Puppy Mouthing & Hand Biting
by Joan M. Locher distributed by Alpha Affiliates
The excitement of acquiring a new puppy is often tarnished when the little bundle of joy begins to grab at hands its needle-like teeth. Owners are commonly perplexed by this, because every remedy they try seems make matters worse. To find a solution, we must first ask ourselves why this puppy is doing this.
If that puppy were out in the wild, it would need certain instincts to insure its survival. One of these is the predatory instinct, which "tells" the puppy to grab everything that moves. Things that move are usually food ... so the animal will be more likely to live it naturally does this.
When puppy sees a moving hand, nature prevails and the little critter strikes. It goes for the moving hand, the not the motionless knee. It is the movement which triggers the problem.
Now the poor owner perceives a need to correct the problem and often does so with fast talking and quick hand movements. This excites the puppy, agitates the owner, and constitutes aggression training in the animal.
A better method is to freeze and offer the puppy a motionless hand. The moment the puppy's teeth touch this hand, make a loud, sharp startling yelp, as if mortally wounded. (Remember: It is crucial that the hand remain perfectly still as the sound correction is made!) a lower-pitched more authoritative sharp "AHH", and see which works best.
The puppy should look surprised and, if it touches the hand again, be much more gentle than before. With each subsequent touch, simultaneously give the sharp verbal correction; in order to develop an even softer mouth. It is important that puppies learn to inhibit the force of their bite before they learn to not touch hands at all unless invited.
The combination of children and puppies present special problems. Not only do children typically have very fast hands, but they also lack the timing and coordination necessary to give an effective correction. It is best to give the child a stuffed animal, chew toy, or cloth Boonda bone to hold. This will give the puppy a target to mouth, while the child enjoys being with their pets. Also instruct children to stand, fold their arms, and say "NO" and walk away for a time out, until the puppy settles down. This will teach the pet: If you don't play nicely, you don't get to play.
Puppies often get into wild moods. This is an excellent time to schedule an aerobic activity, such as fetch or jogging, in order to vent excess energy in a positive manner.
For a more dominant, aggressive puppy (three months of age or older), which seems unfazed by the above, more serious measures may be necessary. As this dog bites, give a startling, "NO" while elevating the animal by its collar with one hand, and giving a sharp, upward tap under the chin with the other hand.
The scruff shake is another way of correcting the more persistent aggressive pet. Look into the dog's eyes with a hard, direct stare, while holding its two cheeks in your hands. Elevate and shake the puppy (soft at first ... then a little harder each time the correction must be repeated.) Do not let go or break eye contact until the dog diverts his gaze.
Puppyhood is an important developmental period. During this state the fragile little critter is basically innocent. However, it has too much energy for its own good and does not know right from wrong. Handling problems, such as mouthing, humanely, yet effectively will set the tone for a very positive relationship with the pet.
*Joan M. Locher holds a MS. in Biology and is certified in vocational dog training and canine behavior counseling. Ms. Locher is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Obedience Instructors. Her business, Pets Control, specializes in canine training programs and problem behavior counseling.
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