We just got a nine month German Shepherd. He is a high energy, bright dog but I seem to be his favourite chew toys. It’s obvious that he is only playing but I really need to find a way to get him to stop this puppy mouthing.
Play is in part, nature’s way of honing skills needed later in life. One role is to get the physical and mental measure of others with the ultimate prize being respect. However puppy mouthing and other play serves other purposes as well that impact behavior later in life. Puppies begin to learn the concept of teacher/student, self control, boundaries, and that boundaries may vary from time to time and even person to person is introduced.
How we react to a puppy mouthing says a lot to the puppy about who will ultimately be most qualified to be the teacher and who the student. Handled incorrectly, later attempts by the owner to formally train the dog confuses and frustrates both dog and owner. The problem isn’t the dog’s intelligence or interest in learning, it’s that the dog feels a single dad getting dating advice from his 12 year old son.
So how do we keep things light and learning without wrecking ourselves or our puppies when puppy mouthing occurs? Some trainers recommend ignore the bad and reward the good behavior. I use a similar approach when it snows on my driveway. I ignore it, and when it stops I reward myself with a brandy. By spring the driveway is snow-free.
Other trainers encourage distracting a mouthing puppy with a toy or a treat. However, clever puppies might connect mouthing as a way to get a reward, others see it a more of a mouthing coffee break.
Then there is the “tsunami of dominance” approach, based I think on a concern that any other response will undermine training authority. More likely it stems from pants that are far too tight in the groin area.
The problem with any of the above is they’re based on solely stopping a form of play rather than using it to teach other important ancillary lessons as well.
The correct response is balanced training, provide reward for restraint and insert consequence for lack. Body language and tone are all that’s needed for both reward and discipline – if you have the dog’s attention. Your dog uses its teeth to gain the high ground, so play with your dog leashed. That’s about as physical as it needs to get. If things get too rough at the very least you can hold the dog away from you until it gets control of its puppy giggles and finally alerts to your tone and body language which should produce a bit of an “Oh-oh!”.
What do I mean by tone and body language? That depends on the dog. With some rammie dogs, you might have to simulate a paparazzi hounded Sean Penn (without the physical violence) which is a pretty good simulation of a mother dog tired of repeating herself. When you get the “Oh-oh!” from the puppy, replace Sean, with your best Mother Teresa . Sometimes you need an Alec Baldwin (without the shoving) and others an air chilling Harrison Ford “Get a life!” glare. A Betty White might suffice. She looks like lots of fun but there’s still that undercurrent of, “Don’t mess with Betty.” Whatever the histrionics, once you’ve sent your message go back to playing right away so the pup isn’t left with the impression you need medication.
I get requests asking where to find a “balanced” trainers”. If you are one or know of one drop me a line and I’ll start an online directory.