Freja was rescued from the streets of Cyprus at 3 weeks old. She’s now 10 months old and a mix that includes German Shepherd.
She won’t have had the rough and tumble with siblings nor the discipline of her mother to teach her to be gentle. The main problem is what the lady calls ‘hard mouthing’. She has allowed, indeed encouraged, ‘light’ mouthing.
Play and treats haven’t been a substitute.
No more mouthing
The time has come to discourage Freja from using her mouth on humans, full stop. Zero tolerance.
I doubt she can tell the difference between ‘soft’ mouthing and hard mouthing. Because she’s aroused when she’s doing it, she won’t able to draw the line.
Why the hard mouthing?
I asked lots of questions in order to get to the bottom of it. It’s the cause that they need to work on. The hard mouthing, biting and grabbing are symptoms of other things. For instance, if she mouths when she feels anxious, we would look to stopping her feeling anxious.
Using her mouth and teeth makes Freja feel better. She may have become aroused and frustrated and doesn’t know what to do with herself. She could be scared.
Her default solution is to jump up and grab.
Things that arouse, worry or disturb Freja include the dog next door barking and play. When they return home from a walk she can get very excited.
They have been running with her which leads to bad grabbing and mouthing. They won’t run on walks while they are working on this. Freja’s walks will be sniffs, mooches and running about in a nearby open field as she chooses.
The lady tries to work
The lady works on the phone as a counsellor which requires her full concentration. For some reason this winds up Freja who grabs, bites and even rips the lady’s clothes while she’s trying to talk. All the lady can do is to throw food which will be reinforcing.
She will now use management. She will give Freja a frozen Kong or a special bone; she could even anchor her too. The hard mouthing is a learned behaviour now; in time this should get her out of the habit.
Already they give her good enrichment.
They know their beautiful dog needs an outlet for her arousal. She loves digging and they give her opportunity for digging in the garden.
They will now give her more eating occasions where she has to work hard for her food. This will put that mouth and those teeth to better use!
Most play with her ends up with ‘hard mouthing’ and over-excitement. They can turn this to their advantage. As soon as she looses interest in the toy and goes to grab, they will stop playing and walk away.
I also suggest they use their hands on her less. Less vigorous petting; cut our hand games. Freja holds the lady’s hand in her mouth as she goes to sleep. Having lost her mother at such a young age, does she still need the comfort of suckling? Whilst this doesn’t hurt, it would be better now to encourage a substitute. A soft toy perhaps.
Every time she’s about to mouth, grab clothes or bite, the lady will now give her something else she can do. Something she likes, soft or hard should be available all the time.
They have never told Freja off. They have realised she’s in need of something to help how she is feeling, which is lovely. She’s not being naughty. She’s trying to make herself feel better.
The two main messages.
One is to keep Freja as calm and fearless as possible – every little thing helps. The other is to prevent further rehearsal of the behaviour. They can do this by either using management or giving her alternatives.
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