Teaching Your Dog to Greet Politely

Don’t you love the look of absolute joy on your dog’s face when you come home from an absence? They’re all wiggly and goofy, dancing around with smiling faces. However, that joyful reunion can quickly turn to irritation if your dog starts jumping on you.

Jumping up probably starts innocently enough. Our puppy jumps up on our legs, and we automatically bend down and give them attention because they’re so darn cute. It’s thought dogs are trying to get to our faces, as their wild ancestors used muzzle-to-muzzle greetings when reuniting. We also reinforce (reward) the jumping by giving the attention they’re seeking.

Before you know it, Fido is a 70-pound torpedo launching at guests or knocking over the grand kids and the jumping becomes embarrassing, irritating and potentially dangerous. It’s up to us to teach them a more acceptable way to say hello to people. Here are some things you can do to help your enthusiastic greeter.

Prevention comes first

Set up the environment to prevent her jumping on people. Use baby gates or fold-able pens to block your dog’s access to doorways so family and friends can enter without Fido leaping at them.

If your dog likes toys, keep one near the door to toss as you enter. While she’s off chasing the toy, you have time to put your things down. Or, try tossing a handful of treats on the floor as you come in. It will temporarily distract your dog so you can get past her without getting jumped on.

Keep some yummy food dispensing toys or chew bones ready, so you can remove your dog from the area and give her something to do while people are visiting. Keep a leash handy too, so you can calmly remove your dog if she starts to jump.

Don’t reward jumping

Behavior that is reinforced (rewarded) happens more often, so our dogs keep jumping because it works for them. Turn your back when your dog jumps on you. When she stops jumping, turn around, crouch down and give attention at her level. Keep turning away every time she jumps up.

If your dog jumps as you come in the door, go right back out and close the door behind you. Removing yourself will leave your dog wondering what happened! Wait a few seconds, and then come in again. Reward with a treat and/or attention when she keeps four-on-the-floor or sits to greet.

Train an alternate behavior

If you want your dog to sit to greet, you’ll need to start by training a reliable sit-stay. Dogs need lots of repetition and rewards to learn the “tricks” we humans want them to do, so practice a lot in the absence of guests first, until your dog will sit quickly, every time.

Consistency is key, so all family members need to be on board with the plan. Enlist the help of some dog loving friends too and educate everyone on how to use management strategies, remove attention, and reward appropriate behavior.

Reducing Excessive Barking

Barking is one of the ways dogs communicate different emotions and information. They bark when they’re excited, when they want something, when they’re afraid or to alert others to intruders. While barking is normal dog behavior, many people find it frustrating. To reduce excessive barking, it’s important to first understand your dog’s underlying motivation and emotional state.

Let’s say your dog drops a toy at your feet and starts barking. To make him stop, you pick up the toy and toss it. Your dog learns barking works to get the toy tossed, so he’ll likely repeat it again. This is Demand Barking. To reduce it, you’ll need to stop rewarding the barking. Remove yourself from the area or put the toy away as a penalty for barking. Don’t throw the toy unless your dog is quiet. Be warned though that the barking will likely get worse before it gets better. Don’t give in, no matter what.

Dogs who bark at people walking by, cars pulling in the drive or doorbells ringing, are Alarm Barking. It’s your dog’s way of alerting you to the presence of an intruder and to let the intruder know they’ve been noticed. For some alarm barkers, modifying the environment can help. Remove his access to windows where he might be able to see passersby. Applying window film can obscure the view, while allowing light in. Give your dog interesting food puzzles or chew items to keep him busy.

Dogs who alarm bark when visitors arrive (usually triggered by the doorbell or knock) can be taught to lie down and stay on a mat in exchange for yummy treats. If your alarm barker loves to fetch, teach him to go get his toy when someone knocks or rings (it’s hard to bark you’re your mouth is full). Teach the behavior before actual visitors arrive so the doorbell or knock becomes the prompt to “get your toy”.

Another technique is a time-out for barking. When he barks, say “thank you”, or “be quiet”, and then reward with treats when he stops barking for second. If he doesn’t stop, say “oh darn, too bad” and escort him to a time-out space well away from the door. With repetition he’ll learn barking gets him removed and he’ll start to heed the warning.

If your dog is fearful of strangers or visitors, he may be Spooky Barking. It’s his way of saying, “Please stay away, I’m not comfortable.” Spooky barkers are typically under socialized and need to learn that visitors or strangers predict good things for them. This is one reason early socialization for puppies is so important. Punishing a fearful dog for barking will do nothing to assuage his fears. Working with an experienced trainer or behavior expert your fearful dog can become more comfortable around strangers and the barking will decrease.

Dogs left alone all day, can develop unacceptable behaviors including frustration and boredom barking. Dogs are highly social and don’t cope well with prolonged isolation. Consider a dog walker or daycare if you’re gone all day. Provide daily physical exercise and mental enrichment. Searching for and unpacking food puzzles are great mental exercise. Fill them before you leave and hide them around the house. If your dog must spend part of the day outdoors, install fencing he can’t see through to reduce barking at people and dogs passing by. Provide him with chew bones and other food-dispensing items scattered around the yard to keep him busy.

Dogs who bark when left alone and exhibit other behaviors including whining, howling, trying to escape through doors or windows, and urinating or defecating indoors may have Separation Anxiety. Dogs with this affliction have a phobia of being left alone or separated from a specific person and need professional help to get better.

When dealing with excessive barking, understand the motivation behind it and then teach your dog an acceptable alternative.

No-Fail Coming When Called (Recalls)

During hot summer days when I was young, a little ice cream truck would make the rounds in the neighborhood. All the kids knew the truck was coming because it blasted a silly tinny song we could hear from blocks away. We’d all get excited and run out to the sidewalk, shouting to our Moms to please let us have some ice cream. We were Pavlov’s dogs.

Ivan Pavlov is famous for his study on dogs which documented a type of learning called Classical Conditioning, which is an unconscious process by which a predictive relationship is formed between two unrelated stimuli. In other words, we loved ice cream. The silly tinny song reliably predicted the arrival of ice cream, so we got excited when we heard the silly tinny song. Our response was emotional and automatic, and that’s very powerful.

Our dogs learn these predictive relationships too. What makes your dog’s eyes light up? Does she jump for joy when you pick up the car keys or her leash? Does she come running with tail wagging and a smiling face when you open the food cupboard, or shake a bag of treats? Your dog responds happily and automatically because one event (leashes, car keys, treat bags) is a tip-off that something they love is about to happen (car rides, walkies, cookies).

We can use the power of classical conditioning when teaching our dogs to come when called (recall). Start by choosing a cue. This is the word or sound you’ll use to call your dog. It can be a word like “come” or “here” or a sound like “woohoo!” or even a whistle. To be most effective, it’s best to choose something new.

Next, pair that word or sound with something your dog loves. With repetition, your dog will respond enthusiastically when she hears the cue. Trainers call this a “yippee” response. Sounds simple enough, but there are some things to keep in mind.

The “something your dog loves” needs to be extra special and initially something she’ll only get during your training sessions. Make it something your dog will do back flips for. Cooked chicken, string cheese or freeze-dried liver treats generally work great. She needs to get these tasty treats every time she hears the cue. Every single time.

Don’t let your dog know a training session is about to start. We never knew when the ice cream truck was going to come by. The only tip off was the silly tinny song. The cue should be the only thing that signals to your dog that tasty treats are about to happen.

Our dogs are keen observers and notice when we get the treats out, or put on our training pouch, and they’ll follow us around anticipating getting a goodie. Prepare ahead of time and stash some goodies where your dog can’t get them. When she’s not expecting anything, say your cue, wait a couple seconds and then give her a big spill of treats on the floor. Use lots of praise too. This should be party. When she’s done collecting her prize, go about your day again.

For the first week or so, only practice a couple times a day. Part of the excitement over the ice cream truck was that it only came by a couple times a week. If the truck kept coming back every few minutes, our “yippee” response would have waned to a “ho hum” response.

Once your dog excitedly seeks you out when she hears the cue, you can start practicing actual recalls. Make it easy at first by keeping distractions low and staying close. Don’t destroy your recall cue by doing something your dog doesn’t like after she comes to you. Avoid scolding or ending fun. Keep rewarding, every single time. Incorporate other rewards like a rousing game of tug or fetch. If you want your dog to stop what she is doing and come running to you, make it worth her while. Great rewards build great recalls!

Choosing a Dog Trainer

Making the decision to get some training for your dog is a great investment in your life-long relationship. Choosing a qualified trainer can be tricky. The dog training profession is unregulated, so anyone can call themselves a trainer regardless of their experience or education. Here are some things to know before hiring a trainer for your dog.

The essential thing to look for is a trainer committed to using humane, reward-based techniques to achieve behavior outcomes. Reward-based (sometimes called positive) means rewarding dogs with something they love (usually food or play) for appropriate behaviors, and teaching alternatives to unwanted behaviors. Training with rewards also strengthens the human-dog bond because the learning process based on trust and cooperation.

Some trainers falsely claim to be reward-based, or positive. Watch out for terms like ‘tailoring the training to the dog’, ‘being the alpha’ or offering ‘balanced’ training. These are euphemisms for using any means necessary to gain compliance, including physical and potentially harmful methods. Using force and intimidation in training is unnecessary and less effective than reward-based methods, due to the risk of adverse effects including increased fearful and aggressive behaviors.

The American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior (AVSAB) recommends looking for someone who uses “primarily or only reward-based training with treats, toys and play.” They also recommend avoiding any trainer who “advocates methods of physical force”, which include using equipment such as choke, prong or shock collars.

The trainer you choose needs to have an education in training, so they’re well versed in learning theory, body language, good handling skills and able to communicate effectively with dogs and their humans.

Certifications demonstrate a commitment to learning and continuing education. The main credentials to look for are CTC, or KPA CTP, as these trainers have completed a course of study with the Academy for Dog Trainers or the Karen Pryor Academy, and are committed to reward-based training.

The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) is an independent certifying body which tests applicants on their knowledge and skills (CPDT-KA, CPDT-KSA and CBCC-KA) but is not a guarantee that a trainer will use only reward-based methods. The Pet Professionals Guild also certifies trainers (PCT-A and PCBC-A) and requires adherence to a humane, force-free code of ethics.

If your dog needs help beyond obedience training, you may need a behaviorist as not all dog trainers have the knowledge or experience to deal with all behavioral issues.

Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB) have a graduate or PhD level education in animal behavior. Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB) have specialized education in animal behavior and can prescribe medications to aid with behavioral problems. Most CAABs and veterinary behaviorists focus on issues such as fear, aggression and anxiety.  Any ethical dog trainer will gladly refer you to a behaviorist if the problem is outside their area of expertise.

All these letters and titles can be confusing, but don’t worry. Renowned author and founder of the Academy for Dog Trainers, Jean Donaldson, created a transparency test for consumers. There are three simple questions. What exactly will happen when my dog gets it right? What exactly will happen when my dog gets it wrong? Are there any less invasive alternatives to what you propose?

You should get clear, specific answers from the trainer, not vague descriptions of energy projection, pack mentality, or other non-sensical language. For example, “When your puppy sits, he’ll get a treat, since positive reinforcement increases the likelihood of the behavior repeating”. Not, “When I project my alpha energy waves, the puppy will sit because he wants to please me”.

Finally, because behavior is variable and depends on many factors, an ethical trainer cannot and will not guarantee the results of training. At the same time, an ethical trainer should ensure their services are provided to your satisfaction.

In the end, you need to be comfortable with the methods and equipment the trainer uses, along with your ability to apply those methods as they will impact your relationship with your dog for years to come. If you’re not comfortable, keep shopping.

Keys to a well-behaved companion

There is an old cartoon I often refer to when thinking about teaching dogs what we expect of them in a human household. Two dogs are meeting for the first time. The first dog says, “Hi, my name is Fido, what’s yours?” The second dog says, “My name is No-No Bad Dog!”

I can imagine some dogs think that’s their name, as they always seem to be getting scolded for some naughty behavior. While dogs are part of the family, they don’t come preinstalled with an understanding of how to behave in a human household. Left to their own devices, they’re going to behave, well, like dogs. They’ll chew on just about anything, eat anything that resembles food, jump on people to say hi, and use the carpet for a bathroom.

We owe it to our dogs to guide them, so they don’t get in trouble and we don’t spend our time running after them shouting “no-no!” There are three keys to helping our dogs become great companions; Prevention, Enrichment and Training.

Prevention means setting up the environment, so dogs can’t make mistakes. Use baby gates or close doors to restrict access to temptations like shoes, kid’s toys and yummy things on kitchen counters. Keep the trash out of reach. Limit access to a small area of the house at first and confine when you can’t supervise. Be strict early on, and as your dog becomes reliable, you can give him more freedom without worry.

Enrichment provides outlets for our dog’s natural behaviors and is critical for their well-being. Physical exercise should be geared toward a dog’s age, size and health. A five-pound chihuahua or an older dog with health issues might be happy with a nice leash walk around the neighborhood, while an eighty-pound young lab will need daily aerobic exercise.

Interactive games like fetch and tug burn energy, build a bond between you and your dog and
can be used as rewards in your obedience training.

Dogs love to scavenge, so why not make them work for their meals? Food dispensing toys extend meal times and engage your dog’s puzzle solving skills. There are a wide variety on the market, or you can fashion your own. Pour kibble into an empty plastic water bottle. Sprinkle treats in muffin tins and cover with tennis balls. Hide kibble under a throw rug, or blanket and let your dog search for it.

Letting dogs explore with their incredible noses is one of the most enriching activities we can provide. Give your dog a “sniffari” while on walks by letting him check out shrubs, trees and lampposts along the way. Hide kibble around the house for your dog to find or sprinkle it around the lawn and let him sniff out the food.

Some dogs love to dissect “prey”, so stock up on cheap toys from the local thrift store and let your dog destroy them (remove any bits first that might be easily swallowed or harmful). Don’t worry, if you consistently direct your dog to the toys he’s allowed to chew (and practice good management), he won’t learn to destroy the sofa cushions.

All dogs love to chew, and chewing inappropriate items is one of the biggest complaints most pet parents have. There are a variety of chew choices on the market, from bully sticks to marrow bones to antlers. Check with your veterinarian to learn about the safest choices.

Training goes hand in hand with good management and when using positive reward-based methods, provides enrichment too. Studies show dogs trained with reward-based methods learn better and don’t suffer from the stress and anxiety produced by aversive methods. Find the things your dog loves and use those as rewards in training (including food)!

Training a new behavior takes time. Be patient, consistent and reward often. Practice good management to prevent unwanted behaviors while you’re training a new one. Include legal outlets for your dog’s natural behaviors so he won’t learn to think his name is “No-No Bad Dog.”

Teaching Your Dog To Share

Does your dog growl when you try to take away his favorite toy? Does he snarl when you approach his food bowl or snap at you when you try to move him off the sofa?

Resource guarding is the term used to describe dogs who behave aggressively when people try to separate them from something they find valuable. Resources can be food bowls, chew items, toys, trash (including used tissues and empty water bottles), and favorite sleeping locations.

Signs of guarding include freezing (body is very still), growling, snarling, snapping and even charging and biting. These body postures and vocalizations are a dog’s normal way to say, “Back off, this is mine!”

Resource guarding is normal, natural dog behavior held over from their wild ancestry. In a natural setting, it makes sense for an animal to guard his food or a potential mate, to increase his chances of surviving to reproduce.

Between dogs, the vocalizations and body postures work to peacefully resolve conflicts over items as one dog defers to the other. Dogs who fight over resources should be separated so they can relax and enjoy their toys, food and chewies. Use crates or separate rooms, and keep guardable items picked up with the dogs are together.

Resource guarding from humans is a more serious matter as children are most often the target and are more likely to be bitten.

An ounce of prevention. Because resource guarding can pop up at any time, it’s worth practicing a few simple exercises with your puppy or new dog so they learn to happily give up items, and not guard food. However, a word of caution. If your dog is already guarding things, do not do these exercises. Contact a professional dog trainer or behavior consultant with experience working with resource guarding.

Practice the Food Bowl Bonus game at meal time. For most dogs, a person approaching triggers the guarding as they’re expecting us to take their stuff away. While your dog is eating (use a slow feeder if your dog gulps his food) approach the bowl and toss in a delicious bonus (it must be tastier than the kibble), like cooked chicken, freeze dried liver, a piece of hot dog or a bit of string cheese. Walk away, and approach again from a different angle before tossing the tasty tidbit. Do this at every meal, until your dog starts to look up in happy anticipation when he notices you approaching. Your dog learns “people approaching my bowl equals nummy stuff for doggie!” At this point, you can pick up the bowl, place the tasty bonus in the bowl then (and this is key) give the bowl back. The message to your pup is “when people take my stuff, great things happen, and I get my stuff back!”

For toys and other chew items, teach your dog to “drop it.” Start with a low value toy or item your dog will be interested in but won’t guard. If your dog runs away with items, keep him on a leash or hold onto the other end of the item while doing the exercise. Engage him with the item for a bit, then quickly put a super tasty treat under your dog’s nose. He’ll most likely drop the item to eat the treat. Give the treat as you take the item away, then give the item back and let him enjoy it again for a bit. Your dog decides which is higher value, so if he won’t relinquish the item, try using a higher value treat, or lower value item.

In addition to helping your dog have a positive association between people and resources, practice good management to keep your dog from accessing things he shouldn’t have. Close doors, put the trash in a cupboard and keep shoes and kids toys put away.

Finally, never punish your dog with yelling, hitting or intimidation to get something away from him. Growling and snarling are your dog’s clear means of communicating a warning to you. Dogs who are punished for growling or snarling, may learn to suppress those warning signals, and instead go directly to biting.

 

Tips for Reliable Recalls

Few things are more frustrating than watching your dog run away from you after you’ve called her.  Many dogs have learned when you call, it either means nothing, or it means something unpleasant is about to happen. Either way, the dog has learned that coming when called is not a good idea. The truth is, dogs don’t naturally come when called. It’s a learned behavior just like sit, down and stay. By teaching your dog that coming to you is always worthwhile, you can, with time, have a dog who will run to you every time you call. Keep these simple rules in mind:

Set up for success. One of the mistakes we make is to assume the dog will come to us outside because she always comes to us in the house. Not true! Start training with minimal distractions so your dog can succeed most of the time. Start by practicing in the house, and only move outside when she’ll run to you every time. Use very high value treats (something your dog won’t get at any other time), or your dog’s favorite toy as a reward.

Make it fun! Be someone you’d want to run to. Run away and encourage your dog to chase you, or back away and entice her with a happy tone of voice and inviting body language like crouching down, making kissy noises, or clapping your hands. Encourage her with praise while she’s running to you.

Never call for something ‘icky’. Calling your dog and then doing something she doesn’t like (leaving the dog park, ending a fun game, trimming her nails) creates a bad association with the recall cue and your dog will learn to run the other way when she hears it. Instead, use a special cue for the icky stuff; “bath time!”, “time for nails” etc., and keep your recall cue associated with great rewards.

Have a party! When your dog comes to you, reward with wild praise (don’t be afraid to act silly, dogs love it), petting, and a handful of high value treats or favorite toy. Show her that running to you is more fun that anything else.

Practice – a lot. The more your dog gets rewarded for coming when you call, the more automatic the behavior will become. In just a few minutes a day, you can get in multiple recalls. Follow that up with daily fun and praise whenever your dog comes to you on her own.

If she ignores you, don’t get angry. Her choice reflects the value she sees in coming to you. Get closer and try to entice her away with clapping, whistles etc. When she comes to you, reward her and praise warmly. Set up the exercise again with less distraction and reward her for getting it right.

With practice and great rewards you can have a dog who loves to run to you every time.

 

Teaching Your Pup to Drop it

Let’s teach our puppies to let go of items when we ask, so we don’t have to chase them around the house every time they grab something interesting. This is also a good Resource Guarding prevention exercise, as your puppy learns letting go of things gets her big rewards.  NOTE – If your puppy already growls or snaps when you try to take an item away, ask your instructor about dealing with Resource Guarding before trying this exercise.

Step 1

  • Say “take it” and give your puppy a chew bone or tug toy (if she likes tug toys). If your puppy takes things and runs away, hold onto one end of the item so she can chew on it or play with it, but can’t run off.
  • After several seconds, put a high value treat on your puppy’s nose and as soon as she lets go of the chew item, praise ‘good!’ and give her the treat. At the same time, remove the chew item from in front of the puppy momentarily.
  • After she eats the treat, say ‘take it’ and give the chew item back. Repeat these steps until your puppy drops the chew item as she sees your hand approaching with the treat.

Step 2

Now we’ll add a verbal cue ‘drop’. (If you use the word ‘drop’ to mean something else, you’ll need a different cue here – ‘out’, ‘trade’ etc.)

  • Give the puppy the chew item as before, holding onto it if needed.
  • After several seconds, say “drop” and then put the treat on her nose as before.
  • It’s important to say the release word ‘drop’ or ‘out’ BEFORE you move your hand to her nose. In order for the puppy to learn that ‘drop’ means let go and get a treat, the cue must come before your hand movement.
  • As in Step 1, give the chew item back with the cue “take it” after she eats the treat. Repeat multiple times, making sure your puppy is dropping the item immediately every time.

Troubleshooting – If your puppy doesn’t drop the chew item when you present the treat, try making a distraction noise (kissy noises are great) or switch to a higher value treat and a lower value chew item.

Step 3

  • Start to pause 1 second after you give the cue ‘drop’ to see if your pup will drop the item before you bring your hand to her nose.
  • Practice this step until your puppy will immediately drop the item as soon as you say “drop” without needing to put the treat on her nose. Once she drops the item, give her the treat.

Step 4

Once she’ll drop the item every time as soon as you say “drop”, try letting go of the chew item or toy for several seconds before you say “drop”.  Even if your puppy moves away from you, she should still drop it as soon as she hears your cue. If not, go back to practicing Step 2 and 3 again, or use a lower value chew item (empty paper towel rolls can work well) and a higher value treat.

Step 5

Take the game on the road. Practice in new locations – different rooms of the house, in the back yard etc.  Switch up the game by giving her a different chew item or toy. The word ‘drop’ should cue her to let go of any item as soon as you say the cue.

For a good video tutorial try this link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMNup72dGyA

Or this one (if your dog likes to tug)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVivnOwiMoA

 

What’s My Dog Saying?

Several times a week I see videos on my social media feeds of dogs and kids interacting together. Kids climbing and bouncing on dogs, toddlers hugging them, and in one, a couple of youngsters shoving a hamster into their dog’s face and laughing at the dog’s reaction. The videos were no doubt posted by parents who found them cute and entertaining and I’m sure they weren’t deliberately trying to harm or traumatize their dogs. However, the videos illustrate the difficulty most pet dog owners have in reading signs of stress or anxiety in dogs, and this is critical to avoiding interactions which may lead to a dog behaving aggressively or even biting.

We’re all good at knowing if our dog is happy. The mouth is relaxed and may be open, the eyes are soft, and the ears are in a neutral position. The body is relaxed and may be wiggly and the tail wags are wide and low. And most people can identify a frightened dog; the tail (if there is one) is tucked, cowering body, head down or looking away, or the dog may be trying to flee.

Dogs also offer other signals to express a variety of emotions or intentions, particularly when stressed, unsure or anxious, and these are the ones that people often miss or misread.

Appeasement signals are meant to cut off a perceived threat from another individual, as a means of keeping peace in social situations. It’s the dog’s way of saying, “I’m not a threat.” They’re used when greeting and interacting with other dogs and with humans too. Typical appeasement signals are avoiding direct eye contact, turning the head away, a crouching body position, a low or tucked tail (may be wagging some), ears pulled back or raising a front paw slightly off the ground. Some dogs will roll over to expose their inguinal area, and others will lick their lips, or lick at the muzzle of the other dog.

Some of these signals are often misinterpreted by humans as a sign of a dog’s guilt. The assumption is the dog has done something it “knows” is wrong and is expressing remorse when confronted by his human. A recent study dispelled that myth. See my previous article on Guilty Looking Dogs.

Displacement behaviors happen when a dog is conflicted about what to do next. They are akin to a human scratching their head while contemplating a decision. They’re normal behaviors, including yawning, lip licking, sniffing and scratching, but are performed out of context. For example, a dog who sees a novel object and is curious but unsure about approaching it, may lip lick as an indication of conflicting motivation.

A dog feeling stress or anxiety can display a variety of signals in addition to appeasement and displacement behaviors, including panting when they’re not hot, pacing, hypervigilance and refusal to take food. It’s important to look at the context in conjunction with the overall body language to determine whether the dog is anxious.

The next time you see a cute dog video on social media, try watching it with the sound off and just look at the dog. What body language signals do you see?  Take the time to observe your own dog in various contexts so you can understand when he might be stressed or anxious so you can intervene to keep him comfortable and safe.

Dealing with Puppy Biting

One of the first questions I’m asked by new puppy parents is, “How do I get my puppy to stop biting?” I think they’re pretty surprised when I tell them play biting is normal and we need to let them do it.

Dogs have retained strong jaws and sharp teeth from their wild ancestors who hunted large prey animals and competed for resources like food and mates. It’s important among social carnivores to avoid causing injury or death to one another when conflicts happen, so they’ve developed ritualized behaviors, including body postures, vocalizations and inhibited bites.

The ability to bite without maiming force is learned by young puppies through play biting. When one puppy bites too hard, play will stop momentarily. With practice the puppy learns to be more careful with his mouth in order to keep play going.Puppies also need to learn that human skin is more delicate than puppy fur, so they have to be even more careful when playing with their people. For puppies between 6 and 16 weeks, play biting should be allowed, with some rules.

Set up a time during the day to practice. Start by using the ‘ouch and freeze’ method. Let your puppy mouth your fingers. When he bites too hard, say ‘ouch’ just loud enough to startle your puppy momentarily. Don’t pull your fingers out of his mouth or you risk teaching the puppy to chase after your fingers. Stay frozen and ignore your puppy for several seconds before restarting play. Repeat every time he bites too hard. With repetition the puppy learns biting makes play end.

Some puppies really seem to love it when we say ‘ouch’ and get more excited and continue to bite. In this case, try the ‘ouch and time out’ method. When he bites too hard, immediately say ‘too bad’ and get up and leave the area (assuming you’re in a puppy proofed space), or pick him up and gently put him in a pen or his crate (don’t worry, he won’t learn to hate the crate), and ignore him for 1 minute. Then return, let him out and resume play. Again, consistency is key. You must issue the ‘too bad’ cue as your puppy is biting, and do the time-out every single time he bites too hard.

During the first week of play biting practice, use the ‘ouch’ methods for any bites that hurt. For each successive week, get a little stricter about how hard your pup is biting, until he is mouthing with very little pressure. At that point, play biting can be phased out completely, by redirecting to toys, and providing a time out for all bites.

When you don’t have time to practice the bite inhibition exercises, use management. Redirect to appropriate chew toys or a chew bone to give your pup something to gnaw on. Engage your puppy with non-contact play such as fetch or tug. Give your puppy plenty of free-play with other puppies and safe adult dogs to give them an outlet for play biting and an additional opportunity to learn bite inhibition.

What about a ‘no-biting’ policy? This outdated thinking involves everything from squirting with water, pinning the puppy to the floor, smacking under the chin, holding the pup’s mouth shut or forcing him to bite his own lip. These methods can certainly stop a puppy from biting, but there are serious negative side effects. Your puppy may become afraid of you, of hands reaching for him, and even of being handled around his head or mouth in other situations. In addition, the puppy won’t learn bite inhibition. If, as an adult dog, he bites as a reaction to something scary or being injured, he’s much more likely to inflict serious injury because he never learned to control his mouth as a puppy.