Every week I get e-mails (like the one below) from people asking what to do with their mouthy puppy that wants to chew on everything in sight, including the kids. Many of these people just want a sociable family pet while others have aspirations of using the dog in the sport of Schutzhund or one of the other dog sports. These people all want to know how to handle this problem. They are concerned that correcting the pup is going to have a negative effect on the dogs working ability or temperament.
I am enjoying your web sight very much. I just finished the article on puppy bite training. My question to you is, how do I do this and at the same time discourage him from mouthing on my two year old daughter. My pup Luther is loaded with prey instinct. I am hoping that he can be trained for Schutzhund. From what I have read it would make for a more predictable family guard Ian. I look forward to your response and have book marked your sight.
The answer to this question is simple. The pup needs to learn the meaning of the word "NO" or "PHOOIE."
There are many misconceptions with new handlers concerning obedience training (which is really what I am talking about here) and protection training. People feel that if they have a very mouthy pup and they correct it for inappropriate biting and chewing, they will loose the pups drive to work. This is not the case if it is done properly.
I compare this to a child. In fact I compare a lot of dog training to raising a child. An 8 week old pup that runs around and chews on everyone or everything in sight doesn't have any idea of what it is doing or why. Its like a 2 year old child. It is a product of its genes. It treats everything as a play or prey item (if you do not know what I mean here, refer to my article on the subject). We need to teach very young pups what is an acceptable prey item and what is not acceptable. You can learn about how to train with acceptable prey items in my article titled Bite Training for 8 Week Old Puppies. This article will focus on teaching what is not acceptable prey items.
If you have children the beginning of this process is important. It's totally inappropriate for a pup to jump up on or chew on a small child. At a very early age when a pup goes near a child it should automatically receive a firm "NO" command followed by a firm shaking by the nape of the neck. I am a believer in the saying "One good Correction is Worth 1,000 Nagging Corrections." So in this matter, the level of correction is determined by the pup. The shaking should be strong enough to make the pup scream. You need to get his attention and he needs to understand that you are not playing with him. This requires a shaking that is strong enough to put him into avoidance. His scream should have some fear in it.
When the pup backs off after a correction it is immediately praised and loved up. This is your way of telling the dog that you still love him and that you are no longer mad or upset with him. Dogs need to receive praise after corrections. This is our way as handlers of showing our dog that we do not hold a grudge.
The fact is that a correction is something the dog gets for doing something wrong and if the correction is effective the undesirable action stops. The handler should immediately praise the dog because at that point the dog is no longer doing anything wrong. That's how the dog gets a clear picture of right and wrong.
It may take 4 or 5 encounters of shaking the pup for it to learn that when you say "NO" he had better stop what he is doing. The biggest mistake that new handlers make once a pup starts to respect the word "NO" is they do not praise when they see the pup back off from the behavior he is being warned about. This praise (after "NO") is a critical part of developing a good bond and working relationship with your dog. Telling the dog "GOOD BOY" when you see it stop doing something that you warn him about is your way of communicating to him that you acknowledge and appreciate his response.
Something else that needs to be said about this command is that it should not be abused. People who have never raised a dog tend to overuse the "NO" command. They start to nag their dog with it. The purpose for this command is to control extreme behavior not make it act like a fully trained adult dog. We need to remember that "puppies will be puppies." If your pup is really getting on your nerves, it is ALWAYS better to put it in the dog crate and let it take a break. This is another effective way of teaching a pup that it can not always be wild.
Some trainers ( I label them DO GOODERS) would rather try and solve this chewing problem with the crate. They feel that correcting a puppy is wrong, so they tell their clients to put the dog in the crate every time he does something wrong. They feel this will teach the dog something. That's hog wash! How do you tell a puppy "You had better stop chewing or I will put you in your crate." The fact is you can not do this. This comes under the NAGGING YOUR DOG syndrome. I feel it much wiser to be able to tell my pup "NO!" or "PHOOIE!," have him stop doing what he is doing and then let him go on playing with something else.
Just because you warn a pup to not chew on your child, your arms, or your furniture does not mean that his prey drive is going to dry up and go away. You continue to have your 5 minute play sessions with your ball on a string and your rolled up hand towels. In fact, for a few weeks when the pup is very young these should be laying all over the house. After the correction and praise there is nothing wrong with trying to play with a ball and string. This is another way of teaching the pup what is an appropriate prey item and what is not appropriate. You will know that you are going in the right direction when the pup is about 4 months old and he starts carrying his tennis ball around or his rolled up tug towel. This is his way of showing that he knows what his prey item is. When you see this, take a minute to toss the ball 2 or 3 times for him.
New handlers seem to think that training needs to be regimented. In other words, at 5:30 we are going to go out and train for 20 minutes. I feel it's much wiser to work the training into the dogs normal life. A few minutes here and a few minutes there when the moment presents itself is much more effective way in working with puppies.