One of the most common issues I come across when working with puppies aside from Potty Training is puppy biting. Puppy biting is normal and is not to be confused with human aggression. 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 that they’ve found online only to find that they don’t work. This makes things a little easier for me as by that point, they just want to fix the behavior and I don’t have to work them up to my final approach.
The methods that I’ve found to not work are:
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 pant leg.
2. Scream ouch or “yelp” like a puppy, pull your hands away, then, ignore the puppy.
Sometimes the yelp can startle the puppy, but over time they also tend to get stimulated by the yelp and by pulling your hand away you can trigger prey drive.
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” as 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 it will only apply to those that spray their hands with bitter spray. In some cases, the puppy will like the taste so it does not deter them.
The issues with the 5 methods I listed above is that they don’t directly tell the puppy, “You don’t put your teeth people.” When correcting behaviors you don’t want, you have to let the dog do the behavior so that you can apply the correction as it’s happening. So to stop the puppy biting, you have to allow the puppy to do so, then apply whatever correctional method you’ve chosen during the action. This is what communicates to them that that behavior is unwanted or not allowed.
One tool that I’ve found to be fairly effective or effective at least to a point is the “Pet Corrector.” It is Positive Reinforcement approved and helps my puppy owners get used to the idea of correction. The Pet Corrector is simply a can of compressed air. It’s not the air itself that is supposed to serve as the correction, but the hissing sound it makes. This works on very timid or soft personalities, but if I have a puppy that is not phased by the sound then I actually spray them on the hind quarters to create some kind of connection.
By actually spraying them, I’m connecting the sound to an unpleasant experience that empowers the Pet Corrector more than just the sound itself will. It’s like telling a child “no” several times, but never actually following through with some form of discipline. The “no” has no power or meaning and therefore the child will keep continuing the behavior.
In the video I am working with Oliver a Cockapoo puppy on his puppy biting. You will see that the Pet Corrector is effective in getting him to stop the behavior. One of the key things to take note of is that when I’m correcting Oliver, I am not saying anything, I am simply correcting the moment I feel his teeth on my hands. This is very important as many of my clients, either by habit or because another trainer taught them, say some kind of cue to the puppy before attempting to stop the behavior. The issue with this is then you are making the biting a cued behavior so technically the puppy can bite you until you give the cue to stop.
Dogs do not learn like humans do. With a human, you can explain to them why they should never do something and they can understand it and choose to follow it. Not with dogs and puppies. With dogs, when you’re looking to completely stop a behavior there has to be an immediate correction without warning so that they understand that when they do that specific behavior there will be no heads up. This is what gets them to opt not to do things as a default.
With puppies, after they have been given the correction, you want to keep continuing as if nothing happened. So if you were petting your puppy and they began biting you, you would not correct them then walk away. You would correct them and once they stop the biting you continue with petting them. By keeping them in the context you allow them to process why the correction happened. As you repeat the process they will begin to understand that it is their behavior that is causing the correction and that it is not some kind of random act.
The second part to teaching them not to bite you is to then redirect them to another object that they can chew or bite on. I prefer to use bones, antlers or some other kind of edible object that they can chew on 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 other chewable object you’re saying “bite on this.”
The Pet Corrector will not phase most puppies after some time. When they outgrow it depends on their personality. If I get a more stubborn personality or a puppy that isn’t phased by the Pet Corrector I utilize Cesar Milan methodology, as it is very effective in curbing unwanted behavior. However, that will be a topic for a different post.
Until next time.