Like other pet sitters "I love animals" & "Dogs and Cats naturally respond to me”. But unlike others I have years of experience as an Animal Ambulance Driver, Vet Tech, Therapy Dog Partner, Shelter Volunteer and as a Trainer that has titled Dogs in Competitive Obedience, Water Rescue, and Drafting.
I am Bonded and Insured. I am a member of Pet Sitters Associates LLC. I know the anxiety you have when you have to trust someone with you Baby or Senior Pet. I personally visit and bond with your Pets because I do not have employees or independent contractors that I give your pets or keys to. When I take a Dog for a Cratexcape walk they're getting more than a walk around the block. They will be getting lessons on how to become an AKC Canine Good Citizen.
Relief from Puppy Mouthing Rather than "No bite,"
I strongly, strongly, strongly urge you to teach your puppy bite inhibition instead. Bite inhibition is a "soft mouth." It teaches the pup how to use his mouth gently. Does this mean that the pup will forever be mouthing you? No, not at all. Actually, regardless of the method used, puppies generally grow out of mouthing behavior after a few months.
So why should you teach bite inhibition? Because dogs have one defense: their teeth. Every dog can bite. If frightened enough or in pain or threatened, your dog *will* bite. That doesn't in any way make him a "bad" dog. It makes him a dog. It's your responsibility, therefore, to teach your dog that human skin is incredibly fragile. If you teach your dog bite inhibition that training will carry over even if he is later in a position where he feels forced to bite. A story... Ian Dunbar tells a story of a bite incident he had to assess. A Golden Retriever therapy dog was leaving a nursing home and his tail was accidentally shut in a car door. The owner went to help, and the dog delivered four Level Four bites before she could react.
FYI, a standard scale has been developed to judge the severity of dog bites, based on damage inflicted. The scale is:
• Level One: Bark, lunge, no teeth on skin.
• Level Two: Teeth touched, no puncture.
• Level Three: 1-4 holes from a single bite. All holes less than half the length of a single canine tooth.
Level Four: Single bite, deep puncture (up to 1 1/2 times depth of tooth) wound goes black within 24 hours.
• Level Five: Multiple bite attack or multiple attack incidents.
• Level Six: Missing large portions of flesh.
Technically, the woman received a Level Five bite from a long-time therapy dog. Dr. Dunbar wasn't the least bit surprised by the bites. I mean, the dog got his tail shut in a car door! Of course he bit! What shocked Dr. Dunbar was that a dog with no bite inhibition was being used as a therapy dog. "But he's never bitten before." Of course not. And barring an accident like that, he probably never would have. But an accident is just that. An accident. Unpredicted. What if it had happened in the nursing home?
So how do you teach bite inhibition?
Again from Dr. Dunbar, there are four stages of bite inhibition. The first two stages involve decreasing the force in the bites. The second two stages involve decreasing the frequency of the bites. The training *must* be done in that order. If you decrease the frequency first, the dog won't learn to soften his bite. The stages:
1. No painful bites. 90% of puppies will stop if you give a high-pitched squeal or yelp. If they stop, praise and reinforce by continuing the game. The other 10% and puppies who are tired or overstimulated will escalate their behavior instead of stopping. This requires you to confine the puppy or end the game. Remove all attention. It does *not* require any added aversive -- yelling, popping the nose or under the chin, shoving your hand down his throat, or spraying with water.
If you end the game, you need to be able to get away from the puppy with as little fuss or attention as possible. Even negative attention is attention. It's often helpful to have the puppy tethered, so you can simply move back out of his reach. Or, have him in a confined area and simply stand up and move past a boundary. Because the getting up and moving is tough to do at the instant the undesired behavior occurs, consider using a hand signal that will always mean "You're a jerk. Fun's over." Use it consistently when poor behavior occurs and you're going to withdraw attention.
I am well aware that puppy teeth hurt, and that this step can be overwhelming. Do it when you can, and at other times redirect, redirect, redirect. Puppy mouthing is a 100% natural dog behavior. It's not dominant. It's not meanness. It's a puppy being a puppy. When it's too much either redirect or end the game. Aversives are confusing, unfair, and unnecessary.
2. Eliminate all pressure. You want to gradually shape the dog to "gum you to death." Service dog trainers do this routinely, because service dogs often have to use their mouths to manipulate human limbs. Basically, you do this gradually. Set a limit of how hard the dog can bite. If he bites harder, yelp. Gradually set your limit for softer and softer bites. Remember to do this gradually. A big jump in criteria is confusing and frustrating to the dog.
3. When I say stop, you stop. Teach cues for "Take It," "Leave It," and "Drop It." You need to be able to both start and stop the game on your terms.
4. You may never touch a human with your muzzle unless invited. Basically, this is just taking stage three to complete stimulus control.
None of these stages require anything more aversive than time outs or withdrawal of attention. When teaching these behaviors, put your hands in your dog's mouth all the time. Get him used to your being there. Make sure you can open his mouth and examine his teeth -- the vet is going to do that, and you should prepare your dog. Play mouth games. Teach your dog never to touch an object in your hand unless invited. Make sure he knows when he *is* invited, he is never to bite both the toy and your hand at the same time.
Melissa Alexander copyright 2001 Melissa C. Alexander
Puppies should be encouraged to play bite so you can teach them when to stop.
Puppies bite, and thank goodness they do. Puppy biting is a normal and natural puppy behavior. In fact, it is the pup that does not mouth and bite much as a youngster that augers ill for the future. Puppy play-biting is the means by which dogs learn to develop bite inhibition, which is absolutely essential later in life.
The combination of weak jaws with extremely sharp, needle-like teeth and the puppy penchant for biting results in numerous play-bites which, although painful, seldom cause serious harm. Thus, the developing pup receives ample necessary feedback regarding the force of its bites before it develops strong jaws – which could inflict considerable injury. The greater the pup's opportunity to play-bite with people, other dogs and other animals, the better the dog's bite inhibition as an adult. For puppies that do not grow up with the benefit of regular and frequent interaction with other dogs and other animals, the responsibility of teaching bite inhibition lies with the owner.
Certainly, puppy biting behavior most eventually be eliminated: we cannot have an adult dog playfully mauling family, friends and strangers in the manner of a young puppy. However, it is essential that puppy biting behaviour is gradually and progressively eliminated via a systematic four-step process. With some dogs, it is easy to teach the four phases in sequence. With others, the puppy biting may be so severe that the owners will need to embark on all four stages at once. However, it is essential that the pup first learn to inhibit the force of its bites before the biting behaviour is eliminated altogether.
Inhibiting the force of bites. No painful bites The first item on the agenda is to stop the puppy bruising people. It is not necessary to reprimand the pup and, certainly, physical punishments are contra-indicated, since they tend to make some pups more excited, and insidiously erode the puppy's temperament and trust in the owner. But it is essential to let the pup know when it hurts. A simple "ouch!" is usually sufficient. The volume of the "ouch" should vary according to the dog's mental make-up; a fairly soft "ouch" will suffice for sensitive critters, but a loud "OUCH!!!" may be necessary for a wild and woolly creature. During initial training, even shouting may make the pup more excited, as does physical confinement. An extremely effective technique with boisterous pups is to call the puppy a "jerk!" and leave the room and shut the door. Allow the pup time to reflect on the loss of its favourite human chew toy immediately following the hard nip, and then return to make up. It is important to indicate that you still love the pup – it is the painful bites which are objectionable. Instruct the pup to come and sit, and then resume playing. Ideally, the pup should have been taught not to hurt people well before it is three months old.
It is much better for the owner to leave the pup than to try to physically restrain and remove it to a confinement area at a time when it is already out of control. If one pup bites another too hard, the bitee yelps and playing is postponed while the injured party licks its wounds. The biter learns that hard bites curtail an otherwise enjoyable play session. Hence, the bite learns to bite more softly when the play session resumes.
No jaw pressure at all The second stage of training is to eliminate bite pressure entirely, even thought the bites no longer hurt. When the puppy is munching away, wait for a nibble that is harder than the rest and respond as if it really hurt: "Ouch, you worm! Gently! That hurt me you bully!" The dog begins to think "Good Lord! These humans are so mamby pamby I'll have to be really careful when mouthing their delicate skins." And that's precisely what we want the dog to think – so he'll be extremely careful when playing with people. Ideally, the puppy should no longer be exerting any pressure when mouthing by the time it is four to five months old.
Inhibiting the incidence of mouthing.
Always stop mouthing when requested. Once the puppy has been taught to gently mouth rather than bite, it is time to reduce the frequency of mouthing behaviour and teach the pup that mouthing is okay until requested to stop. Why? Because it is inconvenient to try to drink a cup of tea, or to answer the telephone, with 50 pounds of pup dangling from your wrist, that's why.
It is better to first teach the "OFF!" command using a food lure (as demonstrated in the Sirius video*). The deal is this: "If you don't touch this food treat for just two seconds after I softly say "Off", I will say "Take it" and you can have the treat." Once the pup has mastered this simple task, up the ante to three seconds of non-contact, and then five, eight, 12, 20 and so on. Count out the seconds and praise the dog with each second: "Good dog one, good dog two, good dog three…" and so forth. If the pup touches the treat before being told to take it, shout "Off!" and start the count from zero again. The pup quickly learns that it can not have the treat until it has not touched it for, say, eight seconds – the quickest way to get the treat is not to touch it for the first eight seconds. In addition, the regular handfeeding during this exercise helps preserve the pup's soft mouth. Once the pup understnads the "Off!" request, it may be used effectively when the puppy is mouthing. Say "Off!" and praise the pup and give it a treat when it lets go. Remember, the essence of this exercise is to practise stopping the dog from mouthing – each time the pup obediently ceases and desists, resume playing once more. Stop and start the session many times over. Also, since the puppy wants to mouth, the best reward for stopping mouthing is to allow it to mouth again. When you decide to stop the mouthing session altogether, heel the pup to the kitchen and give it an especially tasty treat.
If ever the pup refuses to release your hand when requested, shout "Off!", rapidly extricate your hand and storm out of the room mumbling, "Right. That's done it, you jerk! You've ruined it! Finish! Over! No more!" and shut the door in the dog's face. Give the pup a couple of minutes on its own and then go back to call the pup to come and sit and make up. But no more mouthing for at least a couple of hours. In addition to using "Off!" during bite inhibition training, the request has many other useful applications: not to touch the cat, the Sunday roast on the table, the table, the baby's soiled diapers, the baby, an aggressive dog, a fecal deposit of unknown denomination… Not only does this exercise teach the "Off!" request, but also to "Take it" on request.
Never start mouthing unless requested. By the time the pup is five months old, it must have a mouth as soft as a 14-year-old working Lab; it should never exert any pressure when mouthing, and the dog should immediately stop mouthing when requested to do so by any family member. Unsolicited mouthing is utterly inappropriate from an older adolescent or an adult dog. It would be absolutely unacceptable for a six-month-old dog to approach a child and commence mouthing her arm, no matter how gentle the mouthing or how friendly and playful the dog's intentions. This is the sort of situation which gives parents the heebie-jeebies and frightens the living daylights out of the mouthee. At five months of age, at the very latest, the dog should be taught never to touch any person's body – not even clothing – with its jaws unless specifically requested.
Whether or not the dog will ever be requested to mouth people depends on the individual owner. Owners that have the mental largess of a toothpick quickly let play-mouthing get out of control, which is why many dog training texts strongly recommend not indulging in games such as play-fighting. However, it is essential to continue bite inhibition exercises, otherwise the dog's bite will begin to drift and become harder as the dog grows older. For such people, I recommend that they regularly hand-feed the dog and clean its teeth – exercises that involve the human hand in the dog's mouth. On the other hand, for owners who have a full complement of common sense, there is no better way to maintain the dog's soft mouth than by play-fighting with the dog on a regular basis. However, to prevent the dog from getting out of control and to fully realize the many benefits of play-fighting, the owner must play by the rules and teach the dog to play by the rules. (Play-fighting rules are described in detail in our Preventing Aggression behaviour booklet.*)
Play-fighting teaches the dog to mouth hands only (hands are extremely sensitive to pressure) and never clothing. Since shoelaces, trousers and hair have no neurons and cannot feel, the owner cannot provide the necessary feedback that the dog is once more beginning to mouth too hard. The game also teaches the dog that it must adhere to rules regarding its jaws, regardless of how worked up it may be. Basically, play-fighting teaches the owner to practice controlling the dog when it is excited. It is important to refine such control in a structured setting, before a real-life situation occurs.
In addition, play-fighting quickly becomes play-training. Starting the games with a training period, i.e., with the dog under control in a down-stay, produces utterly solid stays at a time when the dog is excited in vibrant anticipation of the game. Similarly, frequent stopping the game for short periods and integrating multiple training interludes (especially heel work and recalls) into the game motivates the dog to provide eager and speedy responses. Each time the owner stops the game, he or she may use the resumption of play as a reward for bona fide obedience. Everything's fun!
Potential problems :
Inhibiting incidence before force A common mistake is to punish the pup in an attempt to get it to stop biting altogether. At the best, the puppy no longer mouths those family members who can effectively punish the dog but, instead, the pup directs its mouthing sprees toward those family members who cannot control it, e.g., a child. To worsen matters, parents are often completely unaware of the child's plight because the pup does not mouth adults. At worst, the puppy no longer mouths people at all. Hence, its education about the force of its bite stops right there. All is fine until someone accidentally shuts the car door on the dog's tail, whereupon the dog bites and punctures the skin, because the dog had insufficient bite inhibition.
Puppies that don't bite Shy dogs seldom socialize or play with other dogs or strangers. Hence, they do not play-bite and hence, they learn nothing about the power of their jaws. The classic case history is of a dog that never mouthed or bit as a pup and never bit anyone as an adult – that is, until an unfamiliar child tripped and fell on the dog. The first bite of the dog's career left deep puncture wounds, because the dog had developed no bite inhibition. With shy puppies, socialization is of paramount importance, and time is of the essence. The puppy must quickly be socialized sufficiently, so that it commences playing (and hence, biting) before it is four-and-a-half months old.
If a puppy does not frequently mouth and bite and/or does not occasionally bite hard, it is an emergency. The puppy must learn its limits. And it can only learn its limits by exceeding them during development and receiving the appropriate feedbacks.
Ian Fraser Dunbar lives in California and has a doctorate in animal behaviour. He is author of the book Dog Behaviour and 15 Behaviour Booklets;*The Preventing Aggression behaviour booklet and the Sirius Puppy Training videotape by Dr. Dunbar are available from James & Kenneth Publishers – Canada.