She goes for feet. Teaching puppy what they DO want positively

Published by Theo Stewart on

There is only one thing not to love about adorable Bichon Frise Puppy Mabel. She goes for feet.  It’s like as soon as she sees anybody walking about, she is straight for their feet.

Any feet will do and maybe clothes or hands too. It could be the the man, the lady or on of their teenage daughters.

She bites feet. The consequence is reinforcing

I watched a very short video of Mabel biting the man feet in slippers. He then distracted her with a tug toy. This repeated over and over.

What is happening here is that Mabel is being taught that if she bites feet, the consequence is a game of tug.

Whenever she bites feet she will get reinforcement or attention of some kind as they try to stop her.

A conditioned response – a habit

Mabel is only three months old and already it’s a learned response on seeing feet – a habit. Particularly if they are moving of course. To her, feet in socks or soft slippers are probably like a couple of puppies to play with!

Apparently she was already doing this when they picked her up from the breeder.

Breaking the habit

There are only three ways of changing a habit and doing all three together gives the best result.

The first is to use management – make it impossible for her to rehearse anymore. As they don’t have a pen to put her into, they must wear wellies for a while. They must be able to ignore her so she gets no reaction at all.

That’s not enough though.

The second thing is to give her something to do that is incompatible with biting feet.

The third is to teach her the behaviour they DO want. At the moment all she knows is that when she goes for feet she gets a result or reaction.

Now she can learn that a much better result happens when she’s NOT going for feet.

Wellies, an alternative and using a marker

So wellies will provide the management.

Giving her something to chew or to do will give her something that is incompatible with biting feet. A game of tug is a good alternative, but not as reinforcement for already biting feet. It has to be introduced beforehand.

Most powerful is teaching her that much better things happen when she hangs back, sits down, looks up at them – does anything else but not when she goes for feet.

It ‘clicked’!

We had a great clicker session with one of the daughters. Because Mabel was becoming quite a nuisance as we tried to speak, I taught the girl how to use a clicker for this particular problem. 

Soon Mabel had the hang of it. It had ‘clicked’!

Now they will do short ‘set-ups’. The only time they should remove their boots in Mabel’s presence for now is during short clicker sessions.

There is nothing magic about a clicker. It’s all in how it’s used and timing is very important. They will mark the exact moment Mabel is doing anything they like. It’s very important that food always follows and that it’s given correctly.

If they are consistent Mabel will no longer be a puppy that goes for feet. A habit can’t be broken overnight so they will need to persist for a while.

Here is another recent feet-biting story that had come good after 10 days

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ and is always written with permission of the client. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

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