Charlotte Peltz Living with Your Dog "Ouch!" brought to you by Joy Beckner Artist/ Bronze Sculptor

Living with Your Dog


By Charlotte Peltz

Puppies have needle sharp teeth, but very weak jaws, so the biting they do causes little real harm. But just you wait! That is not playing they are up to. They are practicing so that they can be really good at biting when they have their new teeth and much stronger jaws.

The first step in getting puppies to have bite inhibition or, if you prefer, a soft bite, is that old favorite topic of mine -- socialization. There is simply no substitute for the lessons learned from mom (presuming the pups have been allowed to stay with mom long enough) and litter mates. "Long enough" means up to about eight weeks of age. Oh, yes, mom will have long since stopped nursing them, but that is only part of her job.

Another step on the road to success with pups and their biting is to be certain that they get to socialize with other dogs and people such as one finds in a "puppy course." Careful supervision is required to be certain that no pup is unfairly dominated because the wrong lessons will surely be learned if that were to happen. Incidentally, that very possibility is one reason why pups in a litter shouldn't be together too long!!

Mouthiness includes not just "play-biting," but such things as tugging on pants legs, nipping at heels, chewing on, or trying to grab, shoelaces, and chewing on inappropriate items such as lamp cords, chair legs, and even their own bedding! Other behaviors that are closely associated include getting into the garbage, stealing food, and too much vocalizing.

What is least likely to stop any of these behaviors is to holler at the dog, scold, or, in any way, give attention to the pup while it is engaged in these unwanted behaviors. Remember -- what you give attention to is going to be repeated! One way to stop such behavior is to calmly distract the dog with some toy it likes. When the pup responds to the toy, praise and pay attention to the puppy. Another thing you can do is teach the puppy the command "Off" or "Leave it!" Have a small handful of puppy food and offer the pup a piece or two as you say, "Take it!" Then, close your hand and say "Off" or Leave it!" in a sweet voice, and if the puppy has not touched your hand for three to five seconds, say "take it" again and reward the puppy. Practice this for five minutes or so before each meal and you'll have a pup that understands that "Leave it!" means not to touch.

The next level for this exercise is to open the hand, cue, "Leave it!" and close the hand if the puppy moves toward the treat. When the pup gives up by looking away, give her a treat from the other hand. When that is working, place a treat on the floor close enough to your foot that you may cover it if the pup attempts to take it. Reward the pup's ignoring of the floor treat with a treat from your hand.

Bad smelling, non-toxic substances can be spread on areas to discourage the pup from touching them. Vinegar and mouth wash are two possibilities. Yes, I know, you use mouthwash because it smells good to you, but it will probably not smell good to your dog! You can try it by saturating bits of cotton with different smells and seeing what the pup's reaction is when he gets a whiff of them.

Bite inhibition is mandatory for dogs living in conjunction with people. If your dog does not present this behavior, get busy teaching it. If you encounter growling, lip raising, any excessive possessiveness regarding toys or food, you need professional advice. When a young pup shows such behavior there could be a rough road ahead, and the more physically forceful you are with such behavior, the more likely it will just go "into hiding" and surface later in an even-worse form.

"One can measure the size and moral progress of a nation to how she treats her animals." Mahatma Gandhi.

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