews the carpet and does all the other puppy stuff that will then make his humans add to the excitement themselves as they try to control the painful little hurricane in their midst.
Instead of stopping unwanted behaviour, why not start desired behaviour instead?
It will be only a matter of days before Henry is big enough to leap up onto the sofas, so they will be trying to stop him doing this too. The teenage girls will then have no sanctuary.
Up until two weeks ago he had his siblings to play with and diffuse any wildness. They will have told him when ‘enough is enough’ in a way that he understood. Now he has a lot to learn.
Henry’s family have an open-plan house with quite a big garden. There are few physical boundaries unless he is in his crate by himself in another room. Playing ball games in the big garden can get him hyped up as can the girls coming home from school. It’s at times like this that he is least able to control himself.
Because the biting puppy gets worse the more excited and aroused he is, then the logical first step is to cut down excitement as much as possible.
I suggest a pen in the sitting room. He won’t then be isolated. The carpet can be protected and he can have a bed in there. When he gets over-tired or wild he can be popped into his pen with something to chew (or a carton to wreck!). He will be teething, so needs appropriate things to get those little sharp biting puppy teeth into.The family will be able to walk around freely without the puppy nipping their feet. They can go upstairs without wondering what mischief he might be up to downstairs – pale-carpeted throughout.
Removing temptation is key.
It’s not forever.
How can they get their biting puppy to be more gentle?
What did I do when I was with Henry and his family to show them how to make their biting puppy more gentle?
The girls want to touch him without getting nipped or bitten – it gets worse by the day which sort of proves that they aren’t reacting in the right way. One way or another they are giving him a lot of feedback for his biting puppy behaviour when the very opposite should be the case.
Within about ten minutes both one daughter and Henry had mastered the meaning of the clicker. He now was clicked and fed for all the good, controlled or calm things he was doing. He loved it and was transformed for a while into a calm and focused puppy.
When he was tired, they put a fulfilled and happy puppy into his crate with a Kong to chew. He went to sleep.
Instead of hearing the word ‘No’ or scolding, he was being shown what was wanted and was super-motivated to work at achieving it.
While we were at it, we also taught Henry to take the food gently out of someone’s hand. Keeping quiet and not opening the hand until the puppy has momentarily backed off soon gives him the message. Puppy backs off and the hand with the food in it opens. Eureka.
Actions speak a lot louder than words.