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Puppy Biting

I just discovered your website and have been reading your columns with great interest. About three weeks ago we bought an 8-week-old Shih Tzu cross. I had my reservations about the breeder, but it was too late, as my daughter was already in love. Well, the honeymoon is over.  He seems to be extremely comfortable with us. At least if his puppy biting and nipping of our hands, our sleeves, pant legs and sometimes our faces is any indication.

Unfortunately, we have absolutely no experience whatsoever. We are getting so much conflicting information and we really have no idea what to do with him. We are afraid that we are most likely doing everything wrong and will end up with an aggressive, anxious and very unhappy dog. We definitely don’t want that for the next 15 or so years and sure would like to put an end to the puppy biting.


Dear R.F.

My radar would go off a bit too if I was looking for a puppy and the breeder didn’t have a bit of a “get to know you” chat before the pups were introduced. They might be the sort that’s a little more interested in the sale then the welfare of the puppies.

Puppies are like the drug heroin – but on 4 legs – and dog breeders can be a little like drug dealers. They don’t so much sell puppies as expose you to them. Once they’re “in your system” it’s almost an instant addiction and the average person has a low “Just say no!” threshold at that point.

What your pup is doing sounds normal for its age. What isn’t is that it’s acceptable that you’re the target and I think you should find a balanced trainer. I say balanced because the all positive dog training crowd believes in ignoring bad behaviour and rewarding good behaviour and mom dogs don’t do it that way for a reason. I believe in positive and tons of it but to raise a normal dog, wolf, ape or human – a little well timed discipline can really help a youngster learn lessons, achieve goals, and succeed in life.

One instance I remember was one of these trainers explaining to me how she helped a client with this exact problem. The owner was instructed to cry out as if she had been seriously hurt, withdraw her hands, turn her back if necessary and leave the room if the pup continued – but reward good behaviour. Here’s the kicker, I asked how it worked out. The reply was that the problem completely resolved. “How long did it take?” I asked. “Just a few weeks!” was the proud reply.

There’s a lot of this sort of silliness on the Internet and a lot of people find it does conflict with other philosophies not to mention their common sense. It creates doubt and even guilt that they will be bad dog owners – even inhumane if they discipline.
Most pups outgrow that behaviour within that timeline anyway. More importantly though, I asked this trainer how long did she think it would take the pup’s mother to discourage that sort of behaviour? (About 5 seconds – 2 or 3 times.) The real issue though is what would have happened to that puppy if the owner had children under the age of 6? You can find the answer at your local rescue.

Find yourself a local trainer that is all most always positive but knows how to be firm but fair if the need arises.

Pawsitively yours,

John Wade
[email protected]

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