|By guest author, Victoria Schade, Professional Pet Trainer.|
Your puppy keeps mistaking you for a chew toy, right? Many new puppy owners worry that the force and frequency of their puppy’s mouthing signals a “dominant” dog with a problem. But that’s not usually the case.
Watch two puppies playing for a few minutes and you’ll notice that mouthing plays a major role. When one puppy gets overexcited and bites too hard, the other pup squeals his displeasure. Play resumes, and the rough biter is more aware of just how hard he can – or can’t – bite his playmate. If the rough biter doesn’t get the idea and once more bites too hard, his playmate might decide to end the game by walking or running away. You can mimic this efficient puppy feedback by employing the “ouch!” technique, a gentle way to help puppies learn to inhibit their bites.
I happen to enjoy when a pup mindlessly mouths my finger. I’ll allow the mouthing to continue as long as it doesn’t hurt.
You must determine how much pressure is too much, and be consistent about it. This means that you can’t allow a knuckle-cruncher in the morning but forbid a soft pinkie-grab in the afternoon. Any mouthing that doesn’t exceed your threshold is okay to continue, but the second your pup chomps painfully, shriek “OUCH!” as if he just ripped off your fingernail.
If you’ve tried this technique and it doesn’t seem to be working, perhaps your “ouch” isn’t very convincing. Acting skills come in handy for this lesson – you really can’t overdo it. And be sure to take a moment after you say “ouch” to nurture your bloody stump and, ignore your pup. Then, after a minute or so, go right back to interacting with him.
If your puppy doesn’t get your message and chomps too hard once more, you should employ the most potent puppy punisher available: social isolation. Mark the bite with a dramatic “ouch!” and this time get up and leave the room. You want your puppy to understand that a rough mouth makes the fun and games end. I use the two –strikes- and you’re- out”- rule: the second time the pup bears down too hard, I leave the room. If turning your back to your pup when leaving the room offers him a new target to chomp, consider playing with him while he’s on a tether. Using a leash to keep him secured in one area allows you to make your escape without getting a tush full of puppy teeth!
Some puppies get over-excited by the squeakiness or volume of the “ouch” technique and come back nipping even harder. If that’s the case with your pup, mark the behavior with a word or phrase like “I quit” or “bummer”, and move on to the social isolation phase quicker.
I don’t recommend outdated training techniques like clamping your pup’s mouth shut. I’ve found that this technique frustrates many puppies, and makes them want to bite you even harder!
At about month four, when your pup is able to gently mouth you without exceeding comfortable pressure, it’s time to start weaning him off of mouth-to-skin contact completely. From this point on, any time his mouth hits your skin, say “ouch”, keeping in mind that you probably won’t have to be as dramatic because he understands what it means.
If you’re playing with your dog and his mouth “accidentally” hits your skin drop the toy and walk away from the game. Trust me, your pup knows the difference between his ratty old tug toy and your silken skin, so don’t cut him any breaks if he has a wandering mouth! Beginning at approximately month five, canine teeth on human skin is a no-no.
About the author: Victoria Schade is an APDT Certified Pet Dog Trainer and an honors graduate from the San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers with a Counseling Certificate. She has worked with thousands of dogs – and dog owners – and has honed her unique dog handling and “coaching” technique. She earns rave reviews from her customers for her ability to help every dog be a good dog. Check out Victoria’s DVD: New Puppy! Now What? and her blog, Life On the Leash.