Today I want to finish our conversation on the ABC’s of dog training. We’ve applied this model to barking and jumping. Today I want to apply it to puppy biting and mouthing. Hopefully this concept is starting to become second nature to you as you work with your dogs to change behavior.
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Puppy Biting & The Dog Training Model
Hello! I hope you’re having a great week. Today I want to finish our conversation on the ABC’s of dog training. We’ve applied this model to barking and jumping. Today I want to apply it to puppy biting and mouthing. Hopefully this concept is starting to become second nature to you as you work with your dogs to change behavior.
Are you starting to think in terms of what happened before my dog barked or jumped? What happened right after they barked or jumped? And how do I prevent them from barking or jumping next time? Notice you can replace the barking and jumping with any behavior such as biting or mouthing, digging and so on.
Puppy biting and mouthing are HUGE topics I help clients with on a daily basis. As The Online Puppy School my trainers and I help brand new dog owners frequently and a big surprise to them often is how mouthy a new puppy is. While it is completely normal and a phase every puppy goes through, we do want to teach the dog to mouth toys and chews, not us.
Recognize we are talking about puppy biting and mouthing today, not aggressive bites - if you have a dog who has that type of issue let’s chat one-on-one to get you the help you need. But as for innocent, playful puppy mouthing let’s dig into it, apply it to our model and see what kinds of outcomes we get.
As a review for today’s topic - Check out Episode #56 How To Solve Any Dog Training Problem as well as Episode #68 Barking & The Dog Training Model and Episode #69 Jumping & the Dog Training Model. If you’ve already listened to these, you’ll recognize the ABC’s of dog training. This formula is very useful to change any behavior our dog may exhibit.
Today as mentioned, I want to apply this model to puppy biting.
A - what happens BEFORE your dog bites/mouths you
B - dog bites/mouths you
C - what happens right AFTER your dog bites/mouths you
The A and C pieces are what we need to focus on to change the B - behavior of our dog.
My favorite place to focus is on the A - antecedent - whatever happens BEFORE my dog bites or mouths me. Why? If I can redirect before they practice it, it never becomes a problem and definitely does not develop into a habit.
Think about that for a moment. If we focus only on the C - consequence - what happens AFTER our dog bites, the puppy biting is still being practiced. We tend to get stuck in the never ending cycle of dealing with the behavior AFTER it happens. If I can intervene BEFORE the puppy biting happens, the behavior does NOT get practiced! That’s a huge win as we discussed last time.
Sounds great but how do I do that right?
Let me walk you through the process as it is important to know what to do when your dog bites or mouths you and then how to stay ahead of it the next time. For learning purposes, let’s look at a specific example for now, say when your dog is playing with you and goes for your ankle.
In this scenario, I’m walking in the room and my puppy runs over and nips my ankle. My only option at this point is to focus on the C - consequence because the biting/mouthing already happened.
So, I interrupt with a sound that gets my puppy’s attention. It’s a good idea to know ahead of time what sounds get your puppy to look at you. Try experimenting today with different noises and see which ones attract your dog’s attention. Basically I’m creating a diversion away from my ankle. Squeaky toys work well too if you have some handy.
There’s a side note tip for you - always keep a treat pouch on you with food rewards and a toy for times like this! The food can be their kibble! No need for fancy treats. Wait to open the crate or pen until you are ready!
Cuing a simple behavior like a touch, watch me or sit often works well too. I can then reward my dog for the touch and ask for another desired behavior like a down stay. Duration helps the dog connect rewards with the down stay, not the biting/mouthing that happened moments ago.
To recap, make a sound, create a diversion, then with your puppy’s attention give them something to do. Keep their brain active on tasks which get rewarded so they don’t go back to biting or mouthing.
Maybe this is an alternative behavior like a go to bed or crate with a favorite chew. Maybe I tether my dog to a table leg or other anchor and give them a toy. These things get my dog thinking about something else and prevent them from coming back to repeat the biting or mouthing behavior. This is key.
Now that I’ve redirected my dog, this is where the A comes in and now I’m in prevention mode. I don’t want my dog to go back to the biting/mouthing behavior so I prevent and train new behavior. I am a huge believer in setting my dog up for success. If I don’t want them to bite my ankle, I prevent them from doing so by noticing them as they run to me, meet them in front of me with a target fist and lure them into a sit BEFORE they get me with their razor sharp teeth.
Then I make a note to set up training sessions around me walking through a room so I can teach my dog WHAT TO DO when they see me moving and my feet look so fun. I pay the dog for good behavior and that tends to get repeated! That’s what we want.
Let me give you an example of how I’d set up that training session.
First, I think, “What do I want my dog to do?”
I like to teach my dogs to sit when they get to me and to ignore my movements - sit to say please is a theme around here. As long as I notice the sit (which by the way can be a bit tricky if you aren’t paying attention. Why? Because it is so quiet and calm.) But if you notice it, be sure to immediately pay attention to your puppy so that nice calm sit gets repeated. If you don’t notice it, they will try the bark, jump or bite because your puppy learns quickly those things get attention FAST.
To be effective, I need to have a plan in mind as I anticipate me walking through the room when my puppy is loose. I start at the very beginning. Take a step and treat my puppy at the same time. Repeat until my puppy can ignore 5-10 steps in a row. Then I change the timing. Take a step, then treat. Take two steps, then treat. Three steps, then treat and so on up to ten initially.
Next I pick up the pace of my steps - one jog and treat. Two jogging steps, treat. Three jogging steps, treat and so on. You’ll notice the puppy start to be very patient around your moving legs as they’ve learned if they sit and wait, good things come. We are now desensitizing your puppy to moving legs and teaching them what TO do when ankles are bouncing around in front of them.
When I’m not training, I manage to prevent my dog from practicing the unwanted behavior. I might crate my puppy with a chew, tether them with toys or use the pen so I can get things done I need to without constantly trying to redirect my puppy. With practice and persistence they will learn. It takes time and repetitions so be patient.
I set time aside daily to work on the training. Then as my dog improves, we can allow more free time while I’m up and walking around. Preventing and managing while you teach new behavior is the fastest route to success.
Yes there will be times when the biting/mouthing happens - you weren’t able to prevent it - so we handle the C side of the ABC’s by interrupting right away then redirecting. But do your best to remain on the A side of the ABC’s as to prevent habits from forming.
If you see your dog wanting to play, interrupt BEFORE they get to you. Lure them into a sit first or use a squeaky toy to engage in a gentle game of tug. You can anticipate what they will do when they get there so give them a better job to do BEFORE you are required to react on the C side of things. Make sense?
Awesome. Once you understand this as a trainer, daily life with your dog improves. Try to stay one step ahead of them, give them tasks - teach them what to do - and reward them for the good behavior. Train them to do a basic sit and down stay. GO TO BED or MAT WORK is my absolute favorite as well. We teach you in our online puppy school how to train and proof these behaviors. If you need help, check it out at baxterandbella.com.
And that’s a wrap. Thanks for diving into the ABC’s of dog training with me for several weeks in a row. New topics are coming next week so stay tuned. Have an amazing rest of your week and happy training.