To Play . . or Not to Play. . . Will Tug of War Make My Puppy Aggressive?

Australian Terrier Puppy
Australian Terrier Puppy

Tug is defined “to pull hard” by Webster’s online dictionary. People play tug with their dogs by pulling on an item the dog is holding in his or her mouth. To win at tug, you take the item away from your dog.

Many of my clients ask me, “Is it okay to play tug with my puppy?” Good question. I know why you ask.

Tug of war is one of those controversial topics.  Some people believe it’s okay to play tug if the human always wins.  Other state. “playing tug will increase unwanted aggressive behaviors”.  These people tell others to avoid the game of tug with their dogs. I’m not sure why. I suspect these people promote concepts like alpha and dominance. The stronger animal is the boss and the weaker animal submits, right?

If you have visited a few pages on this site, you already know my thoughts on alpha.

I do not coach my clients to compete with their dogs for anything. I do not believe alpha comes into play between people and dogs. Click here to read my controversial article “Forget About Alpha”.

Okay, here are my thoughts on playing tug with puppies and dogs. The simple answer is, ‘it depends”. Tug can be a wonderful teaching game and reward for some dogs. Tug can be a dangerous game with some dogs, without some guidelines to keep it safe and fun.

If your dog exhibits aggressive behaviors, directed at you, then tug is probably not a good game for you and your dog! Young children should not play tug with a puppy who does not know the rules. Play biting kids is a puppy’s favorite pastime. Please click this link about play biting and kids if you have children in the house.

Here are some ideas on teaching puppies and dogs about tug.

You do not want to play tug with your socks, especially when still attached to your feet. To prevent tug games with the wrong items, purchase 1 or 2 tug toys. Once your puppy knows the rules you can play tug with whatever you wish. Tug toys are made for tug and have easy grip handles. Longer rope toys with handles or knots make for good tugging! Keep the tug toys away from your dog, unless you are playing tug. That means the toys should not be in his or her toy box, for them to play with and chew. These toys only come out when you want to play tug!
Here’s one of the best, rope tug toys.

Click the words
Tuff E Nuff Tug, Large
to visit Sit Stay and shop for tug toys.
TUFFENUFF.lg

Tuff E Nuff Tug, Large

It’s normal for puppies and dogs to growl and snarl when playing tug. Look for other body posturing that indicate your puppy is playing, not fighting. If your puppy’s butt is in the air and his or her front legs are on the ground, that’s a play bow. Your puppy wants to play!

When your puppy “accidently” makes teeth on skin contact (and he or she will) the game should end. Tell your puppy something like , “oops, you blew it”, and then walk away. If possible, take the toy away. Wait a minute or so, until your puppy is less excited, and then resume play.

Teach your puppy a signal that ends the game. I use “Game Over, then ask for the Drop.

Drop is useful for many games and situations. If your puppy does not know drop, give or trade, tug is a good game to use for teaching. Click this sentence for instructions on teaching your puppy to drop.

Use common sense about playing with your puppy. Puppies do not know how to play with humans. Avoid games that include rough play with your hands, tumbling or roughing up the puppy. This will send your puppy the wrong signals and increase play biting as well as other inappropriate play behaviors.

Happy Training!

Alan J Turner – Companion Animal Behavior Counselor and Trainer, Canine Specialization

How’s Bentley – Memphis, Collierville, Germantown TN

21st Century Canine Relationship Solutions

Group Dog Obedience Classes

Private Dog Training in Memphis TN

Reactive Dog Specialist

Does Your Dog Own You? Resource Guarding of Territory, Food, Items, or People

Ace_BallResource guarding is when dogs posture, growl, snarl, bark,  snap, lunge, or bite for reasons we believe are efforts to keep other animals or people away from what they consider to be valuable resources.

Resources include food, territory, items and persons.

Food related aggression, territory aggression, and possession aggression are specific labels for different types of resource guarding.

Resource guarding can be confused with protection aggression and fear aggression.  People believe their dogs are protecting them, when in reality, the dogs are guarding what they believe to be their property, or the dogs are exhibiting fear aggression. Fear aggression is often present with territory aggression. Resolving the fear issue is the solution.  A behavioral history, questionnaire, careful observation,  and testing can usually identify the specific types of aggression.

In my experiences, resource guarding is commonly directed at other dogs, which many people accept or manage. When the aggression is directed at people, I am likely to get a new client.

Food related aggression is seen more often when high value rawhides, bullie sticks, pigs ears, etc.  are involved.

Some dogs guard dry dog food (less common), and severe cases involve dogs that guard empty bowls, and feeding or food preparation locations.

Territory aggression is when dogs posture, growl, snarl, bark,  snap, lunge, or bite when animals or people approach specific areas. Clearly defined areas, such as fenced yards, motor vehicles, homes, crates, kennels, rooms, chairs, couches, beds, and areas underneath furniture are guarded by dogs who exhibit territory aggression.

Less defined territories, such as doorways, and the areas within the length of the dog’s leash or tie out can be considered valuable by some dogs.

Possesive aggression is when dogs guard non-food items, regardless of the location.  Common items are toys, and stolen treasures, such as socks paper towels, ink pens, remote controls, etc.. Some cases of posessive aggression can be resolved by teaching the dog basic obedience commands such as leave-it and drop.

Some aggression behaviors can be fueled  by miscommunications and the balance between dogs and people, better described as the relationship. In some cases, the dog’s physical, social, or emotional needs are not being met, and / or, the chosen training methods are flawed.  A 21st Century Canine Relationship Specialist can help you with these areas. Visit the APDT to find a trainer near you.

Regardless of the type of aggression, the first step is to manage the environment so the dog does not practice (and people or other animals are not injured). Prevention can include simple steps like removing high value food items, feeding in a crate or secure area, crating the dog during social events, removing toys, housing the dog inside the home, and dog proofing the home.

Next, you’ll need to establish a clear system for communication and motivation. Condition a reward marker and follow the rewards awareness program, no free F.A.T.!

There are specific exercises for treating different types of resource guarding. Each dog and case is different. The treatment plan must be fluid and should be adapted for the dog’s success. You’ll probably need help from a dog behavior counselor.

Visit this Solve-It section on this site for specific examples and detailed solutions for aggression.

Happy Training!

Alan J Turner – Companion Animal Behavior Counselor and Trainer, Canine Specialization

How’s Bentley – Memphis, Collierville, Germantown TN

21st Century Canine Relationship Solutions

Group Dog Obedience Classes

Private Dog Training in Memphis TN

Reactive Dog Specialist


iPhone 3Gs Video ** Ouch, My Westie Terrier Keeps Biting My Feet!

Peyton Terrier 1Puppies are cute, but not so cute when they attack your sock as you try to fit one on your foot! Ouch! That puppy just bit my toe!!

You really cannot teach your puppy when life is happening. Sometimes, you just need to prevent that rascal puppy from perfecting nuisance behaviors.

A tether is one of my favorite tools. A tether is a rope with a leash snap attached to one end. To make a tether, attach a leash snap to a 7-10 foot piece of nylon rope. I use 1/4″ nylon rope for small dogs, and 3/8″ or 1/2″ braided nylon rope to make a tether for medium and large dogs.  You can purchase the braided nylon rope at Lowe’s or Home Depot.

Tethers provide a sort of half way house between being crated (or otherwise sequestered), and having full freedom to roam inside your house and get into trouble.  I advise clients to tether puppies when eating, changing clothes, or when entertaining friends.  Toss a dog bed on the floor, give your puppy a free range bullie stick, and tether your puppy to a piece of furniture near you.

You can use this free range bullie stick to condition your dog to “love” his dog bed. The free range bullies do not stink like the Merrick bullies stocked at local pet supply stores. CAUTION, This chew has the potential to turn Fluffy into Cujo! Read about Food related aggression by clicking anywhere in this sentence.
Click here for free instructions for teaching your dog to want to GO-TO-PLACE. .

Or, you can tie the rope around your waist and let your puppy shadow you throughout the house. The idea is to limit the puppy’s choices, and to give your puppy helpful feedback about correct behaviors!

Or, you can tie the tether to a plush dog toy and drag the toy as you walk. That will give your puppy an alternative to chasing and play biting your feet and ankles.

Peyton Terrier

If your puppy has not learned to come bump your target, let him drag a tether when playing outside.

Today I visited a client who had participated in a group class during the summer. As soon as I saw Peyton, a West Highland terrier mix, I remembered why my client enrolled. That guy is a yahoo turbo!!! We attached a tether and played a bit in the yard. Select the You Tube Video of Peyton linked below to watch this guy scramble!

Happy Training!

Alan J Turner – Companion Animal Behavior Counselor and Trainer, Canine Specialization

How’s Bentley – Memphis, Collierville, Germantown TN

21st Century Canine Relationship Solutions

Group Dog Obedience Classes

Private Dog Training in Memphis TN

Reactive Dog Specialist

New iPhone app -Dog and Puppy Shake – Fun Facts and Trainer Truths
21st Century Dogs – Dog and Puppy Club

Amateur Shock Collar Use Starts Dog Fight

German Shepherd DogIf you want to control your pet dog’s involuntary aggressive responses via force and intimidation, you are entering a spiral of blackness and doom.

One day, your chosen method or equipment will fail; injuries and sadness will emerge. I’ve seen it many times.

Point being, punishing the growl with a quick burst of energy via an e-collar, leash jerk, Caesar Milan hiss, alpha roll, spank on the butt, or verbal reprimand, does nothing to change underlying, emotional reasons for the growl. In many cases, the aggression increases, because the naughty dog associates other dogs or strangers with the discomfort.

You may very well stop your dog from growling with one of many punishment techniques, that I do not deny. (Success via corrections really depends on the underlying causes, but that is a topic for another day.)

But, you just signed a life long commitment to supervise every interaction your dog has with strangers or other dogs. You will constantly have to prove to your dog that you are a superior warrior.  And you have made your task of supervision much more difficult.

If you zap your dog every time he or she growls or gives another animal the “eye”, you will negate your observation skills, because your dog will skip the body posturing and growling (the obvious, observable behaviors that indicate a problem), and go straight to the bite.

If you are using a training collar, e collar, shock collar, or any other special equipment, your dog must always be fitted with the equipment, and you must always be ready to use the equipment.

All you’ve done is remove the warning, the very warning that lets you know something is wrong, the very warning that tells you to take action to avoid an incident.

It’s like placing a black tape mask over a check engine warning lamp on your car’s dashboard. Great, now you don’t see the warning, therefore the problem is resolved?!

I’m not one of those “never ever use a shock collar or leash jerk” kind of people. I realize there are times when corrections are helpful. Shock collars, leash jerks, or verbal reprimands may be useful tools within a behavior modification program designed by a canine behavior counselor.

If your behavior modification plan includes rewards, obedience training, classical conditioning, and changing the dog’s perception, you can change the underlying reason your dog is aggressive.

If your only solution to stop your dog from attacking other dogs or strangers is the use of corrections, truth is, you would benefit from a bit of help. You should contact a canine reactive behavior specialist.

None of this comes to anyone in a dream. I was ignorant until I began my studies about animal learning, behavior, and canine behavior modification. I made all the same “logical” assumptions about controlling dogs via corrections and intimidation. If you are not familiar with basic concepts of instrumental conditioning, you should never use a shock collar to stop your dog from behaving aggressively. Your ignorance will bite you.

Real Life Example:

In my neighborhood there is a large breed dog who has been naughty towards other dogs. (I’ll omit the breed, because it has no relevance to this story). The owner uses a shock collar to punish Naughty Dog’s aggressive behaviors. The owner’s mom was walking Naughty Dog, without the shock collar, and has been doing so for months, with no incidents of aggression. A few days ago, the honeymoon ended. The lady who was walking Naughty Dog was passing another leashed dog on the street. Naughty Dog did not growl or send any signals that he was about to attack. The lady was caught off guard when Naughty Dog suddenly attacked the passing adult male dog. The lady was bitten in the face when she tried to break up the dog fight.

If the owner had not used a shock collar to punish the aggression, the Naughty Dog would have postured or growled, and the lady could have seen what was about to happen. She could have avoided the situation. But Naughty Dog “attacked without warning”, which ironically, perplexed the owner. The owner has no idea that he was directly responsible for Naughty Dog’s lack of warning signals.

P.S. The German Shepherd Dog in the picture, Samantha, is not Naughty Dog! 

Happy Training!

Alan J Turner How’s Bentley Memhis TN

Reactive Dog Specialist

iPhone 3Gs Video ** Georgia Pit Bull Sweetie Romps in the South East

GeorgiaSay, Here’s a happy video of Georgia the Pit Bull terrier, romping in Memphis TN.  I used my iPhone 3Gs to make the video.

Like all breeds, a very small percentage of  pit bull terrier dogs are unpredictable, dangerous or violent. Georgia is the sweetest pit bull dog ever!

CLICK HERE for Video of Georgia, the pit bull terrier.

How’s Bentley – Alan J Turner – Memphis TN Dog Trainer

Animal News Network

Vacuum Chasing Dog:My Dog Barks and Attacks the Vacuum!


JavaBedDoes your dog or puppy hide from, bark at, chase, bite, your vacuum cleaner?  It seems there are a group of dogs who protest whenever we try to clean up!

If you have a puppy under 12 weeks of age, now is the time to gently expose him or her to everyday events and noises. During the critical period of socialization, these exposures teach our dog lifelong coping skills.

If you are reading this, I imagine your dog is beyond 12 weeks of age. That’s okay. You can still teach your dog to relax when you vacuum.

First off, forget about stopping “barking and attacking the vacuum” behaviors. You will spiral into an abiss of failures if you try to punish these unwanted behaviors. And, even if you succeed, you have not taught your dog any useful skills that may come in handy in other situations. Spend your energy and time teaching your dog an acceptable behavior, which will be incompatible with the unwanted behavior.

And, kindly prevent your dog from practicing “attack the vacuum” behaviors! Have a family member take your dog out for a walk when you vacuum or place the dog in another area with a chew toy. Practice makes perfect! Yikes!

Before you can teach your dog anything, you should identify the components that make up the target behavior. Exactly what does “relax when I vacuum” behavior look like? I picture the dog lying on his or her bed and calmly resting while I vacuum. That’s why you should teach and practice Go-To-Place before you work on “relax for vacuum” behavior.

Anytime you catch yourself saying “NO” or trying to stop any behavior, ask yourself these two questions:

At this instant in time, exactly what do I want my dog to do?

Where do I want my dog to perform this behavior?

The answers are your next training goal!

Teach your dog exactly what to do when you vacuum, and where to do it. I like to use Go-To-Place for the replacement behavior.

You cannot teach your dog to Go-To-Place when you are vacuuming your floor. Set aside time for training sessions to teach your dog Go-To-Place.

Here are the steps for teaching a dog anything you want.

  1. Condition a reward marker, a signal to tell your dog the instant he or she has succeeded.
  2. Establish a Rewards System, so your dog will be motivated to cooperate.
  3. Get the dog to perform the behavior (or some portion of the behavior) during practice sessions.
  4. Mark the instant your dog succeeds.
  5. Reward your dog, reinforce the behavior.
  6. Refine the behavior through repeated practice sessions in many different areas.
  7. Add distractions so your dog will always perform the behavior.
  8. Practice the behavior in real life.

Once you have a conditioned reward marker and a Reward System in place, and you have taught your dog to Go-To-Place, you are ready to teach your dog or puppy to relax when you vacuum your floors. The general idea is to expose your dog to the sounds and motions of the vacuum, in such small doses that your dog will remain in his or her place. Each cycle the vacuum is closer to the dog than the previous cycle.  Reward your dog for Go-To-Place and NOT BARKING when the vacuum is moving, then when the vacuum is far away and powered on, when the vacuum gets closer, et cetera. Here’s how

Place the vacuum cleaner in the room with your dog nearby. Plug the vacuum cleaner into the outlet, but do not turn it on. Tell your dog to Go-To-Place.

Reach for the handle. If your dog does not bark, or get off his or her place, deliver your reward marker. Toss your dog a food treat. Repeat 3 times. Each time you touch, mark, and toss treat is called a cycle or trial.

Reach for the handle and push the vacuum a few inches. If your dog does not bark, or get off his or her place, when you push the vacuum a few inches, deliver your reward marker and toss your dog a food treat. Repeat 3 times for a total of 4 cycles. If your dog barks or attacks the vacuum cleaner when you push it, go back to the previous step (touch the handle, mark and treat) and perform several more cycles.

Reach for the handle and push the vacuum (the vacuum is still off, not turned on) a few feet. If you dog does not bark, or get off his or her place, when you push the vacuum a few feet, deliver your reward marker and toss your dog a food treat. Repeat 3 times for a total of 4 cycles. If your dog barks or attacks the vacuum cleaner when you push it a few feet, go back to the previous step (push the vacuum a few inches) and perform several more cycles.

Once you can push the silent vacuum around the room while your dog stays quietly in his or her place, you are ready for these next steps. You’ll need a helper.

Have your helper take the vacuum in another area of the house, as far away from your dog’s place as possible. Close the door to the room (if applicable). You stay with your dog in the same room as the dog’s bed (or place). Have your helper turn on the vacuum for a few seconds and then turn it off. As soon as you hear the vacuum, tell your dog to Go-To-Place. Mark the instant he or she gets on the dog bed. Toss a food treat. Praise your dog. Coax your dog off the bed.

Again, instruct your helper to turn on the vacuum for a few seconds and then turn it off. This time it will be on for a few more seconds than before. Tell your dog to Go-To-Place, mark and treat. Repeat several times, each cycle the helper will keep the vacuum cleaner running for more seconds. Repeat until the helper can leave the vacuum running and your dog will calmly remain in his or her place.

Repeat the sequence from the beginning (vacuum on for a few seconds, then off), but open the door to the room with the vacuum or move it closer to you and the dog. Continue to practice in cycles, each cycle the vacuum is closer and closer to you and the dog.  After several carefully planned practice sessions, your dog will know exactly what to do when the vacuum is running and where to do it.

When you start vacuuming in the same room, don’t be greedy. 🙂 Run and push the vacuum a few inches and then turn it off and reward your dog for staying in place. Gradually increase the duration of the vacuuming before you reward your dog.

Happy Training!

Alan J Turner – Dog Trainer in Memphis, Collierville, Germantown, Cordova, Bartlett, Arlington, TN

How’s Bentley –

Private and Group Dog Training

In the picture, Java the Papillon is resting in his “Place” or bed.

Pet Dogs for Protection Dogs?

OdenGSDOn How’s Bentley Private Services Enrollment Form, the box labeled “For Protection” is often selected as one of the reasons my clients acquire their pet dogs. I understand why people select a pet dog for a protection role.

I have worked with more German Shepherd Dogs in the past year than the previous 3 years. I believe the current political and social cultures are responsible for people choosing dogs like German Shepherd Dogs, Doberman Pinchers, and other guarding dogs with “vicious” labeling. We are more fearful as a country than we were 15 years ago. That is reflected by the breeds of dogs that we choose. OOPs, this is off topic. I’ll talk about dog breed selection trends in the suburbs of Tennessee at another time.

Many people expect their dogs to be natural protectors and body guards. Too bad it’s not that simple.

It’s not that dogs won’t protect. Some dogs will naturally growl, snarl, bark, snap and bite when anyone approaches.

That’s the problem. Some dogs protect us from everyone. Dogs growl, snarl, snap and bite family members, house mates, friends, children, neighbors, cable guys, even pizza delivery couriers. That’s just rude. I need my pizza. Please Killer, spare the Domino Pizza guy.

Our pet dogs are not any better at determining who is a threat than the average Joe. We have these opposable thumbs and large brains, yet very few of us can determine which people in a busy suburban mall parking lot are about to attack us. Our untrained dogs have a solution. Bite them all and let the alpha dog sort them out!?

YIKES! The point is, you must take time to obedience train your dog before you can have a dependable protection dog. The last thing you want is a dog that decides every stranger is a threat and acts without your input!

True personal protection dogs are very well trained in all aspects of basic and advanced obedience and many participate in Schutzhund, a dog sport that originated in Germany. True protection dogs will stop attacking when their handlers command them to disengage.

Before you select a breed of dog genetically bred for natural, protective tendencies, talk with a trainer who can help you teach the dog basic obedience. For if you have a pet dog that is aggressive towards everyone, and will not stop when you call, you do not have a protection dog. You have a liability.

Happy Training!

Alan J Turner
Companion Animal Behavior Counselor and Trainer
Private Sessions to Help Aggressive and Fearful Dogs
How’s Bentley- Memphis, Collierville, Germantown, TN

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Puppy Play Biting Solutions

crisco_lewis2Have you ever watched dogs play together? They are a riot! They jump, mount, growl, bite, mouth, snap, nip, bark and chase. That’s how they play. It’s normal behavior!

Play-biting occurs when some of these normal, play behaviors are directed at human body parts and human clothing. Play biting is a stage of development. All puppies play bite, some more than others. Puppies mature and grow out of the play biting stage.

Puppies that play bite after 6 months of age are treating their humans like puppy play mates.

Play biting by older pups is most often the result of inappropriate play and miscommunications by humans.

I categorize play-biters by placing them into one of two Groups. This is because some tips work well with 10 week old pups, but fail miserably with 6 month old pups.

If the pup is 8-16 weeks old, I automatically place them into Group A, the group of puppies that is learning about play-biting and making progress.

Play biting by these younger pups is normal and can usually be easily reduced, assuming the humans follow some guidelines. If their humans are consistent, young pups rarely graduate to Group B.

Group B pups are puppies 6 months and older that are still play-biting. Pups at 17-24 weeks could be in either Group A or Group B.

Pups in Group B are likely to exhibit other annoying behaviors such as jumping up, mounting, attention-barking, counter-surfing, mouthing and more.

There’s no shame if your dog falls into Group B.

None of this stuff comes to anyone in a dream!

There’s no reason that you should automatically know how to raise your 21st century pup.

There is so much inaccurate, contradicting information about dog training. Everyone you meet is an “expert”. It’s all too easy to follow the wrong advice. I know I did! Give yourself a huge pat on the back for finding this accurate resource.

The concepts for reducing play-biting, mounting, and mouthing are pretty much the same as the concepts for reducing most unwanted behaviors. There are several actions to consider.

  • Meet your dog’s basic needs
  • Avoid play that involves tumbling, wrestling, hugging or interacting with your hands.
  • Teach your puppy which behaviors you do like.
  • Practice with your dog.
  • Interrupt misbehaviors by redirecting your pup to perform wanted behaviors.
  • Pay your puppy for complying.

Change Your Behavior

Few (including myself) can resist the soft cuddly fur of a puppy. I firmly believe that puppy tumble therapy is a marketable service. The buyer enters a room with several 7-10 week old puppies, gets on the floor and just soaks up puppy-glee by touching, tumbling and interacting with the puppies. I can’t imagine how such interactions would not be helpful for stress relief. I’d pay for the opportunity. Wouldn’t you?

Most people’s ideas of playing with puppies involve tumbling and rough handling.

Aren’t handling, pushing, wrestling, poking, teasing, tumbling, hugging, holding, cuddling, rolling, and chasing all good clean fun methods to interact with puppies? Fun? . . . yes; helpful for teaching a puppy? . . . no.

Expect to be bitten if you get on the floor and play wrestle, hug, manipulate, or otherwise use your hands to roughly interact with your puppy.

All these behaviors give puppies the impressions that we are just like their canine playmates. Puppies play rough with other puppies. At some point, puppy handling morphs into miscommunications which morph into playful puppy attacks! Ouch, those needle teeth are sharp!

It would be difficult for me to estimate how often I’ve heard this phrase.

“My child used to love the puppy but now she’s afraid of him. He randomly jumps up on her, steals her toys, mouths her arms, and nips at her heels and clothing. Sometimes he even knocks her down”.

When you think about it, these behaviors are in the same class of behaviors dogs exhibit while playing with other dogs.

The first step to resolve these issues is prevention. Attach a leash or long line so that your pup cannot mug your child.

Children and untrained dogs do not make choices which promote safe play. It’s best to supervise all interactions between children and animals.

Set aside time each day to introduce your child and your pup to safe games like fetch or hide-n-seek.

Sit-for-treat, roll over, and adult-accompanied, leashed walks are examples of other safe activities children can play with pups.

Nothing increases behaviors better than rewards! Establish reward systems for your child and your pup. Pay your child and your pup for playing nicely.

Other Preventative Measures

Ok, I’ll ease up on the lecture. Regardless of your perfect behaviors, your pup will play bite. That’s what they do. Here are some tips to help you survive this period.

Group A: 8-16 Week Old Puppies

  • Tie a stuffed toy on a 10-12 foot line. (I use ¼ inch diameter nylon line I purchased at the hardware store.) Drag the toy when you walk. Praise the pup for attacking the toy instead of your ankles and feet!

  • Sometimes you just want to handle your pup. Before you start grooming or handling, get a decoy. I use a Kong® toy stuffed with a bit of peanut butter. Hold the Kong® and let your pup get engrossed in the treat while you perform grooming or necessary inspections. Free Range Bullie sticks are also great decoys.

  • Pay your pup for chewing the correct items. Deliver a treat and praise when he is engaged in wanted behaviors. Remember, when you increase appropriate behaviors, the inappropriate behaviors decrease in frequency!

  • Use decoys when your child wants to stroke your pup. Choose periods when your pup is less active for stroking.

  • Avoid sudden hand movements, especially movements near your pup’s face and head.

  • Avoid pats on top of the head. Stroke your pup under his neck and south of the collar instead.

  • Use long gentle strokes instead of short, harsh pats.

  • Harvest some of that puppy-fur therapy when your pup is asleep!

Interrupt — Redirect — Pay

The Play-biting period is an educational journey for our pups. This is when they learn about bite inhibition and jaw pressure.

Pups that learn about jaw pressure and bite inhibition are less likely to deliver deep puncture wounds as adults.

Puppies learn about bite inhibition as they play with other puppies.

Here’s how a puppy learns from his littermates. When one pup bites another too hard, the recipient will yelp and withdraw.

This provides the play biter with valuable information about jaw pressure and contributes to the development of excellent bite inhibition.

This education from siblings and parents takes place early in a pup’s life.

Pups that are removed from their littermates before 8-9 weeks (or pups that are an only child) are at a greater risk for exhibiting more extreme versions of play biting.

Teaching puppies about jaw pressure reduces the probability of them delivering dangerous bites as adolescents and adults.

Ouch – Withdraw Method

Adults can continue the education process by following the following sequence. (This is not for children nor is it how to address play biting by Group B pups, which have already perfected their naughty behaviors!)

At this point we have two goals. Our short term goal is to teach the pup about jaw pressure. Our long term goal is to teach the pup that teeth-on-skin is unacceptable.

  • When your young puppy play-bites, allow it. The instant you feel those needle teeth sting, speak a high-pitched “ouch” and immediately withdraw. Walk away and ignore your pup.

  • If your pup becomes more excited after the “ouch”, follows you or bites your ankles, try this. Attach a leash and tether the pup to a piece of furniture. Now he can’t follow.

  • Ignore your pup for several seconds while you review your behavior. Are you sending the wrong signals? Are you somehow enticing the pup to bite?

  • Reengage by redirecting your pup to interact with a decoy.

  • Praise your pup for chewing the item.

  • Repeat the sequence several times in succession. Pups learn by repetition. It may take a week or more of using this sequence before your pup catches on.

In some cases, the “ouch” and withdrawal method is a slow process. Here are factors to consider.

  • If a confident puppy has practiced and has refined play-biting as a normal method to interact with people, it will take more repetitions before the puppy will understand. Keep at it and you will succeed.

  • If the pup is not offended by your departure, then withdrawing will not be effective.

  • If family members are inconsistent, then the puppy will continue to play bite.

  • If the puppy is older than 12-14 weeks, the ouch method will probably be ineffective.

  • Failure could be a sign that the pup’s physical and mental exercise needs are not being met.

Sometimes it’s difficult to interrupt and redirect. The puppy seems to be out of control and will not listen.

This pup either needs more exercise or a nap. If excessive activities such as play-biting occur late in the evening, the pup may be ready for bed. If it occurs after the pup is well rested, then perhaps it’s time for some exercise!

In some cases, (especially in families with unwilling ‘ouch-withdraw” participants), I find it necessary to focus solely on teaching the pup to interact with appropriate items.

To encourage a pup, hold a decoy for your pup to investigate. When your pup touches it with his teeth or tongue, say “yes” to mark that instant of success.

Immediately deliver praise and/or a treat. After the pup catches onto the game, methodically extend the amount of time the pup must interact with the item before you mark success and deliver praise.

Group B: Puppies 6 Months and Older

Group B dogs are usually much larger (than Group A pups) and some of their newness has worn off.

Group B dogs have perfected play biting as a method to communicate with humans.

Because the dogs are older and families have yet to teach the dogs about play-biting, it is very likely that the family has unknowingly increased other obnoxious behaviors such as jumping up, nipping at clothes, attention-barking, object stealing, et cetera.

Group B dogs are at risk for being mistreated. Group B dogs are a bit closer to being sequestered into isolation or re-homed.

All of the preventative methods are effective with Group B dogs. In addition, you will need some management tools to control these larger dogs.

  • Start a training program.  Use kind methods to teach the dog basic obedience commands.

  • If your Group B dog jumps up and play bites, attach a leash. Step on the leash to prevent the dog from succeeding. Use a buckle collar for this exercise.

  • Correct and careful use of a head collar provides some families relief from the obnoxious behaviors of some Group B dogs.  Check with your veterinarian or trainer for information about head collars.

What Not to Do

If you’re reading this I’m guessing you’ve tried all the popular methods to stop play-biting.

Some suggest that you squirt a play biting pup with a water bottle, bop the dog on the nose, hold the muzzle shut, grab the puppy by the scruff, shout “No Bite” or even roll the pup over and hold him down. These are questionable solutions.

Some pups will learn by these corrections and others become anxious, confused, fearful, or more playful.

The water bottle is the only suggestion I might share – in rare situations.

Ask any person whose adult dog is grumpy during mouth and muzzle inspections. “Say, did you hold your dog’s muzzle shut when he was a pup?”

These uncooperative patients learned long ago that hands approaching face equals discomfort.

If you are using corrections to teach your pup about play-biting, and it is still a problem, it’s time to change course!  What you are doing is not working.

Another problem with suggesting these methods is that people naturally become focused on stopping unwanted behaviors instead of starting wanted behaviors. This places them on a path of miscommunication with their pups. How will most people respond when the corrections are ineffective … when the squirt bottle doesn’t work?  . . .

People naturally respond with more force and harsher punishers.

Some pups will stop play biting when harsher punishers are used. Of course these pups may stop coming when called, and start urinating in fear, but hey, they’re not play biting!

In addition, forceful techniques send messages to our children about resolving problems with force, when kinder, more efficient methods are available. Try the kind methods. You’ll be surprised how well they work!

Some people, (far be it from me to single out a specific gender or age group) believe that rough play teaches pups to be good protectors.

I have some experience teaching protection dogs. I have full exposure to the techniques and exercises. None of the professional, protection dog trainers I have worked with use rough play as a method to teach a dog to protect.

If any of the members in your pup’s circle of humans, insist on playing rough, expect your puppy’s play biting to continue or increase.

Play wrestling teaches puppies that rough play is ok.

In addition, games which include jumping up not only increase inappropriate jumping up, but can compromise a growing pup’s bone development.

People rarely eliminate play biting in a few days, because play biting is a normal stage for puppies. If you follow these suggestions, you can minimize play-biting during this period and prevent it from becoming a true problem in an older dog.

If your pup’s play biting is increasing in frequency or magnitude, contact your veterinarian for the name of a trainer or visit http://apdt.com and search for a trainer near you.


Happy Training!

Alan J Turner

Dog behavior counselor and trainer, Memphis, TN


National Dog Bite Prevention Week

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May 17 -23 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week.

According to the AVMA, 4.7 million Americans will be bitten by a dog this year. 500,000 to 800,000 of those people will require medical attention. About 12 people a year die from dog bites.

At the top of the victim list is children, followed by U.S. postal workers.

More dog bites occur to children in the summer months, presumably because children spend more time with their puppies and dogs in the summer.

There are several things we can do to prevent dog bites to children.

Tips for Children:

  • never approach strange dogs
  • always ask permission before petting a neighbor’s dog
  • do not disturb dogs that are caring for puppies, sleeping, resting, or eating
  • never reach for a dog that is under a bed or piece of furniture
  • avoid running and screaming near dogs
  • all food that falls on the floor belongs to the dog
  • avoid wrestling with a dog or puppy
  • look for warning signs such as lip curling and growling

Adults:

  • never leave a child and dog together, unattended
  • socialize the dog
  • keep the dog current with vaccinations and medical treatment
  • obedience train the dog
  • closely supervise all interactions between children and dogs
Companion Animal Behavior Counselor & Trainer, Canine Speciaization
Private and Group Dog and Puppy Training in Memphis, TN