Jill Breitner is a dog trainer and has spent over 40 years training dogs and developing the relationship between people and dogs. In this weeks blog, Jill writes about the importance of communicating effectively with your dog.
Why are there tiny razors in the puppy’s mouth??! Every time you go to play with your pup you get scratched and marked up and he seems obsessed with chewing on your fingers, ears and trouser legs! He just won’t let up and you’re not sure what to do.
Well, puppies explore the world and their social interactions mainly through their mouths. They get attention, ask you or litter mates to play, or tell you they don’t like the way you are touching them, all with biting. The best way to get this under control is to teach them when they are young enough to bite softly (bite inhibition) and then later teach them ‘no teeth on skin’. We can do this without physical punishment or scaring the dog, to ensure that he won’t become scared of us or our hands later in life. Physical punishments may turn play biting into defensive biting which hurts even more and gives you a bigger problem to solve later on. It is important to keep our hands as a ‘safe’ object for pup as throughout his life we need to reach for the dog at the park, groom him at home, or hold him still at the vets. Our hands should be good things, not something for our dog to be scared of!
So, to start off with, you will need a variety of toys and chews that your pup enjoys playing with. Rope toys, knotted towels, braided fleece, tennis ball on a rope, and of course, your K9Connectables.
Pre-empt attention biting by scheduling play sessions with pup. Make sure he is getting the social interaction he needs with you before he starts to demand it with biting. When puppy bites to get your attention, your best bet is to walk away. Don’t make a fuss, just leave the room quietly. Teach young children to do the same and the ‘Be A Tree’ programme (stand still, arms folded, looking at your ‘roots’) and call for mom or dad. Puppies are likely to get more excited, jump around and nip harder if you shout, squeal, run around or try to shake them off. Calm and quiet is the key to attention biting. If you have children, you’ll want to ensure proper supervision of all interactions between kids and pup. If the children cannot cope or are not consistent, keep a house line on the pup when supervised, so that you can either keep pup tethered to you or simply pick up the end of the lead and contain the pup while telling the children to walk away.
During play, up to 16 weeks, the adults in the house will want to work on ‘soft bite’ or bite inhibition. That is, allow pup to gently mouth your hand and even tolerate one or two harder bites. However, when pup bites down hard enough to hurt a bit (but not break skin), say ‘ouch’ in a very neutral tone. You don’t want to shout, squeak or squeal as this could add to the pup’s excitement. Simply mark the moment he hurts your hand (or foot, or ear), with a quiet but firm ‘ouch’, then remove yourself from pup’s presence. It’s important that you leave rather than removing the pup so that he can immediately associate his actions with fun things stopping. If you stop to pick him up, grab his collar, march him out of the room, then close the door, a lot of time has elapsed and a lot of things have happened between the bite and the isolation. So bite, ouch, leave. Give pup 5-10 seconds to calm down, then return with a toy. Wait for pup to do anything that isn’t biting (which might just be sitting there looking at you) and then initiate play with the toy. If he soft mouths, continue play or redirect to a toy. Every few days, the hardest bite should get softer, so then you will target the bites of this pressure, until pup is only giving soft bites, or reaches the age of 16 weeks. Children should only every play with puppy with toys to hand as they are usually not able to follow the rules of bite inhibition training.
After the pup has reached 16 weeks of age, you will follow a similar plan, but now it will be every time teeth touch skin or clothing. If you know the pup is likely to be playful when you enter the room (say, first thing in the morning or when you get home from work), go in armed with a toy. Dangle it away from your body so that the toy is more interesting to interact with than your leg or hands. Get the pup interested and playing with the toy and if he redirects onto your skin, say your quiet ‘ouch’ and get up and leave. Every time. Return after a few seconds timeout armed with one or more toys to play with.
If you’re really stuck, and puppy doesn’t seem to be able to understand that biting doesn’t work to get your attention or continue play, teach the pup to do something instead that he cannot do at the same time as biting. A closed-mouth nose-to-hand touch is good, or fetching a toy out of the toy basket to bring to you. https://youtu.be/RWSJVwZybwo
In my early 20’s, I lived in France and it’s where I began my dog training business. After working as a veterinary technician in the USA, for a couple of years, it became apparent to me that people had little understanding of the ways in which dogs communicate with each other and with us.
It wasn’t long before I realized that my French wasn’t good enough to translate the subtle nuances of dog training to be successful as a trainer. This observation, then led me to get a very clear picture of how that relates to our relationships with dogs. Follow me, because this subtle bit about communication bears paying close attention to. You know how when we are speaking to someone who speaks a different language, we speak to them as if they are deaf? We speak loudly, enunciating our words to make it clearer when none of that makes any difference at all. Still we are trying to communicate and failing. Why? Because we don’t speak their language and this is exactly what happens with our relationships with dogs. We don’t speak their language and we must learn it to achieve the closest and best relationships we can with dogs.
How can we think that we can bond with dogs when we can’t communicate with them? If we don’t know how to read their body language, which is critical to any relationship; then how can we truly have a positive relationship with them. Sure, we have relationships with our dogs but it could be much deeper, much more compatible and more cooperative when we are able to see things from a dog’s perspective and we can only do that when we can see what it is they are trying so hard to communicate with us. That is, understand their emotions by learning to read their body language.
Recently I had a puppy in training, Baxter; a 6 month old Labradoodle and the key issues his guardians wanted me to work with was his bad behavior of excessive barking and lunging at people and other dogs. He was unmanageable and completely out of control. Many behaviors dogs exhibit are not only mislabeled but are manifestations of misunderstood emotions expressed through their first language, body language. Baxter was anxious about meeting dogs and people. This pup was a perfect example of being labeled as having bad behaviors needing to be fixed when what needed to happen was to glean an understanding of his emotions so that we can help him feel less anxious around dogs and people.
After a lengthy conversation with Baxter’s guardians and spending one day with him, I realized that his barking was due to lack of proper socialization at a critical period in puppies lives. Between the age of 7 weeks and 4 months of age is the socialization period where pups must be properly socialized with people, dogs, other animals, (all friendly) and it’s also when trust and bonding begins.
When pups aren’t properly socialized during this time, they fail to respond appropriately when faced with new dogs, people, kids, cats, etc. and it shows up differently, in different dogs. Barking, fear, running away, aggression. It’s similar to a child who never went to preschool and shows up in kindergarten with no social skills. They don’t know how to share, (resource guarding), yelling louder than the other kids (barking), pushing other kids around, (bullying or playing too rough) or even aggression, punching kids, pushing them down, (biting or standing over dogs).
Baxter wasn’t a bad puppy. His behaviors were his way of saying, help me I’m feeling anxious about meeting other dogs and people. His behavior was one of frustration and he needed help, not correcting his behavior. Knowing this, I was able to stay at a distance from the triggers (dogs and people) in order to keep his attention on me, rather than becoming totally immersed in his frustration unable to focus on anything else but the triggers and together I was able to change his response from frustration to acceptance and joy. Little by little, we moved closer to his triggers so that today we can walk by other dogs and people with no anxiety. He has met and played with many friendly dogs of all sizes and ages, walked by, over 100 dogs of many different ilks without any barking. What needed to happen for Baxter was an understanding of his emotions by understanding his body language, thereby facilitating a relationship built on trust between him and I, so he knew that I had his back and when he was less anxious he got to meet other dogs which is what he wanted and needed.
Many people know the obvious signals dogs use to communicate but the more subtle ones mostly go unnoticed and it’s these expressions that are the most telling. The tongue flick, look away, tail posture, blinking eyes, yawning, hypervigilance, facial tension and more that reveal the emotional state of dogs. If we take the time to learn how they express themselves with their body language, we will be going far in bettering our relationships with dogs. We owe it to them to learn how to speak dog.
Chewing on objects and people is something puppies do. Its part of their nature. So you must ensure that pup has plenty of opportunity to chew items that you want him to chew during the day. K9Connectables on their own or filled with pup’s food or favourite snacks is a great option. Other natural options would be dehydrated pigs ears, beef scalp, rabbit ears, or Chew Roots or other similar natural chews. Different puppies will like different textures so it’s a good idea to try a few, then rotate the ones he does like to ensure he doesn’t get bored and decide to chew on your dining room chairs instead! Do confine the pup away from items that shouldn’t be chewed (like furniture and electrical cords) and put away items like children’s toys, shoes, laundry, books and other items that you don’t want ruined. When pup is chewing on one of his own toys, praise him and let him get on with it. If he happens to find a stray shoe, throw a piece of food a little way away from pup and when he goes to collect it, pick up the shoe and replace it with one of his own toys and remind yourself to put your shoes in the cupboard next time!
Marta Young is a professional dog trainer with
Barking Up the Right tree www.barking.ie