Want to train your puppy not to bite? Then look at it from their perspective. Before domestication dogs had to stalk, chase and kill dinner. And that’s exactly what they were built to do for survival. Dogs are also the only animals that are truly domestic by every sense of the word. With that in mind, it’s imperative that all dogs learn what their jaws are capable of and how to use them appropriately in our society. Here are 4 exercises you should practice with your puppy on a regular basis.
Exercise 1 – no bite
If you’ve ever watched litter mates play together you’ll have noticed one thing. During play, if one nips the other too hard, the one that got bit will yelp loudly. They will then refuse, or shy away from play, until the other puppy is being more gentle. You can apply the same principles between you and your puppy. When playing, if your puppy puts any pressure on you with their teeth, scream “OUCH” with a startled tone, (as if you’ve stubbed your toe), then immediately stop playing with pup until they look sorry or are being gentle again. Once they do, forgive them and continue playing where you left off. (If your puppy nips, click here for tips on how to stop the nipping).
Exercise 2 – gentle taking treats
When you go to give your pup a treat hold the treat in the very palm of your hand and close all your fingers tight. Bring your fist down to your pup’s nose and let them sniff at it. If they’re being gentle, slowly start opening your fist to allow them to get the treat. If they get even a little too rough, close your fist and start again. For more on teaching your dog to be gentle when taking a treat click here.
Exercise 3 – train polite and gentle feeding
Get some treats and drop one or two into their bowl as you walk by. Repeat a number of times. Next, bend down and place it in the bowl with your hand. Again, repeat a few times. Now bend down and put your hand into the bowl. Let your puppy eat the treat right out of your hand. Yes, again, repeat the process a number of times.
Now the next time your pup is having a meal put your hand in the food as they are eating. Make sure puppy is aware that your hand is there. If they bite your hand, even by accident, follow exercise #2 then take their food away for just a minute. Repeat until you feel comfortable that your pup trusts you to do this. Now try to take the meal away when pup is really enjoying it, and then give it right back. Now try all the same steps with other things like their favorite toys.
Exercise 4 – jaw work
Make it a practice to do a lot of handling of your puppies jaw and mouth. Gently open their mouth, put your hand inside, touch their gums, tongue, teeth. Move their head back and forth, up and down. To help build trust quietly and gently talk to your pup as you are doing this. Use a calm and friendly voice. They need to get used to being handled around their muzzle to buffer them from future visits to your vet, your groomer, in public or even in an emergency situation (like if a ball or toy were ever to get stuck in their mouth or throat).
It’s important to stay on top of these exercises even as your puppy grows into an adult dog. If you every see your dog bite too hard or start to guard their food or toys, go back to the beginning and work through it again. You can never allow your puppy to get away with aggressive mouth or teeth behaviors. If you do you may have a serious problem on your hands!
For more information on raising your puppy and learning the different stages of development click here.
Written by Brenda McBurnie, professional certified dog trainer, behavior and natural nutrition.
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