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DarnFar Ranch LLC Professional Dog Training
Changing the actions, aptitudes and attitudes of dogs and their people

My New Puppy Is Biting

How Do I Stop It?

QUESTION: My new Border Collie puppy, Butch, is doing great on EVERYTHING except one thing .......... he's the bite'n'est damn dog I've ever seen. He bites anything and anyone he can get his teethe on. He's not just nipping...he's putting holes in cloths. We are following your recommendations on "How To Housebreak A Puppy" for the most part. However, more than 1/2 the time outside is spent with our three year old dog, Ellie. Those two fight and play but he doesn't seem to get distracted from doing his business. He "herds" her all over the backyard. But, when he latches on to Ellie, he won't let go until she manages to fling him 3 or 4 feet by spinning. Doesn't hurt him but he's right back in there a second later. Ellie's no help .... she seems to enjoy the company and the playtime, although aggressive. Toys don't interest him outside..... just Ellie's neck. When it gets too rough I put Jenny outside the fence. When he is playing inside (Ellie is always outside), I get down on the floor with him and get as close as I can to anything he is chewing on. I pet him and talk to him (I do the same thing when he is eating) ..... anything I can do to get him used to me being right there without biting. BUT, as soon as he's done with the toy he is playing with ...you better watch out ...because those teethe are coming and a lot of the time its right toward your face. He plays with toys like a coyote trying to kill a jack-rabbit. Head shaking back-n-forth 90 miles an hour. ANSWER: 1. DO NOT allow your Border Collie Puppy to "HERD" non-herd-able objects, including other dogs, people, cats, vehicles, bicycles etc.... This is a REALLY big no-no that many folks do not know, and in fact, because it is "cute" and "means that they are good herding dogs", is often encouraged. It doesn't mean anything about how they will herd livestock, but it can teach them that it's more fun to herd on THEIR terms, rather than herd for their human handler (when the time comes). It isn't "cute" when it becomes an obsession. There is really nothing more difficult to cure than an "obsession". It's really tough, not to mention, the one that is being herded usually doesn't appreciate it and can turn and "correct" the pup and damage him. 2. TRY VERY HARD to get Butch to be bonded to you, not Ellie. So, if it were me, I'd be taking Butch outdoors alone most of the time. He can play with Ellie at times, but mostly, when you go outdoors, you should take him alone and teach him to follow you and "worry" about you. There's a period of time between 6 and about 12 or 14 weeks when a puppy is "programmed" to "follow the big object" (such as the mother dog). After about 14 weeks old, the pup is confident enough to go off on his own and doesn't "need" you as much. So, it's really important to use that period wisely. You will NEVER get it back again. Teach the pup to follow you, not another dog, during that time. It requires more time to manage multiple dogs, but only for a few months. 3. NEVER ALLOW CANINE TEETH ON HUMAN FLESH. This is a standard that we set with the puppies we raise from about 5 weeks onwards. With every litter, I need to spend time teaching the puppies to keep their teeth off of a human. Some pups have a more natural reverence for people. Sometimes, people will consider those puppies "shy" or "submissive", but really, for a pet, those puppies make great companions because they aren't "shy" they are showing appropriate respect for an authority figure. Other puppies believe that a human is just like another puppy - to jump on, to play with (with teeth), to tug on, pull around, etc.... Those puppies need a serious lesson in biting which most humans are wholly ill equipped to perform. It's not uncommon for me to correct a puppy for biting in front of its new owner (when they come to fetch their new "baby"). That's because someone in the family allows the pup to use his teeth (some people call this "teething" or "mouthing" or "play biting") and it's important for me to show them how to resolve the issue. I recall one family came for their pup and the 13 year old boy began swirling his foot around because the pup had found interest in his shoe laces. The boy was, essentially, teaching the puppy to chase and bite right before our eyes! It "looks" cute, but it's a recipe for disaster. To a pup, the one that allows teeth to touch flesh is "equal" or "lower" ranking, and humans send the wrong message to a pup by allowing the behavior. The pup squeals from the correction and the new owners FREAK OUT. But, the correction needs to create the squeal or it probably wasn't effective. If it isn't effective, then the puppy considers it "fair play" and will bite back even harder - the same way two pups will play with each other. To correct a pup that bites you need to do what a high ranking, competent adult dog would do. Use your hand, take the pup by the skin around the back of the neck or cheek, use your best finger nail (usually a thumb nail is toughest), to pinch the skin so that it hurts the puppy and feels like a good bite. Make certain you remain totally calm and relaxed and that you do not project anger, frustration, disappointment or anguish. Simply correct the puppy hard enough so that he yelps. You can also expect the pup to sulk and try to avoid you for a while (minutes to perhaps 1/2 a day). DO NOT GIVE INTO HIS APPEARANCE and feel sorry. Instead, ignore him. The longer the pup has been allowed to dominate a human with his teeth, the harder he will fall in rank and so the more likely he will sulk a good long while. I have to correct just about every puppy I raise, at least once. You should not have to correct a pup more than once or twice or you can be assured you are NAGGING the pup, not truly correcting it. A FOLLOW-UP EMAIL Conversation QUESTION: Thanks for the reply....... I'll give it shot and let you know how things go. I was afraid to "physically" correct him with my hands for fear that he would end up diving under a table every time a human wanted to pet him. Like you said below.. I only have one chance at this so I thought I'd ask questions before I did anything beyond what I was doing. One last question: Do I use this type of correction for other issues........ like his aggression / biting the dog-bed thing ........or do I just remove him (or the bed) from that situation and correct just certain things at a time. Like jumping and biting .......... seems you can carry this too far if you're not careful?? ANSWER: If you ever get the chance to observe a balanced pack of dogs, you will quickly come to know that they touch each other all the time to correct unacceptable behaviors. They do not fear each other because they get corrected physically. In fact, they revere and respect the one who corrects the "best". Using your body / hands to correct a dog is the most natural way to do it, unless, of course, you want to go "all the way" and use your own teeth. The problem there is that we humans have a flat face and lack the long muzzle full of teeth to do the job correctly, so we wouldn't be effective (so the dog will lose faith in us) and we could get damaged. The reason that I don't use electric shock collars for training is because it is not natural for the dogs to simply get some sort of aversive experience and not know from where it came. They touch each other, so we must do the same to get our point across. You can't carry out the method "too far" if it is appropriate to establish and enforce "social rules" for conduct. How else is a dog going to know what is acceptable if the higher ranking individuals don't show him. They do not come out of the womb knowing what is acceptable. Dogs do not use incentives to get each other to behave socially. You don't see one dog say to the other, "Hey, Fluffy, come over here and help me dig this hole and I will give you my food". They don't restrain each other and they do not use incentives. Dogs learn about social order by receiving information (in the way of a correction) when they act outside of the rules and boundaries that are set by the higher ups. They get a warning first (like a growl or grimace - which we can replace with an English word), then, they get a correction if they don't heed the warning. So, I use the same type correction for any sort of behavior that I consider unacceptable. Dog language doesn't contain dozens of types of corrections. They pretty much do the same thing for any offense - they warn, then they correct physically if the offending dog doesn't back off. So, if you want to teach a dog to stay off the couch, not to jump up on you, not to eat food that you drop on the floor, not to race out of a doorway, not to bite, not to pull when walking - it's pretty much all the same sort of communication in the canine world for all of those situations. The only other thing that I would add is that if you say, "you'll give it a shot" and let me know how it goes.... I KNOW how it will go if you do it right. It will work perfectly well and your issues with Butch's biting will be resolved. I don't sort of know, I don't hope it will work. I KNOW it will work. However, if you do not believe it will work, I also KNOW that it will not work. Why? Because dogs do not care as much about HOW we do something, as much as with what INTENTION and attitude we do it. That is what they do for a living. They read our intentions. If you intend to correct the dog, you will. It's a "kung foo" sort of thing - if you believe you will put your fist through the stack of bricks, you will. If you don't, you will end up with a broken hand. Dogs follow calm confidence. If you don't believe in the method that I described, Butch WILL know that and he won't respect you and he will keep biting. I also KNOW that. That is what it IS to be a dog. So, to execute the method I describe, you must believe in it, or you might as well not do it. It's not about trying to do it, it's about actually doing it. There's a difference from the dog's point of view simply because he can read you that deeply. You may apply the method where it fits to do so. Since I'm not there to see what is happening, you will have to discern whether you want to avoid a situation by managing it away (which is sometimes an acceptable thing to do, especially with a puppy under 6 months old) or whether you believe it needs to be addressed now. So, aggressing / mounting the dog bed issue can be managed away if you feel so inclined. Biting needs to be addressed now. Jumping up on people probably should be, as well. I correct a puppy that thinks it can get up on the coffee table the same way because it seems odd to allow the behavior now and choose some arbitrary date in the future when to change the rules. If I don't want to deal with the coffee table situation, then, I would choose to crate the puppy when I want to hang out and relax in the room with the coffee table. There's nothing wrong with that choice. So, if you want to "manage away" other situations where Butch is acting badly by simply avoiding the situation, that's fine. But, I think it is unfair to allow the dog to continue an unacceptable behavior because you don't want to correct him. So, if you don't want to correct him "too much" it would be unfair to give him access to the bed, allow him to act badly with it, not correct him now, but then decide later on that you need to correct him. Instead, simply "manage" the situation so that he doesn't have access to the bed. Alternatively, of course, you can give him access to the bed and then correct him for the unacceptable behavior. The mother dog does not say, "gee, I have given Truman five corrections already today, so I better not keep correcting him, even though he is acting unacceptably". She corrects what needs to be corrected because if she does it right, she won't have to correct him tomorrow for the same offense. A correction TRULY corrects the problem. At the same time, a mother dog "manages" her pups in a way to prevent them from getting into too much trouble (like wolves tell their pups to stay in the den when they go off hunting - essentially, wild canines 'crate' their pups and go off to the 'grocery store' and bring home the bacon / bison). So, if you give Butch too "big" of an environment in which to get himself into trouble, it's not fair, either. That's where good management is essential for the pup's well being, both physical and psychological. RESPONSE TO MY REPLY: Here is the Monday morning update ........ Well you were absolutely right. I corrected Butch as you suggested and almost in an instant, he has become a different pup. I think he and I have an understanding now. I had to correct him for biting about 4 times on Friday and maybe twice on Saturday and none at all yesterday. My daughter had to correct him once yesterday for jumping and biting, and I must say, she did a good job of correcting. He seems to be very careful about his bite and where he uses it now. What's really amazing is that his whole attitude has changed. His "aggressiveness" behavior, as I described below, has also slowed to a minimum. He is just generally a calmer, more affectionate (maybe "respectful" is a better word) pup....especially around humans. I really appreciate your explanation.... the way you put things really seem to make sense to me. As a lot of people did, I grew up with idea that you NEVER correct a dog with your own hand........ the old "use a newspaper and not your hand" idea. The way you describe it makes much more sense. Well, thanks again and I'll keep you posted on Butch's progress !! He is already sitting and laying down (with treats) .... man that pup is smart !!