There is nothing like having a german shepherd puppy to develop more empathy for clients who complain about biting puppies.
My now 11 week old puppy hasn’t drawn blood yet, but like many puppies, he explores the world with a mouth filled with razor sharp teeth. The other day I was trying to put on my socks and boots to keep him from biting my feet but he was biting my socks and pulling them off faster than I could put them on! Someday, this might be a useful trick, but for now, it’s like having a pet shark! And yes, there are some tricks to dealing with this.
- Tired puppies are bitier puppies. This is REALLY important and very true. My pup has a nap schedule and when he starts to get tired he gets definitely like “let me bite your arm! your face! your hair!” When I’ve had enough, he has also had enough. I put him down for a nap with a good chewy thing in his crate, and he wakes up much more gentle and calm. At 11 weeks, he seems to be sleeping two hours, then awake two hours all day long, but then he sleeps 10 hours through the night. Puppies, especially large breed pups, need a lot of sleep.
- Give him something else to bite. Sometimes, I stick his own paw in his mouth, or his tail and that seems to be very helpful in helping puppies learn not to bite so hard. It’s convenient too! I keep other toys conveniently located too (tied to my belt), ready to redirect and engage his play in a positive way. People worry about rawhide, but I use small pieces of rawhide (just one “rawhide chip” a day) and my pup chews and chews and chews and turns it into gum. That seems much safer to me than the raw beef bones which he turns into shards of glass. Carrots are good. Half a pig ear is good.
- Collar grab/ drop it games. I practice toy games so that he learns “drop it.” If he won’t drop my pants leg, sleeve, or toy, I gently hold the collar and wait, being as still and boring as I can be so that now his “toy” is inactive. The instant he drops whatever he’s grabbed, I release the collar and reward (often with a game of tug)! If he re-grabs my pantleg, I re-grab his collar. I aim to be gentle and just hold the collar, freeze, while he figures out that dropping his mouthful means I drop his collar. If I don’t feel like more games of tug, I reward the drop by feeding.
- While sometimes I can’t help but shriek “ouch!” and sometimes shrieking might let provide good information for a puppy, other times it might be more rewarding to bite you if you shriek! Puppies don’t understand that they are not supposed to make us shriek. So I try to set myself up to be “bite proof.” My boots mean he can’t herd me if he bites my ankles. Gloves mean I have the upper hand. Sleeves mean he can bite my arm and I still am going to pick him up. My goal is to teach him that his bites do not influence my behavior. I’m in charge, bitey puppy or not.
- Use lots of food and chew toys to keep his teeth where they belong while you are socializing your puppy. Give him big soft toys to chew, and these will give him something to do with his mouth while the kids are patting the puppy. Warn people, kids especially, not to yank hands away. Keep very close tabs on when you socialize your pup (NOT when he’s tired!).
- Condition your puppy to love a head halter and crate. If he is biting a lot, playing intensely as a pup, you know you have a good dog with a lot of drive and you’re going to need that gear when he is a teenager. Train train train.
- Teach a hand target, and only mark and reward when he targets your hand with his nose, don’t reward when you feel a tooth.
- Deliver food rewards to the tongue, not the tooth. How to practice: Put peanut butter in the palm of your hand, and present your closed fist to your pup. When you feel his tongue “click” and open your hand for the puppy to lick the peanut butter, but if you feel a tooth, take away access to the peanut butter.
- I play with my puppy in all the ways you should never greet a strange dog. I stick my fingers in his mouth and stick my face in his face (while carefully guiding his mouth safely away from my face. I try to get him used to biting gently. In some situations, if he is being too intense biting on my hand, it works to stick my hand a little bit further into his mouth, rather than yank my hand away. When you yank your hand away, that can unfortunately reward the dog for biting and also rip open your hand. Instead, if you go in the opposite direction and move into his bite, he probably will back right off.
- I change my expectations. Puppies explore the world with their mouth. I don’t expect my puppies to never bite, but I know that they will. I help them find out what kind of biting is part of our games, and what kind of biting ends our fun games.