Bite Training Puppies 8 Weeks and Older
Imprinting bite training on puppies is not a new concept. The Germans have experimented with it for years, the French, Belgians and Dutch have been doing it forever.
Those involved in Schutzhund or the Belgium Ring Sports focus training on Grip work while the French and Dutch (who do not emphasize GRIP) just focus on nerve and drive.
This article is about the type of training that people can use if they want to raise a personal protection dog or a police service dog. Grip is not important in these disciplines. When an attacker or criminal gets bit by a police dog or a personal protection dog the pain is the same (and often worse) if a dog just bites and re bites vs taking one full mouth grip (bite) which produces 4 nice round holes.
The work starts by picking the right puppy. I have written extensively about selection testing on my web site. A pup must have the genetics, nerves and drive for this work.
The genetic factor is very important and must be present if the dog is expected to do this work. In one of my question and answer sections on my web site I was asked if a standard poodle could be used as a police service dog. I made a few sarcastic comments about how this would never work - I think I said something about ribbons in his ears get in the way. When I published the answer I heard from the only two poodle owners in the world whose dogs ALLEDGEDLY do bite work. But the fact remains, if a dog does not have the right genetic make-up you will be wasting your time to do this training.
One can not take an 8 week old pup out and start him on a body bite suit - the training must be done in stages just like every other type of dog training. You train the steps and then put the pieces together for the final product.
There are always many many ways to train any exercise in dog work. I am sure there are other methods to train this but its the way I have done it. I start building the prey drive in 8 week old pups with the use of the agitation whip -I let him chase the end of the whip around just as you would tease a cat with a string.
I do this while I walk the pup, we make a game out of it. If he has a good prey drive he catches on very quickly - but this is also excellent for building prey drive.
Once he is doing this well, I begin to crack the whip while he is chasing it - this not only socializes him to a loud report (like gun fire), but also builds drive for later bite work in which the whip is used.
At this time, I also introduce him to a french slagger stick. This is a 1 inch bamboo stick that is split down the middle 4 or 5 times and taped on the end. When shaken it clatters and makes quite a noise (this is much more effective than a normal schutzhund slagger stick because of its size and noise).
With the pup playing tug on the end of the whip, I caress the pups back with the slagger stick - over his back, under his belly, around his legs and over his muzzle. Basically teaching him to feel the stick all over his body. He learns that it doesn't hurt.
If the pup has a problem with the stick, you can rub it over his body while he is eating or while you are brushing him. He must learn that he has nothing to fear from the stick.
Its during this whip work that I begin to introduce him to the "OUT" (for schutzhund trainers this is WAY TOO SOON). When its time for him to release his bite - I get down on the ground and gently pry open his mouth while giving the "OUT" command - this is followed by a lot of praise ("GOOD OUT") and a piece of food after the release.
Once a pup releases the whip I will instantly put the dog back into drive. I want the dog to learn that the OUT is not the end of the game but rather the beginning of another game. When dogs understands this they seldom have problems with an OUT.
This gentle "Out Work" is continued through the puppy training - its my feeling that if you can teach a pup to bite - you should be able to teach him to stop biting. But remember to do it with patience and feeling. Don't expect too much from him - at this point we are just trying to condition him to the word.
When we see the stick no longer effects him, we begin to condition him to the noise it makes. This is started by taking it with you on walks and shaking it while he is pulling on the whip.
When he is tugging on the whip he must learn to ignore both the sound of the stick and having it hit the ground around him. But remember - you never hit the dog. If a mistake happens you could finish his bite career in one fell swoop.
Once I have the puppy full of confidence, I introduce him to a tug or hard canvas hunting dummy on the end of a rope. You can intersperse this with a clean gunny sack if you wish, I like to work more with the jute tug at first (its close to the material of a bite suite).
If you have been involved in protection training you know it is often difficult for young dogs to move from soft sleeves to a hard sleeve. So the more steps we can put in between the whip and the bite suite the easier it is for the dog.
Bite tug work is just an extension of your whip work. It teaches him to bite and hold on a hard object' You must have patience with this work. Allow the dog to grab the tug. In the beginning this take can take some time.
Remember puppies have small mouths and weak jaws - so use common sense. Let him win the dummy at the end of the little game. If he drops it, be quick to jerk the string and snatch it away. We want to put the dog back into drive and frustrate it when it drops the prey item. We also want to teach it that if he does not grip the tug we will try and jerk it out of his mouth. I must say that there is a fine line between building drive and teaching the dog to bite with a firm grip.
The dummy also teaches the pup to target his bite. We all know how important that is in latter protection work. Teaching a dog the technique of biting is very important - just as important as teaching it that it can bite.
When I see that the drive and confidence are strong on the small bite tug, I progress to a bigger longer (2 foot) puppy tug. I take my tugs to a shoe repair shop and have the handles on the end made big enough for a foot to go through. If you do this too soon or select a tug that is too large in diameter the pup can not get his mouth around it so be aware of this.
You go through steps on the tug just as you did with the whip and the dummy. In the beginning hold the tug in front of you with both hands. Teach the dog to bite the tug as you hold it horizontally. When it learn this then progress by slipping the loop on one end over your foot (after the dog has bitten). So now you have the tug straight up and down like a leg while the dog is biting the tug. Because the dog has his head turned to the side to make the grip you need to be a little careful not to jerk it around too much. We do not want it hurt its neck.
Stick work here is also done in stages. First with the pup learning to bite while you shake the stick at your side: next he learns to bite while you shake it behind the tug just as he comes in for the grip. Put the stick between your leg and the tug - you have one end of the tug around your foot, the other in your hand and you are holding it away from your leg so there is room to clatter the stick. The last step is to clatter (make noise) with the stick in front of the tug and leg as the pup comes in for the grip. The pup learns to come through the stick to take the bite. This is a big step in this program. (Again being careful to never hit him).
When we are satisfied with all these stages of training, we are ready to take him into the Body Bite suit.
Body biting is started in the legs. The French say its easier to get a dog to bite an arm than a leg. That seems to be the case in the dogs I have worked.
If you have done your work with the tug properly , leg bites should be a natural progression. In the beginning you will have to put movement (back and forth) in the leg to get him to bite. Sometimes this is a difficult step for the pups to grasp - usually this happens when you go to fast in your earlier training.
If you need more help here, you can take the pants before you put them on. Flop them around on the ground and make drive with them. Use them like a big huge tug (without having them on your body) This sometimes helps get the idea across to the dog that it is OK to bite the legs.
I hope you have noticed that as I explain the helper work I am referring to "YOU" as the helper. All the work so far has been done in the prey drive and can be done by the handler. We are simply teaching the dog to use his mouth. At no time have we put him into his defensive drive and made him think he was really fighting. He has been playing a game and that's what we want to teach him. The young dog must look at this work as a game.
I compare this to training your son to fight. You don't send him up against the biggest bully in town without training. You send him to Karate or boxing classes where he practices with his friends. The same with your pup, he can learn the mechanics of fighting from you.
When your dog is about 12 to 14 months old and he is solid on leg bites, he should be ready to move to another helper. The helper should work the dog through all the steps of bite work, from the beginning with the bite tug through the suit.
When the dog is old enough and he is fighting with confidence in different locations then the helper can introduce defense work. This information is an article in itself.
On the subject about bite work and teething, most trainers will tell you to stop all bite work during teething. I don't think this is totally necessary - you lose valuable weeks of work.
If you are very careful in your work, you should be able to continue some form of training through this difficult part of a puppies life. I recommend using a soft bath towel and not playing the tug of war with him. When he grabs it - let him have it. This can be dangerous for new trainers. If you rip the toy out of the pups mouth during teething you will destroy your work. IT ONLY TAKES ONE MISTAKE to set you back to the beginning or finish the work for the life of the dog.
One final note concerning the fact that this work results in a very self confident , mouthy puppy. People who are not in our sport have a hard time appreciating a pup that latches onto their pant legs (or wrist) like an alligator. I do not let strangers play or even pet my dog.
This doesn't mean I don't socialize the dog - I do. He goes everywhere the normal puppy would go. I just don't let people say "Oh what a cute little puppy" and bend over to pet him. The normal reaction for the pup is to think that he is going to play bite work . If a stranger hits him for this behavior - you can lose everything you have tried so hard to build.
There are critics who will say that this training is insane, and that we will pay for for our mistakes with accidental bites. Most of these people say the same about schutzhund work . My best advice is to "Forget Them" - most are closed minded individuals who are expert dog trainers only in their own mind. Most have never even trained a schutzhund dog much less made an effort to understand the concepts of our training.
I want to make it clear that if you are involved in schutzhund training it is far better to work your dog on the kind of grip work that Bernhard Flinks teaches. The training in this article is not for schutzhund sport people it's for those who do not care to do the sport, or its for those who are involved in a sport where the quality of the dog's grip is not important.
If you want to see this training on a video you can purchase my training tape titled Bite Training Puppies.
|Have a question you can't find the answer to?|
Check out our Leerburg Questions and Answers
with nearly 3000 previously answered questions.