Puppies need to bite, chew and play. It is very important to their mental health and well being. Trying to completely eliminate the behavior frustrates this natural desire. In turn, this increases problems with chewing and nipping. There are a number of ways to teach a puppy that biting, chewing and tugging on certain items are wrong. One way is by teaching a tug-of-war game.
Ideally, the best time to teach this game is as soon as you bring the puppy home. While children can (and should) learn all of the games and handling exercises you play with the new puppy, an adult should always teach the game first and children must be supervised.
Teaching a Tug-Enough game does many things for a puppy:
- Teaches an “enough” command.
- Teaches that the owner is the leader and controls the game.
- Teaches that the owner is a good and fair leader.
- Teaches the puppy to control play and bring toys to you, thus avoiding keep away games.
The best toy to use for this game is a soft toy such as a fleece chewman, or other easy-to-grip item. Sit on the floor and engage the puppy in play. Entice the puppy to grab the toy. Tell the puppy to “Get it”. Do not let go of the toy. Pull gently against the puppy.
Once the puppy is pulling on the toy firmly, say “Enough” in a firm, clipped tone. Some puppies may startle right away and let go. If this is the case then smile and praise. Hold the toy away from the puppy a moment or two and keep the puppy from grabbing at the by gently blocking him with your hand at his chest. Then present the toy again. Repeat the entire procedure a few times in a row.
If the puppy does not let go when you command “Enough” try the following:
Immediately take the thumb and forefinger of your free hand and squeeze gently and steadily at the bottom corners of the jaw. Press the gums against the teeth. The puppy will open his mouth and the toy can be removed. Praise and keep the toy a few seconds, then repeat.
Play this game for approximately 5 minutes at a time. When finished, do one of two things:
- Simply get up, say “All done”, remove the toy, and give a bone to chew.
- Allow the puppy to have the toy for a few minutes of play by himself with no more interaction from you. If the toy is one that is not safe to leave the pup alone with, remain nearby to make sure no pieces are swallowed.
Remember that this is a leadership exercise. Since you are the leader, you decide when to start and end the game.
Inhibiting the Bite
Inhibiting the bite must be done by all members of the family, including the children. Every time the puppy bites a body, make a yelping sound like another puppy would. Or, make some sort of sound like you are in pain. “Ow” or “Hey” are good ones. At the same time, stop all play and interaction. To a puppy, this is the worst of all possible scenarios. It is in this manner that the biting puppy learns that a softer bite allows him to continue playing with his littermates.
In the case of humans teaching pups, make the yelp sound no matter how hard to puppy bites and every time he bites! Eventually you will have a puppy who will mouth you with absolutely no pressure.
If the puppy has become out of control with his biting and no amount of yelping can get him to stop in the manner described above, calmly take time out. Firmly and quietly place the puppy in his crate for a brief time-out or Settle the puppy with the Settle Exercise.
Note: Putting the puppy in the crate will immediately communicate to the pup that you will not play and interact if he is biting. Do not yell at the puppy as you do this. Do not leave the puppy in the crate for long. A few minutes of quiet time, and then let him out and interact again. The puppy will soon learn that hard biting means no playing and will start to inhibit his bite. This is not done as a form of punishment, rather as a form of communication without the possible emotion and frustration of hands-on settling.
Submitted by: Barb McNinch
Note: Barb is experienced in training and behavior. Her Rottweiler, Shirwin’s cody in Command has earned an AKC CDX title as well as a Dog World Award. Barb is a member of the American Association of Pet Dog Trainers.
Her book, “Training Your Rottweiler” and was published by Barron’s in 1999.