Biting Puppy Just Being a Nipping Biting Puppy

I have just met Henry.

Henry is the most adorable ten-week-old Labrador imaginable – with some of the sharpest teeth!

Biting puppy just being a puppy

Butter wouldn’t melt!

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.

Here is a good demo by Victoria Stilwell.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own puppy may be different to the approach I have worked out for Henry, and group classes may not always provide all the answers for problems in the home. Finding instructions on the internet or TV can do more harm than good. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with your own puppy. (see my Help page)

Reward Based Training For Puppies

Ralph2Like all puppies, Cockerpoo Ralph can change from a manic foot-chasing, hand-nipping whirlwind to a sleeping ball of fluff in an instant.

Sometimes they have their special ‘victim’ – often someone who lavishes the most love on them. Frequently this is the lady, but not always. I have known it to be a child but less often a man.

It can be upsetting when our new ‘baby’ seems to turn on us.

I was with them and Ralph for over three hours but as is often the case I never actually witnessed the behaviour. We preempted it once by giving him something to concentrate on, in this instance learning to touch a hand using a clicker.

Brain exercise can often do more good than physical exercise whRalphich can fire a puppy up even more. He needs pacing – attention, exercise and training projects little and often, using reward based training.

Ralph isn’t too keen on being stroked. He is so soft, silky and fluffy it’s almost impossible to keep ones hands off him. He has started to quietly growl if touched when asleep and when he’s had enough of being stroked.

Here are a few of the basic tips I have given them and which are applicable to a lot of cases.  It would be good if Ralph had to put in some effort for his attention. The lady in particular should refrain from going over to where he is lying and touching him. She should wait until he comes to her. She can call him, but if he says ‘no thanks’ it’s not a good idea to cajole and beg him.

If touching and stroking is given to him on a plate, pushed onto him even, he won’t value it.

They should avoid picking him up and moving him which also makes him cross. If they make use of his food as rewards he will willingly come of his own accord, and isn’t ‘willing’ just what  we want?

Another thing is that a puppy’s environment should start small and gradually open out. Time and again I find a puppy in a large garden chasing human feet and clothes. It’s like the lack of physical boundaries brings out something wild in him. Trying to ‘tire him out’ with chasing and games will only make him worse. Having an anchor point can help when puppy starts to get excited and silly (lead hooked to harness not collar for safety), and he then needs to be occupied with the sort of thing that can calm him down – hunting and foraging for bits of scattered food or something nice to chew.

The question people always want answered is, ‘what do I do when he’s actually biting me’?

Immediately withdraw all attention. Immediately – not after one or two bites. Look away. If it’s a hand you may do a soft squeal and fold your arms (anything louder might be too exciting!).  If it’s feet – freeze. For now it’s sensible to wear clothes that give a bit of protection.

This is only half the story though. He needs to learn what he should do. ‘Food is your Friend’! Reward based training.

As soon as he backs off or stops, silently give him a piece of food. Do it over and over – he will get the message. It may seem like rewarding the biting, but it’s not so. You are rewarding NOT biting.  Add to this distraction. Immediately put something acceptable into his mouth, a chew or a toy.

It all requires forward planning. You need big pockets or a bum bag so you can keep food and toys on your person all the time! It’s not forever. He will grow up all too soon.

Ralph is a clever little dog. He was soon learning using clicker. He also walked nicely in the garden – with none of his usual grabbing and tugging on the lead, demonstrating the power of positive reward based training.

This is yet another instance of the actual problem they wanted help for – nipping and chasing feet – being more than just that.  A holistic approach comes from all angles and enables us to work on the underlying causes. It shows the humans how their own behaviour can affect the puppy’s behaviour, as well as showing the puppy what we do want of him.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ralph, which is why I don’t share all the exact details of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own puppy can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies puppy parenting specific to your own puppy (see my Get Help page).

Frustrated Puppy

Cavalier puppy and his big toy dogWhat do normal puppies do?

They toilet indoors, they have manic sessions tearing around the place, they may fly at you and nip, they chew the carpet, they bite you with their sharp little teeth, they get over-excited and they may even get cross when they are told off.

What usually happens? “No, No, No, No, STOP”.

“How otherwise can I teach my dog NOT to do these things,” people ask?

It’s not that I don’t take it seriously, but I say that the unwanted behaviours are unimportant.

“You teachAfter manic sessions of tearing around the place, Cavalier King Charles puppy sleeps him to do other things instead”. If you just keep telling him off, you create a frustrated puppy that either gets worse and worse or becomes fearful.

Here is adorable eleven-week-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Hassle. Hassle (self-named like my Cocker Spaniel Pickle!) plays nicely until he gets over-excited and then he flies at them. Too much hand play and touching simply encourages him to go for hands. He may bite, nip feet and grab socks; he tugs at the lady’s hair. When they try to stop him firmly, Hassle gets cross. They feel he’s becoming aggressive.

The problem with all ‘don’t’ and no ‘do’ is that a dog can become bewildered and frustrated.

Puppy does one thing and the humans react in a way which causes puppy to try harder. Human reaction escalates all the problems until they have a battle of wills on their hands.

It can be so hard but they need a new mindset, one of: “Do do do do YES”.

They will keep half of his food back to ‘mark’ quiet moments. When he gets over-excited they can scatter some in his large crate and, shut in there, he can then be busy ‘hunting’ which will calm him down. He can learn how to take food gently from hands. They can show him what he can chew and make sure there are plenty of options. They will remove temptation.

One big problem is that Hassle toilets all over the place, day and night. They live in an upstairs flat with no garden so he is expected to go on puppy pads. At the moment he ignores them.

Hassle has too much space. From the start the puppy’s environment should start small and gradually increase in size as he becomes trained. His environment needs to be controlled so that initially, unless he is closely watched, he has two just choices for toileting – in his bed or on pads.  It’s very unlikely he would go in his bed so he will be choosing to go on pads. Gradually, one sheet at a time, they can be lifted until there is just one left – and that will become his necessary indoor toilet place until he realises that walks are for toileting.

Of course – Hassle loves destroying puppy pads, so what should they do? Scold? No (it only makes him worse). They should ‘mark’ the moment he stops with a piece of food and offer him something he can chew!

So far he has learnt that he’s let of his crate out as soon as he cries, so now he can learn how to be quiet before he is let out of his crate. How? By rewarding just a moment of quietness and then letting him out – and building up from there.

Until he can stay happily in his crate at night-time and when they aren’t watching him, they may have little success with the toilet training.

The quality we need above all others with a puppy, is patience.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own puppy may be different to the approach I have worked out for Hassle, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with puppy parenting strategies specific to your own puppy (see my Get Help page).

Hungarian Viszla – Another Puppy Off to a Good Start

Viszla2 Viszla puppy taking a breakFrom my iPhone photo you really get no sense of the silky smoothness of Zoli’s coat and the loose skin waiting to be grown into! He is a ten-week-old Hungarian Viszla who now lives with people who’ve not had a dog before.

This is the message I received last week: ‘I really just want to start off on the right foot with him. He is biting, which I know puppies do but I would like to know an effective way to stop this. There are so many things and I think I am getting anxious and possibly making him the same? I would really appreciate some sensible help and advice’.

This is perfect. It is so much easier to teach a puppy from the start not to jump up, not to fly all over chairs, not to mouth and nip and to walk nicely on lead, than it is to convince an adolescent dog who has become out of control. They need to know things like just what to do when they have people for dinner, as they did last week, and Zoli flies all over them, nipping and getting out of control excited, and then creates a noisy fuss when put out of the way into his pen!

Rescue centres are full of misunderstood six to nine-month-old dogs. Humans, being human, think that being ‘firm’ and saying ‘no’ and ‘scolding’ is effective training and discipline, but that’s simply not the case. Imposing control rarely works and invites defiance later on and even sometimes aggression. A dog with self-control is happy and trustworthy.

It is important not to over-burden him with commands, play and especially exercise. A puppy needs plenty of rest and walks should be very short to allow his soft bones and joints to strengthen and grow healthily.

I shall now be here for them with help and practical advice for Zola until adulthood and beyond.

About three weeks later – things going well. “Thanks for the great advice so far it really does work but as you say it’s consistency. We had a lovely weekend with him. We had a trip up to the woods, just around the corner from here and he loved that…..He has ‘naughty’ days but he is only a baby and as I say on the whole he is very good. We love him to bits and want the best for him without him taking over. I think we are getting there definitely, thanks to you”.
Nearly two months after my visit – now 5 months old: “Yes things are going really well.  I have met a group of people out on our walks and all the dogs get along great so I let Zoli off his lead around them and practice recall, which he is doing so well with, in fact I have had positive comments from other owners. He is still young and easily distracted obviously but considering this he is doing brilliantly.  I am careful still around dogs he doesn’t know, keeping him on lead but he seems to be getting less over-excited with the whole thing.  I take him out and try and expose him to all sorts of experiences just to de-sensitise him to the world in general…..”
 I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just check the map and contact me.