ClickerSolutions Training Articles


Bite Inhibition How to Teach it

Puppy Biting - Patience!

Biting Pant Legs & Ankles

Puppy Adolscence - or Demon Spawn!

New Puppy Separation Anxiety

Your pup is obeying every instinct in its little body. A puppy left alone is a dead puppy -- so puppies scream for the company of the pack. It's not *natural* for a pup to be left alone.

Your household may require that the puppy be alone. That's something that has to be taught gradually You took this pup out of a familiar world where everything made sense and placed her into something completely foreign with completely bizarre rules. She's utterly terrified.

Put his crate in your bedroom and create a nighttime ritual. Take her there before you plan to put her in his crate, let her get out the last minute zoomies, and let her fall asleep on her own. Then pick her up and place her in her crate. That will wake her up, so spend another several minutes stroking her until she falls asleep again. Bedtime with no fuss!

In the middle of the night, if she wakes up, pick her up and take her outside to pee. Don't talk to her or stroke her anymore than necessary.

Ignore her outside, and as soon as she pees, pick her up and carry her straight back to her crate. It *will* take some time for her to settle at first, but if you're consistent, she'll soon be conditioned to fall straight back to sleep. Put the crate right next to your bed -- even up on the nightstand -- so she can smell and see you. Dangle your fingers inside to comfort her, if necessary.

During the day, your pup needs to be with her pack. She doesn't need to be locked in her crate or in the kitchen unless you're unable to watch her -- and when you're home, you need to be able to watch her. She's learning 24/7, and you need to be teaching her. You can't teach her when she's in the crate or the kitchen. For the first couple of weeks, she will want to stick very, very close. But each week, she'll want to start exploring further and further away. This is growing up. As this happens, she'll be more comfortable with being crated or left alone.

When Pax was your puppy's age, I couldn't take a *shower* without him freaking out the entire time -- even if my husband was home with him. By the time he was three months old, I could pop him in his larger crate downstairs, toss a bone in with him, and run errands without him making a sound. He never learned to whine and cry and hate his crate because I took
his age into account and never forced him to do something his psyche wasn't capable of doing.

You may argue that your household doesn't allow that kind of commitment. Well, you can muddle through. But be aware that every decision has a consequence. A nine week old is an *infant* and needs the constant attention of an infant.

Melissa Alexander 2002


Bite Inhibition - How to Teach It

Rather than "No bite," I strongly, strongly, strongly urge you to teach your puppy bite inhibition instead. Bite inhibition is a "soft mouth." It teaches the pup how to use his mouth gently. Does this mean that the pup will forever be mouthing you? No, not at all. Actually, regardless of the method used, puppies generally grow out of mouthing behavior after a few months.

So why should you teach bite inhibition? Because dogs have one defense: their teeth. Every dog can bite. If frightened enough or in pain or threatened, your dog *will* bite. That doesn't in any way make him a "bad" dog. It makes him a dog. It's your responsibility, therefore, to teach your dog that human skin is incredibly fragile. If you teach your dog bite inhibition that training will carry over even if he is later in a position where he feels forced to bite.

A story... Ian Dunbar tells a story of a bite incident he had to asses. A Golden Retriever therapy dog was leaving a nursing home and his tail was accidentally shut in a car door. The owner went to help, and the dog delivered four Level Four bites before she could react.

FYI, a standard scale has been developed to judge the severity of dog bites, based on damage inflicted. The scale is:

* Level One: Bark, lunge, no teeth on skin.
* Level Two: Teeth touched, no puncture.
* Level Three: 1-4 holes from a single bite. All holes less than half the length of a single canine tooth.
* Level Four: Single bite, deep puncture (up to one and a half times the depth of a single canine tooth), wound goes black within 24 hours.
* Level Five: Multiple bite attack or multiple attack incidents.
* Level Six: Missing large portions of flesh.

Technically, the woman received a Level Five bite from a long-time therapy dog. Dr. Dunbar wasn't the least bit surprised by the bites. I mean, the dog got his tail shut in a car door! Of course he bit! What shocked Dr. DUnbar was that a dog with no bite inhibition was being used as a therapy dog.

"But he's never bitten before." Of course not. And barring an accident like that, he probably never would have. But an accident is just that. An accident. Unpredicted. What if it had happened in the nursing home?

So how do you teach bite inhibition?

Again from Dr. Dunbar, there are four stages of bite inhibition. The first two stages involve decreasing the force in the bites. The second two stages involve decreasing the frequency of the bites. The training *must* be done in that order. If you decrease the frequency first, the dog won't learn to soften his bite. The stages:

1. No painful bites. 90% of puppies will stop if you give a high-pitched squeal or yelp. If they stop, praise and reinforce by continuing the game. The other 10% and puppies who are tired or overstimulated will escalate their behavior instead of stopping. This requires you to confine the puppy or end the game. Remove all attention. It does *not* require any added aversive -- yelling, popping the nose or under the chin, shoving your hand down his throat, or spraying with water.

If you end the game, you need to be able to get away from the puppy with as little fuss or attention as possible. Even negative attention is attention. It's often helpful to have the puppy tethered, so you can simply move back out of his reach. Or, have him in a confined area and simply stand up and move past a boundary. Because the getting up and moving is tough to do at the instant the undesired behavior occurs, consider using a hand signal that will always mean "You're a jerk. Fun's over." Use it consistently when poor behavior occurs and you're going to withdraw attention.

I am well aware that puppy teeth hurt, and that this step can be overwhelming. Do it when you can, and at other times redirect, redirect, redirect. Puppy mouthing is a 100% natural dog behavior. It's not dominant. It's not meanness. It's a puppy being a puppy. When it's too much either redirect or end the game. Aversives are confusing, unfair, and unnecessary.

2. Eliminate all pressure. You want to gradually shape the dog to "gum you to death." Service dog trainers do this routinely, because service dogs often have to use their mouths to manipulate human limbs. Basically, you do this gradually. Set a limit of how hard the dog can bite. If he bites harder, yelp. Gradually set your limit for softer and softer bites. Remember to do this gradually. A big jump in criteria is confusing and frustrating to the dog.

3. When I say stop, you stop. Teach cues for "Take It," "Leave It," and "Drop It." You need to be able to both start and stop the game on your terms.

4. You may never touch a human with your muzzle unless invited. Basically, this is just taking stage three to complete stimulus control.

None of these stages require anything more aversive than time outs or withdrawal of attention. When teaching these behaviors, put your hands in your dog's mouth all the time. Get him used to your being there. Make sure you can open his mouth and examine his teeth -- the vet is going to do that, and you should prepare your dog. Play mouth games. Teach your dog never to touch an object in your hand unless invited. Make sure he knows when he *is* invited, he is never to bite both the toy and your hand at the same time.

By the way, regarding the "alpha dad." This is actually a prime example why dominance theory shouldn't be applied in dog/human relationships. "Dominating" a dog sets up an adversarial relationship. It sets up a relationship based on strength, power, and force. Is that what you want the relationship with your dog to be? Since some women, and most children and elderly people can't handle that kind of relationship, I'd say you were setting yourselves up for problems later.

You don't need to physically dominate a dog. Train it. Control the resources. Anyone in the family can train and control resources. *That* is what being a leader is.

Melissa Alexander


Puppy Biting - Have Patience

From: "tami_kat35" <>
Date: Tue Jul 2, 2002 3:35 pm
Subject: Puppy biting - all new puppy people please read!

Okay so yipping like a hurt puppy isn't working for you. It's not an *immediate* cure. Just like everything else with a puppy - patience, patience, patience! Things take time to get into those little lemon brains.

We've also suggested having a nice chewie toy to pop into puppy's mouth to redirect them from biting on you.

There's the turning of the back, and tucking hands into your armpits.
- This is a calming signal!

There's also the getting up and leaving the area where the puppy is.

There's popping puppy into a crate for a quick time out - sorry biting doesn't work, no attention for you.

These are all things that you can do with your puppy - they *do* work. To get them to work you have to forget about your time schedule, and realize that you're working with a baby - a puppy, who doesn't understand human talk, has biting/mouthing as a behavior that is hard-wired into their little systems. It all goes back to 1) time and 2)patience. Have the patience to give them the time to figure out what you are trying to communicate to them.

I've used all of the above with 10-month-old Norbert. He got it within a few weeks. He has a very soft mouth now - and since he's half terrier who are known to have very hard mouths - that's saying a lot! He *knows* his jaw strength - I see that playing with Nessa, and with our family. He still 'checks' to see if Mom has that 'tissue paper' skin I built in his mind. Yup! She does - darn! I can't play rough and tumble - but she throws a mean ball! Cool! Occassionally at night just before going to sleep he would want to 'nibble' on my thumb - just light teething, kind of like thumb sucking. He seemed to find it comforting, it wasn't painful
and he stopped after a few seconds of it.

Nessa, now 9 weeks old, after 2 weeks on the above program had a great compliment yesterday. Lindsay, someone through ClickerSolutions brought her dogs over for a play date. Nessa was mouthing her, and Lindsay complimented her on her 'soft' mouth. This
from a baby who is still grasping all of the bite inhibition concepts! Yes, she gets frustrated after a few of my hurt puppy yips! Goes off grumbling, and then pounces on Norbert for a play bout. I must be fairly convincing with these yips because I did while Lindsay's three were there, and they all had to come check to make sure I was okay! LOL!

Do I expect that she'll be perfect with her bite inhibition anytime soon? Heck no! Just about the time *I* think she might have it, she'll be knee deep in teething. So I'll buy stock in chewie toys and get through it, and know that in a few months I'll have a dog with good bite inhibition.

Patience people! Keep working the things we're telling that work. Progress will occur gradually, but it should occur. I say should because there are always exceptions to the rule.

Tami Bridges
Norbert (much more fun to play bite dogs then silly old hoomans)
Nessa (that mom! she's got such sensitive skin! I'll chew on Norbert's ears instead!!)
Hillsboro, OR


Biting Pant Legs & Ankles

Chasing your moving feet and biting ankles and pantslegs is a 100% natural dog behavior! But it's not much fun for you. Let's apply the four steps of problem-solving to find a solution:

1. Identify the specific problem. Here, biting ankles and pants legs.

2. Define what you want the puppy to do instead. The answer to this question is *never* "Stop doing the problem behavior." You could suppress the behavior, and the dog could choose to do something even worse! Save yourself a ton of frustration -- and your dog a ton of confusion -- and choose a preferred behavior. In this instance, I'd say, "Walk nicely next to me."

3. Manage the situation so the undesired behavior becomes unreinforcing or impossible. Why is the puppy doing it? Because it's natural to chase and bite moving things.

So step one, if the puppy pounces, STOP MOVING. As soon as the puppy pauses, click and treat -- reinforce the pause in activity. Start walking... stop the moment his tetth touch your anknles or clothes. Never again take a step while the puppy is biting you.

If you don't have time to do that, then MANAGE the situation and put the puppy somewhere where he can't bite you! Or take a different route! Don't get frustrated by your lack of planning and blame the pup.

If you find that the puppy does it only at certain times -- when he's overstimulated or tired, for example, or when you first get home or when you put the leash on -- manage the situation. Identify the triggers and plan for them.

4. Train the preferred behavior. Teach your pup it's fun and reinforcing to walk by your side. Reinforce heavily for any steps at your side -- this is a great foundation for loose-leash walking.

In this method, the dog has learned walking with mom is fun -- more fun than biting ankles and pantslegs.

It is never, ever necessary to yell at, growl at, shake, muzzle grab, or otherwise physically punish this behavior. (Gee, I bet those behaviors make the pup anxious to walk at your side during loose leash walking. NOT!) ) Be proactive, not reactive. What has the pup
learned if you use physical corrections?

That type of correction says, "I am bigger and stronger and you must do what I want." Is that what you want your pup to learn? If your pup is ever going to get large, or if he's ever going to be around children, physically-challenged people, or the elderly, I don't think
you do. Teach what you want -- don't react and punish. If you have to react, YOU screwed up and let it happen. Don't punish the puppy for your poor planning.

Melissa Alexander 2002


Puppy Adolscence - or Demon Spawn

> But seriously folks, what is a dog owner/guardian to do during this phase?

The absolute first thing a person must do is understand what adolescence is.
(I posted part of this about a week ago. Forgive the repeat.)

Every puppy of every breed -- and every adolescent of every species that raises its young -- goes through the same thing at adolescence. Adolescence is an important, necessary transition period between childhood and adulthood. As infants, these creatures were completely helpless, completely dependent upon their mothers for everything -- food, comfort, safety. In childhood, the creatures begin practicing the skills they'll need later.
However, they do it right there with mom in sight, so mom can protect or help as necessary. They instinctively know they aren't able to take care of themselves, so they stick close.

The eventual goal is, of course, adulthood. Complete independence. Mom won't be there to make decisions -- or to alleviate them of responsibility for their mistakes. The real world will be applying consequences, and those can be harsh (even fatal). The animal will, perhaps, become a parent herself, and must have all the knowledge and skills to raise the next generation. Adolescence is the transition between the safe practice of childhood and the
independent, butt-on-the-line reality of adulthood. Adolescence is the time when "Because I said so" simply isn't good enough anymore -- Nature *demands* that they test boundaries and consequences and decide for themselves what decisions they want to make. It's not dominance or rebellion. It's growing up.

Yes, even pet dogs *have* to go through this period. "But he won't be making decisions -- I will," you protest. Actually, I doubt it. Unless you're planning to be there, directing his every move 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you need your dog to know how to make decisions. More importantly, you want him to make the decision *you* want. And you want him to make this decision even when you're not there to back up the decision.

So back to the question -- how do we survive this period?

Pups are usually *soooo* good prior to this first adolescent burst that we relax our management and begin extending their freedoms. The first thing to do, then, is tighten up on your management. Off-leash probably needs to be restricted to fenced locations. Restrict the dog to the room you're in (again!). Make sure to crate the dog (or confine it in a place where you *absolutely* don't care if there's damage -- including to walls, molding, and floors) anytime you can't actively watch him.

The second thing to do is make sure the dog is well-exercised physically and mentally. They're going through a growth spurt, in addition to massive mental development. They need to exercise ALL of those muscles. Get that up out to a safe place where it can truly run. Play games like fetch and retrieve that really work the dog. If you've got a doggy daycare, put the
dog in daycare once a week and let him play himself silly (as well as learn to speak dog fluently!).

It's imperative to continue dog-dog socialization through adolescence. They are going through massive changes, and they need to learn to relate to their species on a different level. Lots of dog-dog aggression shows up in adolescence not because the dogs are innately aggressive, but because they are changing mentally and physically and haven't learned to communicate effectively as a teenager.

Train, train, and train some more. When the dog is at his "worst" go back to basics -- set him up to succeed. You may not make a lot of progress as far as reliability and precision during this time -- at least not on the surface. But you *can* make a lot of progress as far as setting a foundation for future learning. This is when you teach the dog that you are the giver
of all things and that making the choices you like results in GREAT things. This is when you build a reinforcement history for basic choices, so he will choose those behaviors when you're not there to watch and control.

Be patient in training. There will be lots of times he won't be able to concentrate. Work through it by focusing on the basics. Or, instead, choose something new and fun that *will* catch his interest. Do tricks. Do discrimination exercises. Just don't worry about precision for a couple of months.

Be consistent during this time. Control the resources (and therefore the consequences). This is a GREAT time to institute "Leading the Dance." Most of all, maintain your sense of humor, and chant the adolescent-dog-owner mantra: "This will end." Only time will "cure" the demon-spawn behaviors, but truly, you *can* manage and survive.

Melissa Alexander 2002


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