I recently read a blog posted by dog trainer,G.D. Williams, on how to correct puppy biting. I must say that I was absolutely appalled at the suggestion that an owner should “come down hard on the puppy” and give the puppy, among other things, a “strong blow to the nose!” This sounds like something out of the dark ages.
The example given was based on a daughter who decided to share some fat scraps from her dinner plate with the puppy and the puppy bit her. Behavioral science teaches us positive methods to train, correct and redirect our puppies allowing us to leave behind forever the old “school of hard knocks”.
Nothing was mentioned about setting the puppy up to succeed – not fail by simply crating the puppy during mealtimes so that you can work with the puppy in a positive way during a controlled training session, thereby avoiding physical punishment.
While Williams did mention that kids, like dogs need behavioral counseling as well, there was no mention made of teaching the children in the household how best to interact with the puppy, i.e. “no table scraps are to be hand fed to the puppy thus avoiding the need to physically punish altogether.” There is also the added concern that if this physical punishment happens during a puppy’s critical fear imprint period, the owner could seriously compound problems that could have long term negative affects on the puppy.
Normal puppies should play-bite as they interact socially with their litter mates. But since we remove them from their litter mates too early, and bring them home, they become isolated from opportunities to continue to fine-tune their bite inhibition. We, as dog owners can allow our puppies to continue to work on bite inhibition during their very very early age (7-12 weeks) by allowing puppies to bite us ADULTS under controlled circumstances as they interact with us. Allowing puppies to bite gives them some idea of their bite strength. You use positive methods to redirect the biting. This critical information gives them a point of reference from which to work to soften their bite and then finally only lick human skin.
There is a process to go through with your puppy to accomplish this. Most trainers familiar with positive reinforcement training can take you through this process so that the learning is positive for both the owners and the puppy. Puppies should always be supervised on leash around children.
Here’s another interesting thing I’ve learned over the years from dog behaviorists. I don’t know if I can quote verbatim so I’ll try and paraphrase as best I can. It goes something like this.
“Kids get along well with dogs when parents provide gentle and enlightened guidance to both. When emotional and/or physical parental excesses take place, children and dogs both tend to react according to the Be-Like Act-Like (allelomimetic) principle. If a dog owner gets angry and punishes a child quite often, the dog may start getting edgy when the youngster is around him. If an owner does the same to the dog, the child may take on the role of punisher and get into trouble when the dog defends himself.”
Based on this theory, if the daughter in the example, sees the parent physically punish the puppy, then she, at some point takes on the role of punisher, there is a high likelihood that the dog (being forced into defense drive)may bite the child. There are simply better positive ways to approach correcting a puppy.
Until next time, be as concerned about the trainer of your puppy, as you are about the teacher of your children. And remember, Opportunity Barks!
Jim Buwell, founder Jim Burwell’s Petiquette