Kenny is a real Dog’s dog. A one-year old Australian shepherd rescue from Mississippi, with a loving personality, boundless energy and adorable curiosity, Kenny came to us with little in the way of manners. With his super smarts (I am biased!), he took to his training quickly and learned house-training, crate-training, leash walking, and basic commands in about a week…everything was great.
Except there was one big problem, when excited, Kenny liked to jump up and nip people’s noses!
Kenny wasn’t aggressive, but he would excitedly jump up and nip people he likes on the nose. Unfortunately, he was never properly trained to not play-bite as a puppy. Being an Aussie with high levels of energy and a disposition to herding — learning bite inhibition was essential.
Though we don’t know much about his background, one can imagine that when he did play-bite, he was possibly yelled at or scolded. Many old-school methods involve, shoving, or holding the dogs mouth closed while looking them in the eyes and saying “no bite!” All bad ideas! While these “punitive” actions may seem to work temporarily, they give the dog more attention for biting, doing this can actually reward and reinforce the biting behaviors!
What do to when your puppy play bites
The best time to cure Play-biting, even nose nipping, is while the dog is a puppy. Games like Drama Diva encourage owners to immediately Shun dogs who nip. Noticing and reacting to every time your dog mouths, nips, or even touches our skin with a tooth, is essential. This teaches your dog that they don’t get attention when they nip us, instead they get left alone and ignored!
At any age dogs can learn to stop play biting, the trick to solving play biting behaviors is to teach your dog they get less attention when they nip or bite. Instead of scolding, break eye contact as a form of ‘Shunishment.’ Clearly signal that you do not approve the behavior, by saying “Owww!” and teach people to stop touching, talking to, or playing with your dog each time they start biting.
Shunishment games, “punishment” by taking away attention, uses your dog’s desire to be with and touched by you as a way to stop unwanted behavior. The sound “Owww!” or “Ouch.” signals disapproval, while quickly turning your back, removes the attention. Clearly communicating to your pack member that play biting is no fun, because the human attention goes away!
Only after the lesson has been taught that biting doesn’t get more attention, it gets you taken “Out of the Pack!”, do we recommend refocusing your dog to a chew toy, play thing, or bone. Increasing mental stimulation, and healthy tug, fetch, or training games will teach where to channel their nippy energy.
Special Considerations for Hard Biters
In Kenny’s case, however, this lesson was not strong enough Even after being shunned, he continued to wag his tail and follow the person he nipped. He had practiced this behavior his whole life and a better solution was needed.
The answer is to carefully set up a learning environment, where training happens in a structured scenario designed to teach the lesson. Instead of us doing the hard work of follow him around to correct him, we use the right tools and equipment.
Successful training depends on making sure the dog can be left alone safely during training exercises. We started leashing Kenny indoors more often, and created a new house rule, every time Kenny nipped (or even looked like he was going to nip) his indoor leash was clipped on and left to drag behind him.
Once his leash was on inside the house, we could easily grab it to pull him away and create a teaching moment by tethering him to the couch or table leg. See our blog post Set-Up for Success for more about using the environment and management tools.
How to Teach your Puppy to Stop Play Biting!
We set-up several training sessions a day where Kenny was tethered with his leash to a table leg. Once he was unable to follow us after being Shunned, ignoring him was easy. Every time he started to nip, we would just would get up and leave the room for just a few seconds. Each time, we would return to and give him another chance to hang out and play nice. However, if he nipped, we’d say “Ouch!” and repeat the exercise.
These daily sessions were a powerful lesson for Kenny. In about one week, he learned that the consequence for nose nipping was all human attention would go away! Everyone in the house, practiced 5-6 short training sessions a day for 5 minutes or so each session. We also invited friends with small children to come over and help us so he’d learn to play nice with them too.
Just in time for the holidays, his nose nipping was completely gone, and we couldn’t be happier with the new member of our pack! Kenny has settled in to a life of hikes, tennis ball chasing, trips to the dog park, and wrestling with his new sister Reilly! And best of all, no more noses nipped!
To learn more about Zen Dog Training play biting solutions check out our Online Puppy Course which includes all our play biting solutions and 6 weeks of puppy class lessons, games, and solutions.