February 21, 2020

When puppies play with each other, they use their mouths.  Any feedback they get teaches them to inhibit their bite pressure.  (Acquired Bite Inhibition). This puppy play behaviour translates to your hands and often puppies like to mouth hands during play or when being petted.  Giving your pup an alternative behaviour is more successful than trying to suppress it as puppies are highly motivated to exhibit this biting behaviour.  So, whenever your pup tries to gnaw on your arm or hand redirect the biting to something like an acceptable chew toy.


Sometimes puppies are uncomfortable with being petted and will object by biting your hand.  Redirect your puppy’s chewing onto acceptable objects by offering her a chew toy whenever you pet her.  This will also desensitize her to being handled and petted.  This will not only help your puppy learn that people and petting are wonderful but will also keep her mouth busy while she’s being petted.  Try and keep the petting and handling sessions brief as sustained petting and handling might get her too excited and this is when she will try and nip and bite.

If after all this she still prefers chewing at your hands, then you can teach her that this behaviour results in all interaction with her stopping.  Interrupt the biting by yelling a word like “Ouch” and then stop interacting with her and even leave the room.  You’ll be teaching her that the consequence of nipping and biting is that you leave her.  Wait a few seconds and resume playing with her or petting her.

These methods will only work if you are consistent and that every time she bites with unacceptable pressure there is ALWAYS a consequence.


I’ve heard some people say that tapping the pup on the nose or holding her mouth closed will stop the biting, but this type of reaction from you will result in some fallout, which is always the case with punishment.  Punishment might result in the following consequences which will not make your bonding and relationship with your pup any easier:

  • The pup might stop wanting to interact with you altogether
  • The pup might start shying away from hands
  • She might even become more aroused and start biting harder

More effective than punishment is always interruption and redirection.


My Unruly Dog!

July 21, 2014

I often get phone calls from dog owners who are at their wit’s end because of their dog’s unruly behaviour. This unruly behaviour is very often normal behaviour in doggy terms, but unacceptable in human society. Dogs jump up to greet; dogs are opportunists and will steal food whenever they can; will dig in the flower beds on a hot day; will escape if gates and doors are left open.

So when I ask these distraught owners how they’d like their dogs to behave these are the answers I often get.

“I want my dog to stop jumping on me when I arrive home”.

“I want my dog to stop digging in my flower beds”.

“I want my dog to stop running out of the gate when it’s open”.

With these replies, I now know what the owner doesn’t want the dog to do. However, what the owner has not told me is what she’d like the dog to do instead. This is the information that enables us to deal with the unruly behaviour – not by punishment or giving up and putting the dog up for adoption, but by working out some sort of training programme to address the issues. Once we know what we want the dog to do instead of the unruly and undisciplined behaviour we can start to counter condition an alternative behaviour that is incompatible with the behaviour that we don’t like.

These are some examples of a discussion I had with one of my clients recently.

Example 1:

What the dog does: She is disobedient and does not listen to instruction

What you’d like the dog to do: Respond to my cues to “Sit” “Down” and “Stay”, etc. etc. by doing what I ask.

Possible Solution: Decide what exactly you’d like her to do and then teach her the required behaviours with positive reinforcement.

Cartoon dog sitting

Example 2:

What the dog does: She jumps at meal times and sometimes knocks the bowl out of my hand.

What you’d like the dog to do: Sit and wait until I put the bowl down and tell her she can eat.

Possible Solution: Teach her to practice self control around her food bowl by not letting her have it until she sits and waits. She needs to learn that you will only put the bowl down for her to eat when she is calm. Start by teaching her this game.

Indi Self Control compr

Example 3:

What the dog does:   She runs out of the gate when we arrive home and sometimes takes off to attack the next door pup! She follows the male Jack Russell Terrier, Alfie, so that if Alfie runs out of the driveway gate when we arrive home to bark at the neighbour’s dog, she follows.

What you’d like the dog to do: Stay inside the gate when it opens and not run after Alfie.

Possible Solution: Teach her to go to a specific place inside your property and near the gate and stay there while the gate opens and closes. Teach Alfie to do the same. Contrary to popular opinion, Jack Russells can be trained! You might also like to take the time to teach her that it’s more fun being with you than being with Alfie!

Dash waiting at gate

With some thought, planning and patience any bad behaviour can be turned around. Everyone can have a dog that is well-behaved if you think and act positively.

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