Preventing behaviour problems



A bite from a puppy doesn't hurt, but a bite from an adult dog does! Unless you teach your puppy that biting and mouthing is unacceptable, he will continue to bite people when he is older. Puppies mouth and bite to develop the strong jaw muscles and teeth which would be needed for survival in the wild, to explore and learn about their physical environment, to learn the power of their bite and to control it, and to reduce the pain associated with teething. Puppies are more likely to bite when excited, particularly by movement, so hands are common targets. As soon as your puppy bites you, make a yelping sound so that he knows it hurt and say "NO” in a deep stern voice. Give him a second to stop the behaviour. If he does, reward him. If he doesn't, punish him by isolating him from the family for 5 minutes. Never pat or praise your puppy when he is mouthing or biting. Provide acceptable alternatives for your puppy to chew on and praise him when he uses these. Be aware that your puppy will chew items that it considers similar to the ones you have allowed it to chew. If it is allowed to chew on an old slipper, it may consider it okay to chew on your best shoes! Biting is often a form of play for puppies, so make sure you provide ample opportunity for other forms of play.

Food and toy guarding

When your puppy is young, allow him to get used to you touching his food and toys. Pat him while he eats; pick up the bowl; put it back down. You might add a treat to the bowl when you pick it up so that your dog associates you touching his bowl with a reward. Every time your puppy has a meal, interrupt him in some way then give him a treat so that he learns to tolerate intrusions. Practise taking toys from your puppy. Quietly and calmly place your hand on the toy and tell your puppy "give" as you remove it from its mouth. Then say "thank-you " and return the object as you tell your puppy to "take it". In doing this your puppy learns that it is okay to give you his toy, because you will give it back. Occasionally replacing the toy with a treat will further reinforce the behaviour.

Body handling

Pick a time when your puppy is calm, such as after a nap. Pick him up around his body, put him in your lap, pat him and praise him. Touch and handle his feet, open his mouth and insert your hand, look in his ears and lift his tail. Continually praise him and if he allows you to handle all these body parts, reward him with a treat. As with any training exercise, keep the session short and enjoyable. With time, you can do this exercise for longer and in different environments. This will make life much easier when it comes to veterinary examinations and giving treatments.

Becoming "pack leader”

Wild dogs exist in 'packs'. Each pack has a leader that the other members follow and look to for direction. When you introduce a new puppy to your home, your family becomes the new pack. You should start teaching your dog that you are the 'pack leader' as soon as he joins the family. Your attitude, actions and responses to the new puppy are key to moulding a well-mannered and responsive puppy. The best way to show the puppy from the outset that you are the pack leader is to teach your puppy that rewards must be earned. Begin with some basic obedience training (see Teaching Commands Information Sheet). Whenever the puppy is to receive any reward (affection, attention, food, play and walks) the puppy should first perform a simple obedience task such as 'sit' or 'stay'. Teach the puppy that rewards of any sort will never be given on demand. You must also ensure that the puppy never receives any reward associated with bad behaviour such as vocalisation, nipping, mouthing, demanding attention or rough play. Instead, you should ignore the puppy for at least 5 minutes when it behaves badly.
You can also hold your puppy in a submissive posture such as on its side in a down position. Do this for just a few seconds initially and gradually increase the time. This will also be useful for you to be able to perform grooming, teeth brushing and other such tasks. The puppy should be taught that it belongs behind you or beneath you, physically as well as socially. Have the puppy sleep in its own bed rather than on your bed or couch and make sure the puppy heels behind you on walks.