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Hi, all -

We're having trouble with our 5-month-old spoo's biting. We are trying to deal with it "by the book" but nothing seems to work. Any suggestions would be welcome!

Ever since we got him (at 10 weeks), we have consistently redirected him to chew toys when he started play-biting us. Over time, he got much better around me (mom), but he's absolutely horrible around my teenage sons. (I still get some bites. My husband gets more than me, but less than our two teens.)

I think the puppy is better with me partly because I yelped effectively when he bit me and I also put in the most time training him. My husband and two teenaged sons can't manage a yelp that stops the puppy, and "ow" doesn't stop the pup--neither does a stern "no."

The biting doesn't just happen during play sessions. The puppy will run up to greet (or follow) and then start biting my sons (and sometimes my husband and me). I can get him into a sit pretty quickly, which pretty much ends the problem. But he will completely ignore my teens and continue biting, getting more excited along the way. They try not to jerk their hands away, so it's not a game. But it doesn't matter. The puppy will bite any part he can reach. If we turn our backs on him and stand like a statue, he'll bite the back of our legs. If my son is sitting on the couch, the puppy will come up to him and start biting within seconds. (Not only is it horrible puppy manners, but my son breaks out in hives wherever he's bitten.)

If we can't stop the puppy, we'll put him into his pen a few feet away from us. He hates it, and I don't like making the pen a punishment. Our trainer (the puppy went through puppy kindergarten successfully) suggested putting him into the bathroom until he calms down. It's just hard to get "Jaws" down the hall when he's in biting mode (and we'd have to puppy-proof the bathroom by taking up the rug and towels, etc.--a pain for a short time out.)

The puppy has chew toys of many varieties, but I don't think it's solely a question of puppy biting/playing/teething. I think part of the problem is a very high prey drive. The puppy focuses almost always on people's feet. We've trained decent leash walking outside, so he no longer pounces on strangers' feet. Inside, I try to get his attention and make him focus on my face before I move an inch. But he will still sometimes try to bite our legs while following us.

My sons have managed to redirect the puppy's attention to playing ball, which he loves. But we need to find a way they can walk around our home or just watch TV without getting bitten!

I also wonder if there's some sort of dominance thing going on. He grabs my husband's and sons' legs as if preparing to hump (but we push him off before that). Strangely, he also seems to deliberately step on our feet when we're walking around our home (mine too).

Our previous spoo was the most chill, good-natured dog in the world--though very mouthy as a pup. There are moments when this puppy seems like he'll be a good family member someday, but there's a lot of work to be done before then. (He also barks too much.)

Again, any suggestions are welcome!

General background: We got this puppy from a terrific breeder and met his parents (and granddam and great granddam)--all very sweet (health-tested) show dogs. We also talked to someone who'd adopted two "very sweet" puppies from this breeder. Our puppy seemed especially laid-back and sweet (and the vet and groomer have described him that way). However, he was overwhelmed when we moved him from the breeder's rural setting to a condo in the city. We worked hard to socialize him and build up his confidence, and he's doing well now on that front (though not yet "bomb-proof" like our previous spoo). Training in other areas has been going fairly well, though he will often ignore commands if we don't have a treat in hand.

Sorry for the long post!
 

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The first thing that comes to my mind is how often are naps reinforced and where? The pen or crate doesn’t have to be punishment, it can be a place where puppy learns to chill out. I reinforced nap time frequently by crating and covering the crate. If it’s been a while since folks have had a young dog, sometimes it’s easy to forget how much sleep they really need

Alpha dominance theory has been debunked scientifically. I’d reckon it’s a pretty drive/overtired/over threshold thing.

I also think that just yelling no is less effective than giving something the dog can do. A not this, yes that type of thing.

What’s your routine with this pup? Is there an interactive playtime, potty time, rest time cycle? I find having a schedule of sorts can also help everyone adapt to what is expected behaviour. Gives pup a chance to be with you,expend energy appropriately, and then learn how to chill out when expected too.


Bennie is my first dog so you’re likely to get much more helpful advice from others here. I look forward to following. I still have slight issues with my pup jumping at my youngest child, though she’s quickly redirected.
 

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The most effective thing for us at that stage (and pretty much all of us have been there!) was to use the time out. We learned a two part cue for the consequence - "that's enough" is a one-shot warning that they have to change their behavior. "Too bad", if they don't change it, tells them a consequence is coming - in this case, they are going to be taken out of the action for a bit. The time out (which we used the crate for) was 30s-3 mins. So not very long! Some puppies might fall asleep on the longer time out and in that case, let them. The more consistent we were the faster she learned that the warning meant she had better stop that. It was tiring to have to repeat the time out multiple times in a row but it was a good way for her to learn. If you are worried your pup will start to play chase me when it's time for the time out, you can have him trail a leash while you're working on this.

My standard poodle is almost 2 and still sometimes gets mouthy when playing with my 10 year old, though she is soft and gentle with her mouth now, so while it's not ideal, it's not something I'm terribly worried about. It's a holdover from rehearsing mouthy behavior with her more than with the other members of the family. It sounds like this is the dynamic with your pup as well. So I guess, be prepared for the dynamic to persist even as it improves.
 

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Five months is peak teething for puppies, so some of the mouthiness might just be his age. Some of it also, though, is probably because he has discovered he can use biting to initiate a rowdy play session with the other members of your family. He doesn't do it as much with you because he has discovered it doesn't work.

Correcting bad behavior is usually most successful when you can give the dog something else to do that is equally entertaining but more appropriate. So, if the puppy wants to play by biting, his victims need to play with him in a way that doesn't let him bite them but still entertains him. Consider, also, that water wants to flow downhill so to speak. By that I mean that it's easiest to redirect your puppy if what you want him to do is similar to something he is already doing. If the puppy wants to move (as shown by racing around, jumping, spinning), it helps if the alternative is something that includes movement. A puppy that wants to jump will find it easier to comply with a command to back up or spin than to comply with a command to sit. A puppy that wants to bite will find it easiest to comply with a command that involves putting something in his mouth.

I would work on developing a series of tricks that start by harnessing whatever energy he is bringing to the party and then switches to a focus on impulse control. One thing I did with my puppy Galen was to teach him to back up, then sit, then catch a treat. Backing up gave him a way to burn off some wiggles. Sitting dropped the energy level slightly and was a signal to focus on me. The opportunity to jump up and catch the treat was his reward for that brief moment of calm and focus. The better he calmed himself and paid attention, the more likely he was to catch the treat.

Another thing I did was to practice heeling with a clicker and treats. I walked and even ran around with Galen off leash. I would occasionally look down to my left, particularly after any changes in speed or direction. If Galen was there in position looking up at me I would click and give him a treat. He got no click and treat if he was out of position or if he tried to bite me on the butt. This game harnessed his drive to chase while establishing a no-biting rule that made sense to him.

The dominance hierarchy theory has been pretty much abandoned by even the researchers who originally wrote it up. They did their observations on unrelated wolves confined together. Essentially they had set up a Hunger Games scenario with animals thinking they were competing for survival. In a normally functioning wolf pack the wolves would not have acted that way any more than Katniss Everdeen would have attacked her mother to take over the household.

Erections in male dogs are usually a sign of emotional excitement. My youngster Ritter loves playing training games and loves the one on one attention he gets during them. He often displays his lipstick when we are playing. It's a signal to me to tone down whatever we are doing; he's getting too spun up. Humping occurs when I ignore his signals and let him continue playing to the point where he loses control. I deal with it by putting him away to chill out.
 

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The most effective thing for us at that stage (and pretty much all of us have been there!) was to use the time out. We learned a two part cue for the consequence - "that's enough" is a one-shot warning that they have to change their behavior. "Too bad", if they don't change it, tells them a consequence is coming - in this case, they are going to be taken out of the action for a bit. The time out (which we used the crate for) was 30s-3 mins. So not very long! Some puppies might fall asleep on the longer time out and in that case, let them. The more consistent we were the faster she learned that the warning meant she had better stop that. It was tiring to have to repeat the time out multiple times in a row but it was a good way for her to learn. If you are worried your pup will start to play chase me when it's time for the time out, you can have him trail a leash while you're working on this.

My standard poodle is almost 2 and still sometimes gets mouthy when playing with my 10 year old, though she is soft and gentle with her mouth now, so while it's not ideal, it's not something I'm terribly worried about. It's a holdover from rehearsing mouthy behavior with her more than with the other members of the family. It sounds like this is the dynamic with your pup as well. So I guess, be prepared for the dynamic to persist even as it improves.
I love this two step process! I’m going to try it out!
 

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If the puppy wants to move (as shown by racing around, jumping, spinning), it helps if the alternative is something that includes movement. A puppy that wants to jump will find it easier to comply with a command to back up or spin than to comply with a command to sit. A puppy that wants to bite will find it easiest to comply with a command that involves putting something in his mouth.
And the series of tricks idea. So brilliant.
 

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I think that works for a lot of puppy misbehavior. Distract the pup from what he's doing by asking him to do something else that you can praise him for. Halt the misbehavior and channel him into something that is fun and rewarding instead.
Absolutely. That’s the whole “not this, do this” instead. But I love specifically the chain of commands or using the energy wanting to be expressed bit. I think that’s why I’ve always struggled with the jumping up. We’re taught the incompatible action is “sit” but for an excited pogo-ing poodle that’s so hard! It was PtP who opened my eyes to the possibility of teaching jump with no contact.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thank you all. We'll work harder on the schedule, teach some related tricks, and try the two-step warning then time out. Our challenge with distracting him by asking him to do something else is that he simply won't listen when he's that worked up. I'm doing some Susan Garrett impulse control games/training, so perhaps that will help, too! Fingers crossed!
 

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Mia, Christmas in June 2010
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He's adorable! Sorry he's at a tough age. Mia is nearly 12 years old and still has trouble self regulating when she's over threshold, so we still have enforced crate/rest time.
 
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