Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bite Inhibition

Bucket wrestling anyone?
That's it Sunny!  Tell that bucket to get off it's rim and fight!
Atta girl! 
Someone asked me about bite inhibition and I thought it would make for a good post.   I am training Sunny to be a performance dog so I won't work on bite inhibition for a while.  Sunny is a  like a shark with those teeth, so I am just careful when I play with her and keep directing her bite to a toy.   I won't correct her biting me BECAUSE I want a ton of play drive for training.  Sunny is a very busy puppy and has a lot of drive.  I want to build all that drive and then direct it to agility, obedience and play.  So I just take the bites for now and keep directing those teeth to the toy.  In a few weeks it will get better and she will be on the toy more.  If I work on bite inhibition now it will squish some of her drive and I want it all!  I want an intense, demanding and high drive partner.

Now, not everyone wants that in their dog.  And honestly, a lot of people can't handle a dog with that much drive.  It is a lot of extra work on the trainers part and you have to have good timing with toys, and know what you are doing.  Otherwise you get "leaky" drive and the dog doesn't understand how to control their state of mind and the dog gets too wild and crazy and can't learn.  Dogs have to learn to think in drive mode.

A lot of pet trainers will tell you to never tug with your dog, that it will lead to aggression problems - I have heard all kinds of things over the years!  Performance dog people usually don't think that way.  We want our dogs to tug like maniacs!  So it really depends on what you want in your dog.  If you want a family dog that is going to be around children you will want to teach bite inhibition from the beginning. If you are a quiet person that just wants to have fun with your dog and enjoy agility but not have an over the top dog, then you will want to start with bite inhibition from the beginning.

However, if you have a soft dog, and you want to do dog sports, I would not do bite inhibition until the dog is playing with you.  It is too easy to squish a soft dog's desire to work.  Once you teach them to go slow it is hard to teach them to speed up.
In my experience, if you just keep directing the puppy to the toy they will get the idea in a few weeks and start going to the toy.  However, if they don't get on the toy and prefer skin, you definitely need to address that!  I won't tolerate deliberate biting from the pup once I feel I given  her enough training to understand.  Here is what I do if a pup continues to go for skin instead of getting on the toy.
I will grab his muzzle over the top and close his mouth and squeeze and hold with a firm NO!   Keep holding and squeezing until he submits a little.  Think of the mother dog disciplining her pups.  She will place her mouth over the top of the pups muzzle and hold down. (If your hands are getting hurt in this process wear leather gloves.)   If the pup is soft it won't take much.  If you are dealing with a tougher pup you just have to bear down a little harder.  I would rather make my point clear the first time.  When I do this kind of discipline I keep very calm about it - no anger - just very matter of fact.  I don't mess around.

A few more ideas if you are in a family situation.  Don't allow family members to play with the pup with anything but a toy - no hand games or rough housing.  Keep directing the bite to the toy.  You must supervise all interaction with children.  If the pup gets too rough put him away in his crate or pen.  Puppies are just little wild animals at this young age.  Yesterday, Sunny got so wound up  when we were playing outside that she started jumping and biting at my legs and knees etc.......It was not play - it was attack mode.  She kicked into a high prey drive mode - she is a herding dog after all and bred to work!   I just grabbed her by the collar, told her we would have none of that  and put her away.  She is a 9 week old puppy and I knew she just lost control - no big deal, she will learn.  She isn't always like that - she just got herself wound up LOL!!!  I LOVE that in her.   I asked  for the brat of the litter :-)  I will nurture that drive and shape  it into the drive to work with  me.   BUT in the meantime I will not allow her to act like that.  Puppies at this age are just little animals.  They have not learned their social graces so we have to teach them.  The higher drive the dog,  the more like a wild beast they are :-)  They will learn to have self control over time.  It is our job to keep it in balance.

I was also asked about leg biting. You know, that cute thing they do when they grab your pants leg or ankles and hang on.  My pants, socks and shoes are not a tug toy!  I never allow this from the time I get the puppy.  This can become a really bad habit that is hard to break, and when they get big it is not cute at all.  First thing the puppy has to learn is to not walk in front of me.  I don't stop when the puppy gets in front of me.  I keep walking, being careful not to step on them by dragging my feet - toes down and gently lifting the pup out of my path.  I keep moving forward and don't stop or turn.  In a few days the puppy will stop getting in front of me.  All dogs do this - not just herding dogs.  It is their instinct to get in front of stock and turn them.  They just need to learn that humans don't turn for them like stock will.

Now if the puppy is already biting your legs you have to put a stop to it now.  Nip this in the bud!  Believe me it will only get worse.  Get a cane, broom stick or pvc pipe and walk along with your puppy.  When the pup comes in to bite your legs bump them away with the stick.  Don't say anything  - just keep bumping them away.  You are going to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult.  A soft dog will get it right away.  A tougher one will need to have a more convincing bump!  I would rather do it once and mean it rather than "nag" them and have them coming back at my legs with a vengence.  You have to be tough here.  It is a bad habit that is hard to break when they get bigger!  Nip it in the bud.  
I will never allow a dog to bite me once they are past the puppy stage.  If the dog is trained and they try to bite me they will be very sorry.  I use very positive methods in my training, but I will never allow biting - ever.

It is a fine line  - the whole puppy biting thing.  If I am playing with my pup and they bite my hands I will allow it when I am in the  phase of building the drive to work and play with me.    But I will never allow them to come in at me and bite me if I am walking or running.  You have to know the difference, understand your puppy and act accordingly.