Puppy Biting and Bite Inhibition By Anne Rogers
Anne is a founding member of APDT Ireland and is CAP2 certified (with distinctions).
She works with a large canine welfare organisation, A Dog's Life, as a training/behaviour consultant and board member through which she sees hundreds of dogs and their people every year.
The development of acquired bite inhibition is the reason that puppies have those needly teeth and it's the reason that they bite skin of the animals to whom they are socialised - you.
Puppies will also explore the world with their mouth much like a toddler and will also chew things that provide comfort due to the jaw pain associated with teething. These are separate and very different uses of mouthing and biting behaviour, unrelated to acquired bite inhibition (ABH).
ABH means that a dog knows how to use its mouth, even when aroused. We take the position that all dogs bite so if they ever are forced to bite a human they will not do considerable damage relative to the body part and the context in which the bite occurs.
A dog can be friendly and tolerant of people and still have poor ABH - this is a dangerous dog.
There are genetic constraints to acquiring bite inhibition and environmental ie. training.
So, if we stop a puppy at this crucial stage of development biting by suppressing the behaviour using an aversive such as spraying, yelling, slapping or whatever, the puppy doesn't practice biting as they need to.
Puppy needs to feel comfortable about biting so that he tries it out.
That's where training comes in. We need to provide puppy with feedback about how hard puppy is biting. So we need to yelp and withdraw when puppy offers harder bites.
It's not enough to just yelp but withdrawal must also happen as a direct consequence of the hard bite - the yelp just marks that bite, saying that's the one that earned you the withdrawal.
Now, if puppy gets more hyped up in these interactions that's not down to puppy. This is human training - puppy needs more rest, better arousal management and more down time.
This will not stop this behaviour and it's important that we don't at this stage.
When puppy is mainly just offering softer bites then we can start to teach him that no biting is necessary in dog-human play.
So instead of only withdrawing when hard biting, we withdraw and end the fun at any biting at all.
So, first we reduce the pressure of bites and then and only then do we reduce the frequency of bites.
What's the really important part of the pressure reduction stage is that you are selecting only the hardest bites but still allowing the softer bites.
Bite inhibition training is going to really hit home when puppy is 9-12 weeks as this is the time they are developing this behaviour. It is vitally important that puppies have this ABH training start before this but people being reactive, rather than proactive rarely do
Once puppy hits 14-16 weeks of age ABH training is not relevant as it is not safe to allow puppy practice on you as their jaw muscles are now developing.
If you have already started continue but there is not much point in starting at this stage.
We are now coming into adolescence and a different but similar set of protocols are required.
- For more on teaching and the importance of acquired bite inhibition see here: http://pawsitivedawgs.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/mouthing/
- This is the edited version (edited to maintain privacy) of a reply to a person apparently at their wit's end with a 11.5 week small breed puppy, male showing regular biting; has broken skin, torn clothes, bites with vocalising (growling) and bites-holds with shaking behaviour. Calm and consistent approach most important as well as avoiding aversives so as to avoid fallout and potentially far more serious behavioural/emotional issues developing in the future.
- puppy needs to get the op to play with LOTS and LOTS of puppies and other dogs, including older bitches who are good at playing but also good at disciplining cheeky and mouthy puppies(!) - obviously care must be taken in selecting other dogs for puppy, especially small breed puppy to play with. Interupt play sessions every ten seconds for a calming/training break and then reward with the op to play again.
- Hand feeding - every single piece of food that puppy gets must come from a human's hand - hands are for loving not for fighting ;-) If puppy eats a dry food, offer each piece (one by one) from the flat of the palm so puppy has to lick it off rather than grip with teeth. If puppy eats a wet food, smear some on one palm and deliver a little lick as rewards for training exercises
- self control exercises are essential - teaching that calm behaviour gets puppy what he wants - very consistent approach needed. Plus leave it exercises to formalise that idea and then applying it to real life scenarios toohttp://pawsitivedawgs.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/selfcontrolexercises/ Frustration threshold and handling exercises - here for more on that -http://pawsitivedawgs.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/selfcontrolexercises/ Scroll down to Exercise 5; implement the described Happy Hands exercise to proof the idea that hands appoaching means good things rather than any thing else
- Puppy sounds over excited and over tired all the time - he is in high stress and needs more rest! Get a daily routine nailed down and make sure puppy gets lots and lots of sleep. He seems to be on the go all the time - he is a toddler and needs scxhedule naps and short bursts of activity. Does he have a place where he can be on the outskirts of the activity of the house to just chill? THat would be proiority.
- Keep play sessions short - play for 20-30 seconds and then have a one minute calm down in the form of training exercises like down, stays, matwork
- Teach hand targeting again to put in place an alternative response to hands. More on this here: http://pawsitivedawgs.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/focus/ This will also be important in moving and manouvering puppy in a non-confrontational way.
- Although a little bit late I think we need to do a re-set on the bite inhibition exercises but with these other things in place. So start in set-up training situations with a quick play. Allow puppy to mouth and when he ups the pressure (not to the point of growling or hold-shaking - this means puppy is waaaaaaaay over tired and needs to be given a frozen Kong to work on in his crate for a nap and some down time) immediately yelp VERY loudly to startle a little and immediately withdraw - move away very quickly as if you have been mortally wounded (!). Wait for a five count and return and repeat. Over three or four 2 minute sessions shape lighter pressure by reacting to progressively less pressure.If yelping and withdrawing doesn't work in a session, puppy is too wired and needs a break. End the session and put puppy down for a nap and repeat later.
- PROPER crate training and matwork exercises to teach self control and self calming. More here: http://pawsitivedawgs.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/matwork/ andhttp://pawsitivedawgs.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/crateforcalm/
- Grabbing clothes - this to me is a very serious canine offence, regardless of the age of puppy! First off teach puppy an alternative response to a person moving. Settle in living room (or similar) and have puppy's bed near by but move in opposite direction to it. Stand up and if puppy alerts to this toss a piece of kibble/food onto his bed. Take a step and toss one piece of food onto his bed and repeat for each step. Practice lots to teach puppy that someone moving means to go to bed - he can't chase or bite if he's lying on his bed. As he gets better, vary speed and excitability as you move and build the number of steps between food tosses. If puppy doesn't go after the food and continues to grab or grabs any bit of human (hair, clothing, shoes etc.) this is VERY serious! Calmly say uh-oh and take puppy's house line and lead him to time out area for a 20 second calming break. That brings us onto using timeouts....
- Set up a timeout area which should be small and need contain nothing. Have the area on solid floor if possible so he doesn't have anything to do in there. Use time outs properly - they are often abused and over used. Human must earn the use of timeouts. So if you want to timeout for an offence you must have rewarded the desired behaviour 10 times per timeout - this is about human training, its all too easy to reach for the aversive even with all its attendent fallout.Have puppy drag a light houseline when supervised ONLY otherwise he will get caught up in it and chew it. Use this to move or restrain him where needed without having to frustrate him by grabbing him. Timeouts:- when puppy commits a timeout-able offence calmly say uh-oh (no need to shout, dogs have excellent hearing) - its really important that he learns that this word means he has done something undesired- then move him to time him out quickly by leading him by the line- move away from him without eye contact or otherwise talking to him and leave him there for about 10 seconds- come back to him and approach if he is calm - if he acts up, stop and if he doesn't calm turn away briefly, reapproach when he calms and repeat if he acts up again- release him from time out when calm.
Thanks to Anne for her above advice.
For Annes latest info on puppy biting please click here
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