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Bite inhibition is the single most important lesson a dog must learn. Adult dogs have teeth and jaws that can hurt and harm. All animals must learn to inhibit use of their weapons against their own kind, but domestic animals must learn to be gentle with all animals, especially people. Domestic dogs must learn to inhibit their biting toward all animals, especially toward other dogs and people. The narrow time window for developing a "soft mouth" begins to close at four-and-a-half months of age, about the time when the adult canine teeth first show. Providing your puppy with an ideal forum to learn bite inhibition is the most pressing reason to enrol him in puppy classes before he is eighteen weeks old.
Bite inhibition does not mean stopping the puppy from biting altogether. On the contrary, puppies must bite in order to learn bite inhibition. Bite inhibition means, learning to inhibit the force of the bites, so they no longer hurt or cause damage.
Teaching Bite Inhibition;
Teaching bite inhibition is the most important aspect of your puppy's entire education.
Certainly puppy biting behaviour must eventually be eliminated. We cannot have an adult dog playfully mauling family, friends, and strangers in the manner of a young puppy. However, it is essential that this be done gradually and progressively via a systematic two-step process: first, to inhibit the force of puppy bites and second, to lessen the frequency of puppy mouthing.
Ideally, the two phases should be taught in sequence, but with more active puppy biters you may wish to work on both stages at the same time. In either case, you must teach your puppy to bite or mouth gently before puppy biting behaviour is eliminated altogether.
The first step is to stop your puppy from hurting people: to teach him to inhibit the force of his play-bites. Physical punishments are certainly not called for. But it is essential to let your puppy know that bites can hurt. A simple "Ouch!" is usually sufficient. When the puppy backs off, take a short time-out to "lick your wounds," instruct your pup to come, sit, and lie down to apologize and make up and then, resume playing. If your puppy does not respond to your yelp by easing up or backing off, an effective technique is to call the puppy a "Bully!" and then leave the room and shut the door. Allow the pup a minute or two time-out to reflect on the association between his painful bite and the immediate departure of his favourite human playmate. Then return to make up. It is important to show that you still love your puppy, only that his painful bites are objectionable. Have your pup come and sit and then resume playing once more.
It is much better for you to walk away from the pup than to physically restrain him or remove him to his confinement area at a time when he is biting too hard. So make a habit of playing with your puppy in his long-term confinement area. This technique is remarkably effective with lead-headed dogs, since it is precisely the way puppies learn to inhibit the force of their bites when playing with each other. If one puppy bites another too hard, the bitee yelps and playing is postponed while he licks his wounds. The biter soon learns that hard bites interrupt an otherwise enjoyable play session. He learns to bite more softly once play resumes.
The next step is to eliminate bite pressure entirely, even though the "bites" no longer hurt. While your puppy is chewing his human chew toy, wait for a bite that is harder than the rest and respond as if it really hurt, even though it didn't: "Ouch, you worm! Gently! That really hurt me, you bully!" Your puppy begins to think, "Good Heavens! These humans are so sensitive. I'll have to be really careful when mouthing their delicate skin." And that's precisely what you want your pup to think: that he needs to be extremely careful and gentle when playing with people.
Your pup should learn not to hurt people well before he is three months old. Ideally, by the time he is four-and-a-half months old — before he develops strong jaws and adult canine teeth — he should no longer be exerting any pressure when mouthing.
Decreasing the Frequency of Mouthing;
Once your puppy has been taught to mouth gently, it is time to reduce the frequency of mouthing. Your pup must learn that mouthing is okay, but he must stop when requested. Why? Because it is inconvenient to drink a cup of tea or to answer the telephone with fifty pounds of wriggling pup dangling from your wrist. That's why.
It is better to first teach "Off" using food as both a distraction and a reward. The deal is this: once I say "Off," if you don't touch the food treat in my hand for just one second, I'll say, "Take it" and you can have it. Once your pup has mastered this simple task, up the ante to two or three seconds of non-contact, and then to five, eight, twelve, twenty, and so on. Count out the seconds and praise the dog with each second: "Good dog one, good dog two, good dog three," and so forth. If the pup touches the treat before you are ready to give it, simply start the count from zero again. Your pup quickly learns that once you say "Off," he cannot have the treat until he has not touched it, for, say, eight seconds, so the quickest way to get the treat is not to touch it for the first eight seconds. In addition, regular hand-feeding during this exercise encourages your pup's soft mouth.
Once your pup understands the "Off" request, use food as a lure and a reward to teach it to let go when mouthing. Say, "Off" and waggle some food as a lure to entice your pup to let go and sit. Then praise the pup and give the food as a reward when he does so.
The main point of this exercise is to practice stopping the pup from mouthing, and so each time your puppy obediently ceases and desists, resume playing once more. Stop and start the session many times over. Also, since the puppy wants to mouth, the best reward for stopping mouthing is to allow him to mouth again. When you decide to stop the mouthing session altogether, say, "Off" and then offer your puppy a Kong stuffed with kibble.
If ever your pup refuses to release your hand when requested, say, "Bully!" rapidly extricate your hand from his mouth, and storm out of the room mumbling, "Right. That's done it! You've ruined it! Finished! Over! No more!" and shut the door in his face. Give the pup a couple of minutes on his own to reflect on his loss and then go back to call him to come and sit and make up before continuing the mouthing game.
By the time your pup is five months old, he must have a mouth as soft and reliable as a fourteen-year-old working Labrador Retriever: your puppy should never initiate mouthing unless requested; he should never exert any pressure when mouthing; and he should stop mouthing and calm down immediately upon request by any family member.
Whether or not you allow your adult dog to mouth on request is up to you. For most owners, I recommend that they teach their dog to discontinue mouthing people altogether by the time he is six to eight months old. However, it is essential to continue bite inhibition exercises. Otherwise, your dog's bite will begin to drift and become harder as he grows older. It is important to regularly handfeed your dog and clean his teeth each day, since these exercises involve a human hand in his mouth.
For owners who have good control over their dog, there is no better way to maintain the dog's soft mouth than by regular play-fighting. However, to prevent your puppy from getting out of control and to fully realize the many benefits of play-fighting, you must play by the rules and teach your dog to play by the rules.
Play-fighting teaches your puppy to mouth only hands, which are extremely sensitive to pressure, but never clothing. Shoelaces, ties, trousers, and hair have no nerves and cannot feel. Therefore you cannot provide the necessary feedback when your pup begins to mouth too hard and too close to your skin. The play-fighting game also teaches your dog that he must adhere to rules regarding his jaws, regardless of how worked up he may be. Basically, play-fighting gives you the opportunity to practice controlling your puppy when he is excited. It is important to establish such control in a structured setting before real-life situations occur.
I.) Start training your puppy early on. While old dogs can be taught new tricks, what's learned earliest, is often learned quickest and earliest, is often learned quickest and easiest. Moreover, the older the dog, the more bad habits will likely need to be "un-learned". When it comes to raising and training a dog, an ounce of problem prevention is certainly worth a pound of cure!.
2.) Train your dog gently and humanely, and whenever possible, teach him using positive, motivational methods. Keep obedience sessions upbeat so that the training process is enjoyable for all parties involved. If training your pooch is a drudgery, rev things up a bit, and try the "play training" approach: incorporate constructive, non-adversarial games (such as "Go Find", "Hide 'n' Seek", retrieving, etc.) into your training sessions.
3.) Does your dog treat you like "hired help" at home? Does he treat you like a human gymnasium when you're sitting on the furniture? Does he beg at the table? Jump up on visitors? Demand your attention by annoying you to death? Ignore your commands? How well your dog responds to you at home affects his behaviour outdoors as well. If your dog doesn't respond reliably to commands at home (where distractions are relatively minimal), he certainly won't respond to you properly outdoors where he's tempted by other dogs, pigeons, passersby, sidewalk food scraps, etc.
4.) Avoid giving your dog commands that you know you cannot enforce. Every time you give a command that is neither complied with nor enforced your dog learns that commands are optional.
5.) One command should equal one response, so give your dog only one command (twice max!), then gently enforce it. Repeating commands tunes your dog out (as does nagging) and teaches your dog that the first several commands are a "bluff '. For instance, telling your dog to "Sit, sit, sit, sit!", is neither an efficient nor effective way to issue commands. Simply give your dog a single "Sit" command and gently place or lure your dog into the sit position, then praise/reward.
6.) Avoid giving your dog combined commands which are incompatible. Combined commands such as "sit-down" can confuse your dog. Using this example, say either "sit" or "down". The command "sit-down" simply doesn't exist.
7.) When giving your dog a command, avoid using a loud voice. Even if your dog is especially independent/unresponsive, your tone of voice when issuing an obedience command such as "sit", "down" or ""stay", should be calm and authoritative, rather than harsh or loud.
NOTE: Many owners complain that their dogs are "stubborn", and that they "refuse to listen" when given a command. Before blaming the dog when he doesn't respond to a command, one must determine whether or not: a) the dog knows what the owner wants, b) he knows how to comply, c) he is not simply being unresponsive due to fear, stress or confusion.
8.) Whenever possible, use your dog's name positively, rather than using it in conjunction to reprimands, warnings or punishment. Your dog should trust that when it hears its name or is called to you, good things happen. His name should always be a word he responds to with enthusiasm, never hesitancy or fear.
9.) Correct or, better yet, prevent the (mis)behaviour, don't punish the dog. Teaching and communication is what it's all about, not getting even with your dog. If you're taking an "it's-you-against-your dog, whip 'them into shape" approach, you'll undermine your relationship, while missing out on all the fun that a motivational training approach can offer. Additionally, after-the-fact discipline does NOT work.
10.) When training one's dog, whether praising or correcting, good timing is essential. Take the following example: You've prepared a platter of hors d'oeuvres for a small dinner party, which you've left on your kitchen counter. Your dog walks into the room and smells the hors d'oeuvres. He air-sniffs, then eyes the food, and is poised to jump up. This is the best, easiest and most effective time to correct your dog: before he's misbehaved, while he's thinking about jumping up to get the food.
11.) Often, dog owners inadvertently reinforce their dogs' misbehave, by giving their dogs lots of attention (albeit negative attention) when they misbehave. Needless to say, if your dog receives lots of attention and handling when he jumps up on you, that behaviour is being reinforced, and is therefore likely to be repeated.
12.) Keep a lid on your anger. Never train your dog when you're feeling grouchy or impatient. Earning your dog's respect is never accomplished by yelling, hitting, or handling your dog in a harsh manner. Moreover, studies have shown that fear and stress inhibit the learning process.