I am the owner of a 12 week old female black Labrador Retriever who is really challenging my confidence. I really love her and do not want to give her up but she has become a serial biter. She is drawing blood and bruised me more then once. I have found myself in tears of frustration. While I realize that she is a puppy and this is how she has played with her litter mates, things have got to the point that I’m nervous to pet her as this seems to invite a chomp on any limb that is near. – S.B. (London)
I’ll bet this is the most common complaint I get about puppies. It can get so that people start checking their dog’s pedigree to make sure there isn’t alligator mentioned somewhere in the bloodlines. Fortunately it is one of the easiest things to fix when I can convince the dog’s owner to treat their dog like a dog. You mentioned realizing that “she is a puppy and this is how she has played with her litter mates.” Maybe if she was part of the doggy version of the Manson Family but not in any real world litter I’ve ever heard of. Playful mouthing maybe, but uninhibited biting, no. If she kept that up with her mom, she’d get one warning, maybe two and then look out, out come the teeth. The pup gets scruffed, lifted, growls and snarls in stereo, shook up a tad and what you then hear as yelping, mom hears as “It wasn’t me! Okay it was me!. Sorry mom! What was I thinking? It won’t happen again!” And it doesn’t. Then life goes on until the next lesson. In the interim, love and affirmation all around.
There’s loads of dog training advice attempting to address this sort of thing, such as, put the dog in a time out. My take on that; if I ever see a mother dog try and discourage a behaviour with a time out, I’m on board. However, let’s get real. Mother wolf puts one of the litter in a time out, comes back in 15 minutes and says, “Hey where did that pup get to and what does that fleeing coyote have in its mouth?” Not to mention, who’s got time to time out with eight pups. Treat your dog like a dog.
I don’t wait for the pup to bite. I just leave the leash on the puppy all the time and every spare moment I play with the puppy. If the need arises, I discipline it. I give the leash a pop to the side, scold the pup in a way that leaves no doubt that a very serious line has been crossed and then relax and then go back to playing together. If the pup doesn’t get the message within 3 reps. you’re likely not getting the dog’s attention via the leash before the scolding part and it thinks you’re still playing. If it gets worse, you’re definitely getting it wrong and get a balanced trainer to show you what you’re doing wrong. For the tiny breeds simply because of their fragility I use other methods.
There’s nothing wrong with you and there’s nothing wrong with your pup. He’s testing you and if you don’t lean on him now he might grow out of it but more then likely he’ll become a bully. If you love him like a mother, you’ll lean on him.
-John Wade the Dog Trainer