Dog Training

Mouthing & Play-biting

play-biting-huskyMouthing or play biting can be cute to watch when your dog is just a pup, but when it continues into adulthood it can be anywhere from annoying or inappropriate to downright dangerous.  Nipping the problem in the bud by teaching a dog bite inhibition is the best route, but if your adult dog is already in the habit of mouthing/play biting when riled up, it’s time to change your approach. #1. Don’t reward the behavior: many things can be interpreted as a reward to a dog.  Continuing to play with the dog is the worst thing you can do – you’re telling him/her that it’s okay to use their teeth on your skin.  Even talking to or yelling at the dog can reinforce the behavior, because you’re giving the dog attention, which is usually a reward.  Take your hands away, stop playing, and ignore the dog (i.e. take the rewards away) when your dog mouths.

#2. Redirect the dog to a better behavior: you don’t have to stop playing and having fun with your dog.  Redirect the dog’s mouthing to something harmless – perhaps a stuffed toy, ball, or any number of tug-toys and rope toys you can buy at most any pet store.

#3. Praise the dog for appropriate play: if your dog is playing nicely, i.e. without touching their teeth to your skin; or with a toy, praise them.  Calmly tell them they’re a good dog, or give them a treat.  Or just calm down and give them a good rub.  These all tell the dog it’s doing the right thing and reinforces the behavior you want!

#4. In tough situations, be a puppy: if the dog isn't responding to you ignoring the bad behavior, make a loud startling “yelp” noise and get up and leave the room.  Go do something else for a few minutes away from the dog, and then come back and resume play if the dog is calm.  This will usually work if other methods don't, and vice versa.  For some dogs, this will just rile them up more; so use caution.

By giving the dog good things to do, and avoiding giving them the opportunity to perform a behavior you don’t like, you’re setting your dog up for success!  You’re on the way to having a more rewarding relationship with your canine companion.

Dog training. That's where you show the dog who's boss, right?

Part: One (this is bound to be lengthy, so I'm writing it in two parts). 2012-07-17 19.46.20There are many "theories" of dog training floating around in the world today.  There's correction-based dog training; pack-leader "alpha" or "dominance" based dog training; there's clicker-training; positive-reinforcement training; and there's even progressive reinforcement training.  I'm sure I've left some out.  What's a dog owner to do?  How does one know which is best, and what'll work best for their dog?

Well, I won't be shy and I'll come out right away and say that the first two on that list are ones you'll want to avoid.  Why?  Because behavioral science, numerous research studies, and when it comes down to it, basic common sense dictates that we should follow the path of least resistance and at least do no harm to our pets.  If you have a dog that is misbehaving, or simply doesn't know commands you think he/she ought to, then your ultimate objective is to teach the right behavior.

In correction-based dog training, you would "correct" (read: punish) your dog for "misbehaving."  An example would be jerking on a cinch ("choke") chain when the dog pulls on leash to teach him not to pull, or to slap the dog on the nose or rear end with a rolled-up-newspaper or paddle for getting into something in the house you'd prefer she didn't.

Dominance (also "pack" or "alpha") training tells us that we must be dominant to our dogs.  We must be their unwavering leader and not allow them to dominate us.  We must be so intimidating to our dog that they respect us and do not misbehave for fear that we may dominate them and show them who's boss.  Examples would be the "alpha roll" (disclaimer: DO NOT DO THIS), wherein the dog "misbehaves" and you physically push the dog onto the floor and roll him onto his back, and generally stand there and stare intimidatingly until they submit (if they do submit and don't bite you in the face, instead).  Other methods include those seen on shows such a Cesar Millan's "The Dog Whisperer," where you'd hit the dog with the tips of your fingers (emulating a "mother wolf's 'bite'") and say "chhh chhh" when they act inappropriately.  This in turn frightens the dog into submission, and the dog then stop the behavior.

This is not an extensive description of these methods, but hopefully you get the gist.  There are numerous problems with the two training methods I just described.  You may have figured it out on your own simply by reading the terms "choke" and "hit" and "frighten."  Who actually wants to do those things to their "best friend"?

Beyond hurting or scaring your pet, these methods can cause further damage simply due to the fact that they can cause a dog to fear you, and ultimately all they do is suppress behavior.  They don't get to the root of why your dog is barking or chewing or pulling on the leash, they simply punish the dog for doing it.  This can work in the short-term, but in the long-term, you may be building up a lot of stress and fear inside of your best friend, and sadly, this frequently ends up in the dog showing other, more complex behavioral issues including aggression in some form or another down the line.

Hopefully after reading this, you're eager to learn more about more gentle, positive, effective methods of training.  I'll go into detail about those in my next post.  This has gotten lengthy. :)