February 11, 2020

The dog whisperer part one: Puppy mouthing

Introducing balanced LiFE dog whisperer. 

Learn all about dog education and dog behaviour.

Subject Matter Expert
Brydie Charlesworth; Director Dog Education Centre
Brydie is the head trainer, owner and behaviour consultant at the Dog Education Centre.  Located in Albury Wodonga the centre caters and cares for around 350 dogs per week ranging from puppies to adult dogs.

“I originally got started training when I got my first dog as an adult. He was a rescue pup with some issues and not knowing what I was doing, I unintentionally made them worse. After seeking much advice, talking to trainers and behaviourists and spending lots of time studying, I finally fixed him. This process really inspired me to learn and to help others that were in the same position as me. As well as training dogs, I’m also heavily involved with rescue work, educating kids about bite prevention and providing dog training from different dog specialists from all over Australia”

In this series we are working with Brydie and her team of dog behaviour specialists to help educate dog owners on dog behaviour, what’s normal, what’s not and how to best train, intervene and most importantly understand their dogs behaviour.

Lets get started with the common puppy behaviour of “Mouthing”.

Its not bad mouthing or potty mouthing, mouthing is a natural behaviour for puppies.  When they’re exploring, playing and investigating all manner of new and interesting things, and for most puppies everything around them is new and interesting; they will use their mouths much like human babies who put everything they find into their adorable chubby gobs.

All puppies use mouthing in their early days and when playing with you and other humans they’ll often chew and bite.  This does not mean your puppy is aggressive however it is a behaviour we need to curb and discourage as they move out of the puppy stage. Ultimately we want to train our puppy to stop mouthing and biting people.  Setting this as a training goal is an excellent opportunity to teach a puppy that people have sensitive skin and being gentle is the way forward.

Bite Inhibition: is an important skill for all dogs to learn.  This training teaches a puppy not to use their teeth on human skin.  Dogs that haven’t learnt bite inhibition can’t recognise their force and can bite too hard when trying to engage play. This presents a problem especially as the puppy grows bigger and gains more strength.
When your puppy mouths or bites, let out a sharp NO which lets your puppy know this is an unwanted behaviour; and redirect them onto something that they can bite, such as a chew toy. You can teach your puppy that they can use their teeth but it’s only on toys on cue and never on people.
Don’t expect instant results from your puppy, just like children, puppies learn from repetition and consistency.
Another thing to watch is to ensure your puppy isn’t overtired. Puppies sleep a lot and if your puppy is overtired and emotional, they are more likely to mouth.

Another option is the time out technique.
When your puppy delivers a hard bite, say a sharp NO and remove your hand.  Leave the area.  After a short time out encourage your puppy to play with you again using the toy you wish them to play with.  The puppy will learn that gentle play continues but painful or rough play stops all interaction. As this or the previous process continues you can slowly eliminate the strength of each bite.  For example your puppy will learn a strength of bite results in a time out or a sharp NO; the next bite will be delivered without the same force, continue the intervention reducing the bites pressure each time.
Keep in mind that each time you need to tone down the play behaviour.  The more excited and hyperactive you are while playing with your puppy the more likely the puppy is to use its teeth. Don’t Alpha roll your puppy as all this potentially does is damage your bond with your puppy and can undo the good work you’ve been implementing.
Family members should be doing the same ensuring the behaviour is consistent and understood to be the norm.
Be consistent, be fair, be prepared for a little emotional turmoil in yourself.  It is hard to walk away or scold a puppy.  It is short lived and necessary.

Once you’ve crossed this bridge there are a few tricks to help keep the behaviour positive.

When your puppy tries to gnaw on your fingers or toes, substitute a toy or chew bone.
Encourage noncontact forms of playing.  Throwing a ball or a quick game of tug a war instead of wrestling or rough play with your hands.  When your puppy can play tug safely keep a tug toy close by and when mouthing begins redirect your puppy to the tug toy.  Hopefully your puppy will start to anticipate and look for the toy when he feels like playing.
Find opportunities for your puppy to learn what acceptable behaviour and play is. Consider a puppy class, where you can learn how to set you and your puppy up for success, prevent unwanted behaviours from developing and teach them basic obedience to help you both get through life happily together.
I hope this has been helpful for you.  Next week I delve a little deeper and explore techniques using a leash, general precautions, identifying when mouthing becomes aggression and how to recognise and deal with the odd puppy tantrum.

Have a great week, enjoy your dog and thank you for loving your dog as much I do.

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The dog whisperer part one: Puppy mouthing - Balanced Life