By Joan Orr
This is Part 4 of an ongoing series. We recommend that you read the previous articles since we are not going to repeat anything here. Here is a link to the other articles in the series and some related articles: Puppy Biting series
Teaching your puppy to control his mouth and to keep his teeth to himself requires a multi-faceted approach which is a combination of management and training. In this article I will talk about the first of two very effective training approaches that you can take to help your puppy learn not to bite. These are as follows:
- Teach the puppy to give kisses instead of biting.
- Teach the puppy the meaning of a cue that means “take your mouth off” and subsequently “leave your mouth off”.
How to Give Kisses
Most puppies are generous with kisses and you can encourage this by saying “kisses” and welcoming the kisses when the puppy offers them. Of course if you don’t want the puppy slobbering all over you, then just ignore the kisses or move the attractive body part out of range. Your puppy will soon learn that if you say “kisses” you will welcome his licking you and otherwise you will not welcome this. Never scold or punish or take away your attention altogether from a kissing puppy.
A great way to encourage kisses instead of biting and to help a puppy learn to take treats gently is to put something like cheese spread or peanut butter on your hand and fingers (don’t use peanut butter if your puppy is going to be around children though in case of children with peanut allergies). Let the puppy lick this off, while you say the word “kisses” over and over. This helps him associate the action of licking with the word “kisses”. If he is really frantic for the yummy stuff on your hand he may not be paying too much attention to what you are saying, so it could take a while for the association with the word to sink in. For some puppies this exercise is all that you will need to do teach him what “kisses” means, but others may not seem to catch on.
A better way to ensure that the puppy is thinking about what he is doing and not just madly licking is to set up the situation so that he offers a lick and is then reinforced for that so that he will repeat it with the conscious thought of doing it. To do this you need some kind of marker sound that tells the puppy he is doing the right thing. I use a clicker for this, but you can use a ball point pen or something else that makes a short sharp sound. You can also use a marker word such as “yes” or “yip”, but this does not work as well as using a clicker. Here is a video that shows how to do this. The puppy in this video was the nippiest puppy I have ever worked with and she rarely offered spontaneous kisses – she had much more fun nipping!
Offer a treat that leaves a tasty residue on your hand (put a dab of cream cheese under the treat if necessary to get things started). Click when the puppy licks and give another treat. Create the cycle: lick – click – treat – lick – click – treat. At first the puppy is just licking the treat residue of my fingers, but after a few tries she is offering a lick on purpose. Add the cue “kisses” when the puppy offers a lick when you hold out your hand. Use this cue from now on when offering treats. Gradually move from a more open hand presentation to holding the treat between thumb and forefinger. Click when the puppy licks and release the treat. Eventually the puppy will learn that the offering of a treat is the cue for “kisses” and he will lick to get the treat rather than snatching it. Practice with different people in different location. If the puppy makes a mistake such as biting at your hand or putting his paw on you, just ignore this. You don’t need to say “no” or “ah ah” or “oops” if the puppy makes a mistake. It is best just to be quiet and let the click be the only communication during this training session. The training session in this video was about a minute and a half – this is plenty long enough. After training, play for a few minutes and then do another short session. You will get much more out of five 1 minute sessions than out of one 5 minute session.
Next time I will talk about teaching your puppy the cue “off” so you can tell him you want him to stop biting or not to bite in the first place.