One of the most common issues, aside from potty training, I come across when working with puppies is biting. But, whereas aggressive behavior is unhealthy and dangerous, puppy biting is perfectly normal; it is very rare for a puppy to be what I consider “legitimately” aggressive.
Unfortunately, many new dog owners are unaware of this, and it’s not uncommon for me to get a call about their puppy being “aggressive.”
There are a few ways to deal with puppy biting and most of them rarely – if ever – work. By the time I come into the picture, many puppy owners have already tried methods they found online, only to find those methods don’t work.
This makes things a little easier for me because by that point they just want to fix the behavior and I don’t have to work them up to my final approach.
Five Methods That Do Not Work
There are five common methods most dog owners will use to prevent their puppies from biting. And, although some will work temporarily, none of these methods are long-term solutions.
1. Get up, walk away and ignore the puppy.
This will just leave the puppy in a stimulated state and they will most likely chase you and begin biting at your legs.
2. Scream ouch or “yelp” like a puppy, pull your hands away and then ignore the puppy.
Sometimes the yelp can startle the puppy, but over time it also tends to stimulate the puppy and you can easily trigger prey drive when you pull your hand away.
3. Redirect the puppy’s biting to another object.
This will work for a little while, but eventually, the puppy may get bored because the object is inanimate and they rather play with a living being.
4. Putting the puppy into their kennel as “time out.”
Puppies do not understand the concept of “time out” because they do not reflect on what they’ve done like humans do.
5. Spraying bitter spray on your hands (semi-effective).
This can be effective with some puppies, but you must spray your hands with a bitter, no-chew spray, such as Grannick’s Bitter Apple, Chewfix Extra Strength Bitter Spray or Bodhi Dog Bitter Lemon Spray. In some cases, the puppy will like the taste so it does not deter them from biting.
The issue is that these methods don’t directly tell the puppy, “You don’t put your teeth on people.” When correcting behaviors you don’t want your puppy to exhibit, you have to let them demonstrate the behavior so you can correct them as it’s happening.
To keep your puppy from biting, you have to allow them to do so, then apply whatever correctional method you’ve chosen during the action. This is what communicates to them that their behavior is not allowed.
Using the Pet Corrector in Positive Punishment
One tool I’ve found to be fairly effective is the “Pet Corrector.” It’s positive reinforcement approved and helps puppy owners get used to the idea of correction.
The Pet Corrector is simply a can of compressed air. But it’s not the air itself that is supposed to serve as the correction; it’s the hissing sound it makes. This works on puppies who are timid or have soft personalities, but if a puppy is not phased by the sound, I actually spray them on the hindquarters to imitate the sensation of a physical connection.
By actually spraying a puppy with the air, I’m connecting the sound to an unpleasant experience that empowers the Pet Corrector more than just the sound does.
Refraining from creating a physical connection is like telling a child “no” several times, but never actually following through with some form of discipline. It renders the word “no” meaningless, and the child will continue to exhibit unacceptable behavior.
In the video below, I’m working with Oliver, a Cockapoo puppy, on his biting. You will see the Pet Corrector is effective in getting him to stop biting.
One of the key things to note about using the Pet Corrector is that when correcting Oliver, I am not saying anything; I’m simply correcting the moment I feel his teeth on my hands.
This is very important because many clients, either by habit or because another trainer taught them, say something to their puppy before attempting to stop them from biting. The issue with this is that you’re making it seem like the biting is a cued behavior, which means it’s technically OK for your puppy to bite until you give the cue to stop.
Dogs do not learn like humans do; with a human, you can explain why they should not do something and they’ll understand it and make the conscious decision to not do it again.
But that’s not the case with dogs. With dogs, when you’re looking to completely stop a behavior, there has to be an immediate correction without any warning. That way, they understand when they exhibit a specific behavior there will be no heads up. This is what gets them to opt not to do things as a default.
Don’t Leave Your Puppy After You’ve Corrected Them
After you’ve corrected a puppy, you want to proceed with what you were doing as if nothing happened.
For example, if you were petting your puppy and they began biting you, you wouldn’t correct them and then walk away. You would correct them, and once they stop biting you would continue petting them.
By keeping them immersed in the current situation, you allow them to process why they were corrected. And, as you repeat the process, they’ll start to understand it’s their behavior that’s causing the correction and not some kind of random act.
Instead, Point Them Toward Something They Are Allowed to Bite
The second part of teaching a puppy not to bite is to redirect them to another object they can chew or bite on. I prefer to use bones, antlers or some other kind of edible object that will last a while.
The difference here from point 3 above is that you are actively correcting the biting which is communicating “don’t do that” and then by giving them a bone, antler, or another chewable object, you’re saying, “bite on this.”
Unfortunately, the Pet Corrector will not phase most puppies once they reach a certain age; when they outgrow it depends totally on their personality.
If I get a puppy with a stubborn personality or a puppy that isn’t phased by the Pet Corrector, I utilize Cesar Milan’s methodology, as it is very effective in curbing unwanted behavior. But that’s a topic for another different post.
Until next time.