I’d like you to meet Jaws — oops — I mean Dexter, a Chow-Shepherd mix puppy currently about six months old who’s family calls him “Dex” for short. Isn’t he just absolutely one of the most precious things on four paws you’ve ever seen? Dex’s owner, Dan and his family, think so too, except for one annoying, painful nasty habit. Dexter doesn’t know his own strength and bites his people family when he gets excited. OUCH! Anyone who’s ever been mouthed by a puppy knows all to well how sharp their teeth can be. Even if they don’t exert a lot of strength it can still be quite painful and Dan’s hands are living proof of this.
The bigger the pup the more pain they unknowingly inflict. The bigger the pup the bigger the dog is going to be when he’s grown which leads to the cold hard fact that if not brought to a screeching halt, you’re looking down the barrel of what could become a serious problem.
My goal for this article is to attempt to share with Dan and anyone else who loves a “Jaws Syndrome” puppy, a few suggestions that might help curb this kind of behavior. I’m a huge fan of calm. A calm dog is less likely to nip or bite and so everything you read here is geared to help you calm your pup. Most pups cannot calm themselves, they need you to point them in the right direction.
I’m not! Dan contacted me through our Riley’s Place Facebook page and asked if I might have some suggestions on how to cure Dexter of his bad habit. I want to make it very clear that I’m not a professional dog trainer or behaviorist. I’m just someone with years of experience with dogs who’s spent a ton of money and put in hundreds upon hundreds of hours into research and putting my learning to work with my own dogs.
I really hope I can help, especially since Dan came to me personally and I feel rather honored to have been asked. I’m proud of Dan for trying to find solutions for Dexter’s behavior before he hurts someone seriously. Dexter is going to be a large dog heading towards his adult life within the next year or so and if Dan doesn’t do something about it now — Dexter’s current out of control behavior will be his natural state of normal which is a pretty scary thought because the final result — even in play — could be dangerous.
The techniques I’ve learned and put to use have been pretty darn successful with my own dogs in most cases. I’m often complimented on how well-behaved Riley and Nissa are which puts a big smile on my face and a warm fuzzy in my heart. Someone telling me what good dogs I have means to me that I’ve done my FurMom job right. My dogs aren’t perfect and still have a couple of issues that I’ve yet to find a working fix for, but I keep trying! Over the past five or six years or so, I’ve delved into dog behavior in a major way to the point it’s truthful to say I’m obsessed. This obsession is one of the reasons Riley’s Place was founded. I’m not an expert but feel I’ve gained a pretty good basic understanding and there’s always more to learn.
It’s a fascinating topic for me and it’s been an amazing, awe inspiring trip that I hope to keep traveling. High on my already-learned-list is that dog behavior is different from dog training but the two work hand in hand. It’s helped me significantly to know some important facts about dog behavior and be able to use this when training and simply living daily with my dogs. They really are amazing creatures and more complex than many people give them credit for.
There are countless different training techniques practiced by both professional and non-professional trainers (like me) and you need to understand that not every training technique works on every dog. You must find the techniques that work with your dog. Just because they don’t get it one way, doesn’t mean another way won’t be the key that makes it click. School teachers have many tricks up their sleeve because a good teacher knows that one student will “get it” one way and another student needs to learn by an alternative method. Training a dog takes time and a lot of effort. Your dog may catch on to some things very quickly but other things can seem to take forever. When your dog just doesn’t seem to grasp things, it usually means you need to switch to an alternative method. Dog training and behavior is more about training and educating people than dogs sometimes.
I have two very distinctly different dog personalities living in my house and they’re both the same breed! It’s mind boggling how different they are. Big dog or small, I believe dog behavior is dog behavior with the exception that a dog’s specific breed as well as their individual specific genetic background does contribute to their behaviors and learning abilities. If you have a mix (like Dexter) you must remember that he’s both Chow and German Shepherd so will have characteristics (both good and bad) from both breeds. When researching behaviors, you must research both breeds. The information you find will be helpful to you understanding your dog. Of course breed and breed behavior research is much more difficult if you have a mix of multiple breeds, especially if you don’t know for sure what breeds they hail from. If this is your situation, I think I’d go with researching the two most prevalent in his gene pool. You may or may not get this right unless you know without a doubt what dogs are your dogs parents. For example, many people (myself included) have a real hard time distinguishing between a Pit Bull and a Staffordshire Terrier.
I want to make it crystal clear that I am not responsible if you try my methods and they don’t work or something bad happens to your dog. I can only tell you what works for our dogs and what I’ve picked up in my many research which doesn’t mean they will work for you and your dog. Each dog is different and every person interprets things in their own way. If you try any of my suggestions, remember — you made the conscious decision to do so making the ultimate responsibility yours. Children should not attempt any dog training without the permission, cooperation and only under the supervision of a parent or authorized adult.
That said, let’s move on!
Puppies are not bad … they’re puppies which simply means they haven’t been educated in the ways of the world. If your second grade child hasn’t learned what third graders learn does that make your child bad? Would you expect him to act like a third grader? I think not. Puppies and children are more alike than you might imagine. At six months of age, Dexter is very close to entering adolescence and we all know how hard it is to deal with a teenager! If you’ve got a wild, nippy, excitable puppy that you don’t find a working way to control in the puppy stage — what do you think you’ll have when he reaches teen-life?
Although mouthing may be cute (minus the pain) and you might think “Awwww, he’ll grow out of it.” do not wait to begin correcting any kind of unacceptable behavior. The best time to begin corrective measures is immediately, the very first time he does something unacceptable. The first time a pup displays an unwanted behavior that you don’t correct is a stepping stone for him to build on. “He’ll grow out of it.” is not an option you should entertain. Giving your dog positive learning experiences you will not break your pup’s spirit! On the contrary … you’ll be nurturing it. Negative reinforcement (punishment) will very likely break the spirit and change his personality as well. I can pretty much guarantee you this won’t be for the better.
Behaviors that are not consistently corrected from the start will more than likely continue and sometimes get worse as puppy grows up — remember the stepping stones. By not correcting inappropriate behavior from square one, what you’re doing is telling your pup “It’s ok to do this, it’s ok to act like this.” You don’t allow your toddler to run screaming around the store knocking things over and just being out of control, do you? When your child bites you (as all children will) you correct this behavior immediately, don’t you? Why let your puppy get away with it?
Among the myriad of training methods, I consider there to be two major categories for which all methods fall under somewhere or another. Some are based on punishment which in our opinion is absolutely the WRONG way to train or correct a dog. Your dog may learn by being punished, but he’ll also learn to fear you and people in general. A fearful dog is potentially a very dangerous dog! Fear is the biggest reason that dogs bite. If you want to learn more about why dogs bite you can get started with my Understanding Dog Bite Behavior article.
There are still way to many old school trainers out there that teach training in ways that cause physical pain, fear and emotional problems. When consulting with a trainer, if you have any doubt whatsoever that his or her methods will be punishment based — RUNNNNN as far and fast as you can in the other direction. Dogs do NOT need to be punished to learn and you may actually hinder his learning by using negative reinforcement. The fact is that by utilizing positive training methods puppies learn faster, better, are happier and more emotionally stable dogs (translation = safer!) They’re more willing to please their owners than a dog who suffers at the hands of their owners or punishment based trainers. Dogs trained in negative ways will likely cower in a corner and/or run from you. If someone is constantly picking on you or causing you pain, are you going to want to interact with them? Heck no! You’re going to want to protect yourself and get as far away from them as you can as fast as you can. Dogs who feel they must protect themselves fall into a fight or flight pattern which means they may run or do whatever they can to keep you away from them. They don’t have hands to put up their dukes with but they do have teeth. Don’t train your dog by inflicting pain or fear!
Puppies and human babies both go through a teething stage. Puppies reach this stage around six to nine months old give or take and is one of several reasons they chew — damaging or totally destroying our expensive furniture or other prized possessions. Materials things of great sentimental value have been utterly demolished by an adorable but bored or teething dog or puppy. It’s not just the destruction of personal property that can be a problem, your dog’s safety is of major concern. One of Nissa’s favorite things to chew on were (yikes!) electrical cords! She was never injured because I caught her quickly.
When human babies are teething you give them things like chilled teething rings and those hard baby teething cookies that they gnaw on, drool all over and get all mushy, right? These “tools” help them through the teething stage. If you don’t help your puppy he’s going to find his own tools — get the picture?
Teething is a normal, natural stage in a puppy’s growth. We believe people need to learn to redirect their pup’s chewing rampages to something more appropriate. A frozen goody-filled Kong is the doggy equivalent to chilled teething rings and biscuits! Make sure to get the right size and hardness in the Kong toys. Kongs are color coded (and you thought the colors were for visual variety!) and the packaging will also tell you which one is appropriate and safest for your dog. Last I knew the black ones were the sturdiest but I haven’t checked lately. You can visit the Kong toys website for more information. Also remember that just because your pup is a pup, doesn’t mean he can’t chew up a Kong that isn’t sturdy enough for his bite strength. Kong play should be supervised and the toys checked regularly for signs that they’re being destroyed. If this happens, you need to move up to a sturdier and perhaps larger Kong. Your furkid may be a pup but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t possess significant bite pressure.
You can find all sorts of goodies to stuff inside the Kong, but the object is to make what you stuff into it is difficult but not impossible to get out. Making it too hard to dig out the yummies inside may lead to frustration and them giving up on Kong play. The idea is to layer the contents or hide an extra special goody inside the surrounding yums so that your pup finds a variety of treats or a surprise inside to help keep him interested and busy. Think “digging for buried treasure.” I give our dogs one or two Kongs per day and just recently have begun serving dinner Kong-style. I cut up their boneless meat portions (they’re on a raw diet) into large enough chunks so they don’t just fall out of the Kong — my furkids have to work at filling their tummies. Putting the right kind of goodies inside should keep your furkid content for quite some time. I like to give our furkids a variety of stuffings which is another way to help keep them from getting bored.
Giving your dog food-stuffed Kongs adds to his caloric intake, so make sure to adjust his meal portions accordingly. Kongs are meant to be a “keep’m busy” toy — not a trip to doggie-fat camp later on. You don’t have to freeze them, but doing so increases the amount of work they have to do to get the goodies out. Some dogs like them frozen, others don’t — experiment with your dog.
Use of the right treat dispensing toys not only keeps them occupied for long periods of time, it helps them, you and your possessions through the teething stage with a great potential for less damage. You can find ideas for Kong stuffing on the Kong toys site and you can also Google for them. You’ll find lots of great ideas on forum boards dedicated to your dog’s breed. Owning a Heinz 57 breed dog doesn’t exclude you from joining an appropriate dog care forum or two. Because I spend a good deal of money on dog toys, I also spend a great deal of time online searching for the best price. Before you spend the money, take advantage of reading reviews on the toys that interest you. Amazon.com is a great resource for finding reviews.
Treat dispensing toys also can help your dog learn some independence. All dogs need interaction and socialization with people, but they also need to learn that it’s ok to be alone so they don’t develop an unhealthy dependency (translation = separation anxiety) on their people. Learn to balance these two things appropriately.
Being kept brain-busy for some dogs is more appreciated and beneficial than physical exercise. Exerting his teeth on a long-acting dog-safe toy will also tucker his mouth out. That’s not to say they don’t need physical exercise, too, because they do. Brain-busy is a huge factor in raising a content, well-behaved dog. Make sure what you stuff in that Kong is safe for your dog. If you use people food, research what foods are safe and what may be toxic. There are more poisonous-to-dogs food out there than you ever imagined. My Human Foods Poisonous to Dogs article can give you a good starting point. Please remember my list is and probably never will be complete because new information becomes available often so I can’t keep up. I was dumbfounded to learn some of the human foods people give their dogs all the time (think table scraps and counter surfing) which can literally kill their furkids or at the very least — make them seriously ill.
You don’t need to limit your choice of brain-busy toys strictly to Kongs either. The pet stores both on and offline are filled with wonderful toys. Dog toy manufacturers are providing sturdier more brain-busy toys all the time. You may feel some “keep’m busy toys” are too expensive, but if you think about it you’ll actually spend less on a few good quality durable toys that not only keep your dog’s interest but last and last than you will if you have to regularly replace the less costly more cheaply made toys your dog quickly destroys. Riley’s favorite is squeaky tennis balls and he’s famous for busting the squeakers in them in like 5 minutes. Sometimes we think he lives to kill the squeaker. Squeaky tennis balls aren’t expensive — unless you’re buying them by the dozen. We get the bigger ones at like $3.00 a piece. I recently found that the Kong company now has two squeaky toys that he’s not been able to pop the squeaker yet and it’s been about two weeks since I got these. The cost was reasonable (I bargain hunted!) and by swapping these out for his tennis balls I’ll wind up saving a bundle in the long run. He’ll still get a tennis ball now and then but I won’t have to buy them in quantity.
No matter what methods you find that work for you and your dog, one of the biggest keys to success is consistency. Every single family member, regular visitor to your home or people that interact with your furkid must use the same techniques. Lack of consistency confuses your pup.
Dan tells me he allows Dex to play more roughly with him than he does with his grandkids. Hmmm, what mixed messages is he giving Dexter? Play is play to Dexter. He doesn’t understand that it’s ok to play harder with Dan than it is with the grandkids. Some people think dogs understand the difference, I personally don’t think they’re capable of making this distinction. Many people don’t understand that although dogs are smart — they aren’t capable of thinking like humans. The two have totally different ways of thinking and their perception levels can be black and white.
I can give you an example that I’m not proud of, to this day have never forgotten and do not like to talk about but it fits right in here to help make my point of human perception vs. dog perception so I’ll share.
We had a couple of floor contractors at our house a few years ago. On my knees I was attempting to put a baby gate up to keep my furkids in my office and out of their way. The gate is old and rickety so I was having trouble getting it set properly. Out of the goodness of his heart, one of these guys moved in very quickly to help me. Riley was laying calmly on my right side, Nissa on my left. I perceived this guy as coming to my rescue. Unknown to me, Riley perceived his action as a threat to me and in a matter of about a millisecond it was all over. Without any warning whatsoever, I had absolutely nooooo time for me to so much as blink let alone react to stop it, Riley lunged to my rescue and bit the contractor on the back of the hand. He immediately backed off and laid down. In his mind his job was done, he’d kept his Mom safe. If you’ve ever been the victim of a dog bite or witnessed it happen, you already know they can move at the speed of light. When a dog bites, he’s definitely got a reason for doing so. It just may not make any sense to humans.
I didn’t know much about dog behavior at that time (heck I’d never even heard of “dog behavior” at that point) and I never saw any indication that Riley would bite. I know now that learning about dog behavior is an absolute necessity whether you have a dog or not, but especially if you do because your dog is your responsibility. The bite incident with Riley sent me into a tailspin like you wouldn’t believe. This was my wake-up call that I’d better get with the program and find out what the hell had happened and why. One of the tools I found was a book called On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugass. It’s a quick simple read and a great reference book to have on hand.
Dexter’s Chow-German Shepherd heritage means Dan could potentially have a double whammy to deal with. Both breeds are considered “protective breeds” in the dog world. Additionally, both breeds are genetically prone to be (not necessarily will be) one person dogs. All puppies need plenty of socialization to the world around them, but in my opinion protective breed dogs need additional doses of exposure during puppyhood. Protective breeds are instinctively more wary and less trusting of people in general. During the age of approximately 6-8 weeks old, puppies go through a normal and natural fear stage. If they aren’t given enough of this good socialization stuff during this all important stage of their development — this opportunity is gone, it’s to late and you can never get it back which means you may have a dog that never properly learned the things (including people) that he can and cannot trust and may remain fearful all it’s life. Note that socialization does not mean taking your dogs to parties, it means exposing your dog to as many good people and things as you possibly can.
You know the Mayhem Guy commercials for that car insurance company? (Love the Mayhem Guy!) The commercial where he simulates being your GPS comes to mind. If you aren’t consistent with your pup’s training, the results will be similar to the GPS with the maps you forgot to update. Inconsistency will breed mayhem in your pup’s brain and he’ll wind up crashing into things … virtually speaking of course. Consistency is your pup’s map. If he detours because people tell him to take wrong turns you have no one to blame but yourself. He’s not misbehaving, he’s not stupid … he’s confused.
So, let’s move on to some of the things that we found that worked at our house.
Puppies don’t come with a set of “no-no” instructions programmed into their brains. It’s your job to teach them what they can or cannot have and can or cannot do. Redirection methods are quite often successful in teaching your dog what they can and cannot chew on. When you find Fido gnawing away on your prized antique furniture leg you might want to try redirecting him. An important thing to note here is that no matter what techniques you use, a large part of interacting with your dog in any way means you must learn to know your dog to the very best of your ability.
You’ve just gently, safely and successfully redirected your pup’s interest from something he should not have to something he can have. Additionally, you’ve saved him from potentially swallowing pieces of wood that could cause serious injury to his innards, getting slivers in his mouth and yourself the expense of a bust-your-wallet vet bill to repair any damage and maybe even save his life. You can apply variations of this method to many things. If you’re not real imaginative when it comes to redirection techniques, you can always click over to Google and do some research.
When a puppy bites, nips or mouths you, we don’t consider it a bite in the respect of having to report it to law enforcement or causing the need to seek medical attention. You may have a drop or two of blood and although you may think so, you have not just been attacked by Cujo. You probably have a scratch or gouge that hurts like the dickens and maybe you even need a band-aid. Do immediately clean the injury with an appropriate disinfectant like peroxide for example and administer an antibiotic cream before bandaging.
Puppies don’t understand they’re causing you pain. In their minds mouthing is nothing more than play and no different than their interaction with their litter-mates. Some methods teach that when your pup bites you should yelp loudly sounding like a puppy in pain and ignore him when doing this. Yelping must be immediate while they have your hand in the grip of those razor sharp teeth. One might be more prone to yell obscenities at this point or even a more drastic response would be to slap the puppy on the nose or worse (we won’t go there).
We humans need to keep our heads on straight and think rationally. Remember that violence begets violence so striking your dog in any fashion for any reason is totally wrong and absolutely unacceptable. A Dad wouldn’t strike an infant for accidentally kicking him in the groin while changing baby’s diaper now would he? Same principal — puppies and babies alike know not what they do. When pups bite or nip one another the one in pain yelps and the pup that inflicted the bite is supposed to get the idea that he hurt his playmate. I learned of this technique long after puppy-hood at our house and so have not tried this method nor do I have any idea of it’s effectiveness. I’m just passing it along.
Although all my ideas, methods and suggestions aren’t geared specifically for a pup with “Jaws Syndrome” nor are any of my comments directed at Dan, everything I’ve said is aimed at helping to get and keep puppies and dogs in a more calm state of mind which will cut down on the jaws action. If you fit into categories that these topics covered, I hope you’ll find some help here.
Dogs need their brains stimulated through structured, supervised, and educational ways. Your kids go to school, you go to work, you learn from books and television — people live with or create their own constant brain stimulation. I urge you to not make the same mistake I did and ignore this fact by treating your dog like he’s just a piece of the furniture that’s supposed to lay around all day doing nothing. Heck, even when you’re being lazy you’re probably watching tv, sitting at your computer or reading a book which is brain stimulus for you. Dogs don’t have these options. If you don’t give them direction, some dogs will find their own and in ways you don’t want to have to deal with. Not interacting with my dogs on a daily basis doing something intelligence-building based training and brain-busy work for a short 15 minutes or so 2-3x per day has caused some serious behavior issues because they got BORED. For years I justified my lack of interaction with them by telling myself I was to busy, I had to work, clean house, make websites — you name it I had an excuse. What it really was all about is me being just darn lazy!
Think about how long it might take you to go stark raving mad if you were stuck in the house all day (except for potty breaks) with nothing to do but sit and look out the window or sleep. Wouldn’t you get grouchy, snappy (think nippy!) crabby and anti-social? It probably wouldn’t take you all that long to scream “I need to get out of this house and doooooooo something!” You’ve heard the phrase “cabin fever” I trust? Yeah, well guess what? Your dog can suffer from this as well and way to many dogs do. Think about this … your house, your car, your fenced yard are just big crates that your dog can’t get out of on his own. Is your dog pacing? Take him for a walk! Take him somewhere he can safely be off-leash and run in a field ’till he drops. Let him be a dog!
If you don’t give your dog what he needs, the end result is more than likely going to be behavior problems. The kind of behavior problems that cause people to “get rid” of their dogs instead of learning how to cure things. To many people don’t understand that canine behavior problems start with them and to many dogs are put down because of this.
Our dogs fill needs we have inside of us without realizing they’re doing so. They don’t have a clue that when you hug your dog, it’s one of the best feelings in the world. Aside from holding my own babies and grandbabies, I can’t think of a better feeling in the world than wrapping my arms around my German Shepherds and holding them. Getting a cheek-full of puppy slobber from them is high up on my list, too. For all they give to me, I don’t just owe them in return — I want to give back to them.