Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Biting Thing

The biting thing was a big issue we had with Theo. Notice I say had, thank goodness! Thus far, his biting was the most frustrating habit to break him of, but thankfully, I think we've done it. When I play with him, he'll open his mouth, and touch my hand, without actually getting my hand in his mouth or biting down. When we're playing and my face is near him, he'll rest is open mouth beside my face, rather than biting my nose. It's like mock puppy play, and it's so cute! As long as he's allowed to pretend bite, he's fine with not actually doing it. How did we train him? It was tough, I'll tell you that much.

First off, you have to understand that the puppy is just playing with you. If you get bit, it hurts, sure, but it's just your puppy's way of saying s/he's having fun. Puppy teeth are sharp, but they don't last forever. Of course, the way to train your puppy out of biting is to teach them that it's not acceptable behavior, even if they think it's fun. I ended up using a couple different methods depending on the situation.

I started off with what I heard worked: saying "ouch!" really loudly and ignoring Theo for a few seconds. He only ever got more excited by my reactions to him, which is the opposite of the desired affect. I even tried what my trainer suggested which was, during training sessions, putting my finger in his mouth and saying "ouch!" when he bit down at all. Naturally, this didn't work either. It just confused him, since I was the one putting my finger in his mouth. Of course he's going to bite down! My trainer also suggested just shoving a toy in his mouth when he got nippy. That didn't do much either.

Here's the combination of things that did work for me: The first thing we did was teach him "no bite". Now that we've taught it to him, if he starts to get nippy, I say "uh-uh, Theo, no bite", and he stops! Believe me, it was a slow process. Hehe. Next, I started to gently hold his muzzle closed while scolding him for biting. It stopped the behavior right away and immediately got his attention. And the third technique I used was what I call "the reverse timeout". If he was being especially nippy (in the beginning, all nipping was especially nippy), I would leave the room, but stand somewhere he could see me and not get to me, and not give him any attention (including eye contact!). The gate between the family room and living room worked perfectly for this in my house. I would sit on the couch in the living room and watch tv for 2 minutes, where Theo could see me the whole time. This drove him crazy! He would cry the entire two minutes. When I came back in, I would gently let him play with me again. If he got nippy, I would leave again. It was a tiresome process, but it worked! Make sure you don't stay away too long or too short a time. Too long and the dog will loose interest, too short and it's not punishment enough. Next, don't forget to praise the good behavior! I also taught Theo "gentle", though I don't use it much now since he's always gentle. When he would play nicely, I would praise him heavily and say "good gentle, Theo! good no bite!"

When we got further along with the training, I didn't need to do the reverse timeout. I could just give him a verbal scolding, and he would stop (and then praise!). As of today, he rarely bites us, and when he does, he knows he wasn't supposed to, and looks all apologetic. It's so cute. It was such an imperative thing to teach him because now I can actually play with him (see previous post) without getting my nose bit or my hands all cut up. I can't say this is a tried and true method for everyone, but it sure worked for me!

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