Friday, September 25, 2009

How to Teach Your Puppy not to Bite - Part 1

By Joan Orr and Teresa Lewin

This is the first in a series of posts with tips on how to stop your puppy from biting. We get many emails with questions from puppy owners about biting. This series of posts is intended to answer these questions. If you have a question about puppy biting that is not answered in this series, please ask your question in the comments or post to our Facebook  page comments

Our extremely popular Be a Tree program teaches kids to stand still if a strange dog comes near or any dog is bothering them or acting too frisky. Every major dog bite prevention program and dog behaviour expert recommends some version of standing still and avoiding eye contact as the best way to prevent dog bites. This is because movement is a powerful trigger for dogs, whether they are in predatory mode, are threatening or guarding or are simply playing. Being a tree is boring and non-threatening to dogs and they will soon lose interest and go away. Read more about why and how to Be a Tree.

But what happens when the Be a Tree strategy does not work right away? In some cases a dog is so excited that it jumps up, pokes or nudges, nips or pulls on clothing even if the person stands still. No matter what the dog does it is always best to remain still. Any movement will make the dog even more excited and will make the situation worse. Even if the dog does bite, pulling away or moving could cause the dog bite again or to bite harder.

What if Being a Tree Doesn't Work?

Parents have sometimes reported to us that this is all very well, but their puppy sometimes gets hold of the child's clothes and keeps on tugging and sometimes nips by accident even if the child stands still. This is a particular problem with toddlers and preschoolers, who really can't be expected to stand still while the puppy is tugging madly at their clothes. Even if there is a rare toddler that can stand still, there is still resistance for the puppy to tug against and this can be enough fun to keep the puppy at it.

There is no question about it ... puppies love to chase toddlers. They are small, they squeal, they run, they behave erratically. They meet every requirement for the perfect squeaky toy as far as the puppy is concerned. It is so much fun for the puppy to chase the toddler and tug on his clothes, that even repeated punishment and scolding from the parents is not enough to stop it. In fact adding the parents to the chase can often cause the puppy to reach even greater heights of wild excitement.

Puppies naturally like to play rough games and they will play this way with your toddler and young children if they get the opportunity. It is essential that the puppy and the children learn how to behave appropriately around each other. Watch this video to see how wound up puppies can get. You certainly don't want your puppy to try to play this way with your children!

A Multi-Faceted Approach

The best way to solve the problem of puppy biting is to take a multi-faceted approach. Here we will talk about two things that you can do. We will discuss further measures in future blog posts in this series.
  1. Institute a management program to limit the interaction between the puppy and small children.
  2. Teach the puppy to chase and bite a toy instead of you and your children.
A Management Program

Dog behaviour and training experts agree that it is essential to institute a management program to keep both children and puppies safe. This includes using a crate for the puppy to sleep in, placing gates to restrict the puppy's access, teaching children to respect the puppy's sleeping and eating areas and his toys and supervising all interaction between child and puppy.

Parents have said to us, "We got the puppy for our child. What is the point of having a dog and keeping it locked in a crate all the time? We want the dog to be part of the family."

Of course you want the dog to be part of the family! But a family member who chases and bites the toddler is soon out of favour and no-one is happy. The best way to keep both toddler and puppy safe and happy is to keep them apart until they both learn how to behave around the other and to supervise closely when they are allowed limited contact with each other. It is best if the puppy never learns to chase and bite the toddler. If he never has the chance to do this, then he will never do it. If he has already had some fun with this, it is not too late to prevent it from happening again and to teach him more acceptable forms of entertainment.

Here is a link to a great book you should buy (pictured above) that will help you create a situation in which the puppy becomes a great family member.

Let's talk briefly about crate training. Crating a puppy is not cruel, in fact if the training is done properly the crate is a sanctuary for the puppy. It gives him a safe and comfortable place to go to sleep, chew on his toys in peace or to get away from noisy children. Watch this video that shows two different puppies who can't wait to get into their crates.

Here's another example of a dog that loves to go into her crate:

There are lots of resources on the internet that describe crate training so we won't go into that here. Be sure that all experiences with the crate are positive and your puppy will love the crate too. Here is a link to a free e-course that will help you with crate training among other things.

It is not unusual for a young puppy to sleep 20 hours a day and there is no reason why all this napping should not be done in the crate. When the puppy is out of the crate he should have your undivided attention for play and training. Once he is tired out, back he goes into the crate with a stuffed Kong, bone or other special chew toy for another nap (we will do a blog post on our recommended toys). We know that you are desperate for the puppy and toddler to nap at the same time. We have been there and we know how exhausting it is to look after a toddler, puppy, baby, other kids and dogs etc. If there are times when they are both awake at once, then it is essential to supervise at all times. You may need to put the puppy on a leash so that he does not get the chance to chase the toddler.

Give the puppy access to only his own toys. The child's toys should be in a playpen, or in an area to which the puppy has no access if the puppy is allowed to roam the house. Once the puppy is older and has some training you can teach him to leave things alone that are not his, but at first he will not know the difference between his toys and the child's toys. Remember the puppy is just a baby too and you can't expect him to know anything about how things work in a human household until you have taught him.

Teach the children that when the puppy is in his crate, no-one is to bother him. With your permission they can give him treats in the crate by dropping them through the bars. Teach the children to respect the puppy's toys and bones and never to bother him while he is eating or to take anything away from him. Teach the children to Be a Tree if the puppy gets excited and never to run away screaming. We will discuss this further in subsequent blog post in this series.

A good time for the toddler to interact with the puppy is when the puppy is tired out. The toddler can sit with you and the puppy and gently pet the puppy and talk to him while he falls asleep. When the puppy is asleep, pick him up and put him in the crate.

Once the puppy learns to chase a toy and bring it back, young children can participate in supervised games of fetch.

Download the Doggone Crazy parent guide that has a section about safe and dangerous games.

Teach the Puppy to Chase and Bite a Toy

A great way to teach your puppy not to bite you and your kids is to drag a toy on a string for him to chase. This is great fun for the puppy and conditions him to run with kids without biting them. When we have a puppy around we take the toy on a string everywhere. We always keep one in the car so we won't be without it. Always trade for a treat to get the toy back. If young kids are going to do this, then it is up to the parent to get the toy back. We have a video showing this with a 5 year old child and an 8 week old puppy on our Clicker Puppy DVD.

Here is a video showing the same thing with an older child. This is a sneak peak from our upcoming DVD: Positively Perfect Puppy. This dog is a Puli, which is a sheepdog bred to chase and nip. Even with this breed of dog which is hard wired for chasing and nipping, the toy on a rope is irresistible and more fun than biting at the child. Occasionally he does get interested in the child and tries to pull on her clothes. She stands still and gets him interested in the toy and the game is back on. She is teaching the puppy to give the toy back using food and a clicker. She puts the food near his nose and when he lets go of the toy she clicks and gives him the treat. Soon he will let go on his own as soon as she stops and she will be able to reward this by starting the game again.

If you have young children, play this game with the puppy yourself for a while until he is very engaged with the game before your kids try it. Be sure to supervise to make sure that you are there to take the toy back and get the game started again and to prevent the puppy from becoming interested in chasing the child rather than the toy.

Read the rest of the articles in this series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

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