Puppies Bite

If you have a puppy you know all about sharp, pointy, razor sharp shark teeth constantly tearing at your flesh, or at least that’s how it feels sometimes. You probably also want to know how to stop it.

“I am puppy! I will bite your face!”

So lets get this out of the way first: Your puppy does not bite you because they are bad. They don’t bite because they are aggressive. They don’t bite because they are dominant or don’t see you as a clear leader or alpa. They don’t bite to hurt you make angry.

They bite because they’re puppies. They bite because they explore the world with their mouths. They bite as a way to communicate. They bite hard because they haven’t learned bite inhibition. They haven’t learned bite inhibition because we as mom’s and dad’s haven’t taught them yet. In fact, unwittingly many people reinforce hard biting without even realizing it.

If a puppy bites their mom or one of their litter mates too hard the litter mate will yipe and move away, effectively communicating the bite got too hard and they don’t play with bullies. Thus puppies learn bite inhibition, or to control their jaw muscles and how hard they bite. If a puppy does not learn bite inhibition before they get their adult teeth and they bite, the bite will do damage. Thus there is more importance to teaching bite inhibition than just protecting our own skin. (Although that is important too! Just ask my arms right now!)

So how do you go about teaching a puppy not to rend your flesh? Here’s what not to do: Do not grab your puppy’s muzzle, holding it shut. Do not pinch your puppy’s lip or dig your fingernail into their gums. Our dogs need to be able to trust a human hand coming towards their face so always keep a hand reaching towards your dog a positive experience.

The most effective way to teach bite inhibition is to have a zero tolerance of hard biting policy. There needs to be a consequnce for hard biting. The consequence is all fun ends. Teach your puppy the same way their litter would teach them. If your puppy bites you remove yourself from the puppy. You can exclaim, “Ouch!” but combine that with a consequence. The consequence of biting is mom or dad goes away, game over. I use the cue “Too Bad!” then walk away from Calvin.

“I don’t know why she’s saying I’m a biting machine. I’m a nice boy, I am!”

“Too bad” is my timeout cue and I use it when ever a dog is going to be put in timeout. For biting it’s usually easier to just put your puppy down and walk away. If the puppy follows you close the door or leave them behind a baby gate. If the whole family is there everyone must ignore the puppy. If the puppy is gets attention from another family member after biting hard they will keep biting hard. The same is true if the puppy is allowed to bite dad hard, but not your 8 year old. Consistency is very important. The more consistent the whole family is the faster the puppy will learn not to bite hard.

You can prepare a timeout area for your puppy. This can be his crate, but can also just be an xpen, the bathroom with a baby gate across the door, or any barren, boring, puppy proof space. If using a timeout area, be quick about putting them in there. If you’re outside and have to take the puppy inside he won’t know what the consequence is for. The consequence has to come within a couple of seconds of the hard bite.

Now I’ll take off my dog trainer hat and put on my puppy momma hat and just say, this is hard to do consistently. It’s hard, but it works. My personal survival tip is to keep a toy in my pocket at all times. If the biting gets wild I redirect to the toy. Bullies, cow tails and ears, trachea tubes are all my best friend. Keep healthy chews on hand to give them when they’re having a hard time. Pay attention to the times your puppy is wildest. For Calvin that’s 9:45 PM. If he’s not in bed by then, all bets are off. All bite inhibition ends by then. He gets wild and crazy. My solution? Put him to bed at 9:30 PM.

It also helps me to remember age affects a lot. He’s 14.5 weeks old and entering fear imprint period, I know things in his brain are changing. I also know things will get better and then he’s going to start teething and it will get worse again. Not a hopeful thought, but a fact none the less. Remembering those things helps me be consistent.

As a puppy momma the thing I most want to say is please don’t get mad at your puppies. As a trainer I see so many frustrated puppy moms and dads. I get it. I’m living it and puppies are a full time job, but they don’t bite you to hurt you. They bite you cause they don’t know any better and it’s fun! For them anyways. So if  you’re frustrated by the time out put your puppy in timeout you’ve waited too long. Timeouts are for instruction, for training and should be done with matter of fact calmness. Remember they are only puppies for such a short time, enjoy it if you can!

I admit I bite. . . but I snuggle too!


Loose Leash Walking 101

One of my favorite followers is having some loose leash walking woes, since I’ve been there done that for months with Pricessface Maizey I decided to turn my reply to her into a post of my favorite LLW tips.

It’s important to use the correct tool for the job. Sure, you can use the wrong end of a screw driver to pound in a nail, but it’s going to be hard and take longer. Simple solution-use a hammer!

So what’s the correct tool for LLW? A regular collar and leash. I’m picky about leashes. I only use leather. Leather is soft on the hands, absorbs those shocks of a dog lunging to the end of the leash and last forever. I truly believe once you use a leather leash you’ll never go back.

For those dogs like Maizey that just took forever to learn that a tight leash gets you nowhere I recommend harness as a management tool. I love the Freedom, Sensation or Sensible for front hook no-pull harnesses. However a front hook harness can be tricky for a small dog. With Maizey I’ve used a Puppia. It’s two years old, has seen some serious use and barely wore out this week. Frown and sigh. Oh well, now I get to get a new cuter one!

I know there are people out there thinking, “regular back attachment harnesses encourage pulling” and it may be true, but stick with me for the explanation of why I chose that when we talk about methodology.

The most important part to LLW is consistency. A tight leash never gets the dog where he wants to go. If the leash gets tight, stop! Then don’t move until the dog has come back into the golden zone. (The golden zone is anywhere around you where the leash is not tight. Some like to define it as the hook of the leash being in a ‘J’ shape.) This is hard! Trust me, when you want to get from point A to point B and it takes forever because you have to stop 5000 times it can be frustrating.

The times I found it the most challenging were the times Maizey was the most excited and just didn’t have the brain cells to concentrate at all. That’s where management with a harness came in. Dogs are brilliant, and quickly learn contextual clues. Wearing the harness is like recess, it’s free time, the rules are relaxed and the dog learns if they want to pull, pull. It’s okay. Basically it buys some freedom for a handler that wants to be able to go from the house to the car in less than a half hour. The key is to keep the collar sacred. If the leash is on the collar, pulling gets him no where. If you or your dog are too tired, rushed, frustrated, or whatever to be consistent don’t use the collar. Start a walk with the harness and once those initial crazies are worked out switch to the collar. Recess ends, class starts.

Once you have your mind made up to never follow a tight leash again, how do you get the dog into the golden zone? Make the golden zone exciting. Make yourself exciting. You’re competing with the whole wide world of sniffs and smells, blowing leaves, other animals and who knows what else, so encourage your dog to be with you. If you want him to walk on the left side carry the leash in your right hand and pat your leg to encourage him to come back to where you are. Talk to him, tell him when he’s doing good. I like to carry a little squeaker in my pocket to get the dogs attention, when he comes back to find out why you’re squeaking, the leash naturally loosens and shazam! You can reward by moving forward.

Remember if the leash tightens, you stop. Dog choses to return to the golden zone, mark with a “yes!” Forward motion is the functional reward.

Another method is to back up from the direction of the pulling. It’s basically penalty yards for pulling. I used this method with Maizey, but with Magnus combined the two. So if I stopped and he didn’t come back into the golden zone I would back up until he caught on. I liked that better.

One more tip and it seems strange, but don’t teach LLW in a straight line. Swerve around, walk in circles and large S shapes. It keeps your pup more focused on figuring out where in the world you’re going and less focused on what’s down the street.

Now to further refine the LLW position get out your clicker and treats. (For those of you training for CGC, put the treats in your pocket not a treat bag, eventually you’ll be weaning off these treats completely.) Start LLW with the red light green light method, but when your dog comes into position C/T. Remember you’re holding the leash in your right hand, so put your clicker in that hand too. That leaves your left hand free to be the treat dispenser. Don’t treat by reaching across your body to the dogs mouth or you’ll encourage him to forge forward and get out of position.

By this time he should be getting the idea to look up and pay attention. Reward those check ins! Any glance at you is a great thing to C/T. Remember you want him to focus on you for LLW, so pay him generously for doing so. Gradually LLW will become second nature.

A note about distraction, especially if you have a champion puller who’s has had lots of practice, start from scratch in the least distracting environment possible. Start in the house, once he’s reliably staying in the golden zone, work towards the closed door, once he can walk nicely to the door, open it and start over. Remember, if he can’t LLW to the door he’s bound to fail once you’re in the real world, and we never want our pups to fail!

One final note, bad habits take time to form and time to break. If he’s had lots of time to practice pulling, it may take time to teach him to choose not to pull anymore. Eventually he will understand all good things happen in the golden zone. For Maizey that means she rarely pulls, even on her harness. Be patient! It’s worth it in the end.

For my friend with the LLW woes, hang in there. I thought Maizey would never get this and she’s mostly good now. For anyone out there who may have a trainer encouraging them to try more forceful methods, please consider this is a force free way of teaching your 4legged friend to choose the best behavior. When he does choose on his own, you’ll be thrilled with his choice!


You Get What You Click Part One: Choose the Correct Equipment

Life is frequently all about the timing.

Clicker training is also all about the timing. You get what you click. However, anyone who has started using a clicker knows it’s can be a challenge to get all the mechanics right.

It seems pretty simple, a little plastic machine that clicks when you push a button. It’s not rocket science right? True, but put a leash attached to a dog, treats and a clicker in your hands and then try to click the exact second a dog’s but hits the ground in a sit, deliver the treat and things can get messy!

The good news is it gets easier with practice and the right equipment helps a lot.

I see a lot of first time clicker trainers come to class carrying a plastic baggy of treats. One problem with that is you move around a lot in dog training and your treats need to move with you. What do you do when you click your dog, but your treats are way over there in a baggy? Remember clicker training is about timing, so you lose precious seconds getting to your treats.

So vital piece of equipment #1: Some sort of treat pouch. The object is to to get those treats onto your body with quick and quiet access to them. You’ve heard a good trainer has quiet face, quiet body and quiet hands? Add a quiet treat pouch to that too.

Pockets are a natural choice, although you know you’re a true dog person when you get out last years coat and instead of a dollar in the pocket you find a clicker and treat crumbs. Some people use waist packs, I even saw one woman wearing her kitchen apron!

I prefer an Olly Dog or Premier treat pouch. Both close by magnets, each has a spare pocket for clean up bags, your clicker, keys or whatever. They’re cute and durable.

Vital equipment #2: Some sort of wrist coil for your clicker. If you’re fishing around in your pocket for your clicker your timing is gone. But it’s a challenge to manage all the equipment in two hands. The solution? Put your clicker on your wrist. I actually prefer to use the kind of elastic band you use for pony tails. It’s thin and fits in my palm better. There are many kinds of wrist coils out there and anything that allows you to drop your clicker to free up your hand but still have quick access to it works great.

(A side note, I once saw someone who had their clicker around their neck on a lanyard. Seemed like a good idea, except when they bent over they clicker swung out and was close to the dogs ear every time they clicked. Please don’t deafen your dog by clicking close to its head.)

The next step to successfully getting what you click is your timing. Check back later this week to see some clever clicker games and some examples of why timing is so critical.

Until then why not leave us a tip on your favorite piece of training equipment?