Category Archives: Training

How to Stop a Dog from Jumping

I don’t like it when dogs jump on me. I can’t tell you why it bothers me so much, it just does. Interestingly, nuisance jumping is a common complaint from owners as well.

Most often, dogs are jumping for attention. Dogs who are overly anxious, such as those with separation anxiety, may also jump even when the owner is ignoring them.

Don’t make jumping more than it is. It is not an effort to dominate you or lead your pack. First, domestic dogs don’t form packs, so you are not a pack member. Second, dogs generally don’t want to run the world. Nope, no visions of grandeur. They simply want attention from you. That is it, plain and simple. The dog is trying to get you to give her attention. If you are a dog, it’s natural to want to be up near the hands or face of someone who may pet you. Third, dogs don’t try to dominate each other by jumping up to lick each other’s faces.

Unfortunately, owners generally do pet dogs when they jump up. This reinforces (rewards) the behavior, making it more likely to occur again. To the dog, any type of attention can be considered reinforcement. This includes pushing her away and yelling at her. Through basic positive reinforcement (there’s the science of learning again), we have trained our dogs to jump on us starting in puppyhood. Once again, it is not the dog’s fault.  To stop dogs from jumping, try this.

Take the following, common example: When first adopted, the puppy jumps on you. You bend down to pet her. While this is fine when the puppy is 10 pounds, it’s not nearly as enjoyable when she’s 100 pounds. Then, when the puppy gets a bit larger and is in adolescence, the jumping becomes annoying. You try different methods, such as ignoring her, kneeing her or yelling at her. She continues to jump. Making it even more difficult for your dog to learn what is appropriate, there are inconsistencies within the family regarding how they interact with the puppy. Some people pet her when she jumps up and some yell at her. Finally, there are invariably inconsistencies between what family members and visitors do.

This is very confusing to the puppy. She can’t be sure what type of behavior is appropriate. The scientific term for these types of interactions is variable reinforcement. Variable reinforcement means sometimes the pup is rewarded and sometimes she is not. Believe it or not, this kind of reinforcement is the most powerful kind you can apply to a behavior. You read that right. You are actually making the behavior stronger by sometimes punishing and sometimes reinforcing. What results is a very persistent jumper.

To understand variable reinforcement better, consider the example of a person at a casino. This person might leave the roulette table after losing 2 or 3 times, but will sit at a slot machine for eight hours. Why do they do that? Because the slot machine employs variable reinforcement. The slot machine delivers small rewards intermittently throughout the day. There are enough rewards, statistically, to keep the person playing all day. There’s even the promise of a possible huge jackpot at some point during the day.

Teaching pups not to jump is pretty simple — ignore the pup when she is jumping and teach her an alternate way to get attention.

Follow these simple tips and your dog will be asking for attention politely in no time.

  1. Do not knee, kick, or yell at her when she jumps on you.
  2. Ask your puppy to sit for every bit of attention she gets. All of the time.
  3. If she’s jumping on you, walk away from her and completely ignore her. Don’t even make eye contact. When she stops jumping on you, ask her to sit. Then, reward her with petting, praise and/or a treat.
  4. When you praise your pup for sitting for attention, make sure to keep your praise calm and cool. It’s not fair to the pup if you get extremely excited praising her while asking her to stay under control.
  5. Like any other behavior, you will see the most improvement if everyone in your pup’s world follows the same plan.
  6. Until you can get your pup’s jumping under control, you can try distraction techniques like tossing small treats off to the side, or tossing a toy when you come through the front door.

Dr. Lisa Radosta

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372


Dog Training Tips on How To Give Dogs Treats

  • A few years ago I unintentionally insulted my father, Dr. Marty Becker, by giving him some unsolicited advice about how he could better give treats to our family’s combined six dogs. My dad would grasp the treats between his fingers and hold them out over the dogs’ noses. Each time he did this, I was reminded of sharks in a feeding frenzy as the dogs swirled around his legs and made crazed Jaws-style leaps and snaps at his hands to secure their snacks.From the bewildered and slightly annoyed look on Dad’s face, I could tell my suggestion wasn’t well received. He clearly thought I was nitpicking something that seemed insignificant. After all, he’d given thousands of treats in his nearly 30 years as a veterinarian and lifelong pet lover. He knew what he was doing!Or he thought he did.A couple of days later, Dad burst into the house shaking his hand vigorously. One finger was bleeding slightly — an excited dog had leapt up for a treat and accidentally nipped Dad’s hand. Fortunately, the wound was minor and once we had it all bandaged up, he asked me to show him how I give treats, because if there was a better way, he wanted to learn it.  Here are some dog training tips.
  • Offer Treats the Right Way

    My father wasn’t alone in his misguided treating ways: Teaching people how to offer a dog a treat more safely is a common part of my coaching. Fortunately, there are some common variables that can easily be tweaked when it comes to treating your pooch. The changes are simple but the results can be dramatic.
    The first mistake people make when treating a dog is to hold the treat too high. This causes the dog to stand on his hind legs or jump to get the treat. In this way, jumping up is reinforced, making it a harder habit to break in other situations as well, such as greeting new people.
    Your fingers are also at risk when you hold treats too high above your dog’s head. When he has to jump up to get his snack, his vision and control over his teeth may be more limited, especially when he is excited about the treat itself — and you may very well find yourself, like my dad, with an unintentionally nipped finger.
    So what’s the solution? Simple: The treat should be brought closer to the dog’s face, not waved in the air above him. Hold it just under his mouth or at chest level, where he can easily take it from you without jumping or snapping.
    If your dog tends to snatch treats from your fingers, deliver them on a flat, open palm, as if feeding a horse. For especially grabby dogs, keep the treat inside a closed fist, lower it to chest level and then open up the hand and let your dog take the treat from your palm. This will help your dog stay calm and keep your fingers that much safer.

Don’t Reward Bad Behavior

Once you’ve got the hang of how to give your dog a treat, be aware of when and why you are treating him. Whatever he is doing just before or while he’s being treated is being reinforced, so treating at the wrong time can reinforce the wrong behavior.
Your dog may paw at your leg or arm, jump up, whine or bark in order to get your attention. You may assume that offering him a treat will distract or placate him and he will stop. But in the long run, that’s not what happens. Instead, your dog learns that this behavior earns him a reward and he becomes more motivated to continue with the jumping, pawing and barking. A four-legged terror can be created when your dog figures out that naughty behavior equals a treat smorgasbord.
Dogs establish habits through cause and effect learning, and for this reason, it’s imperative to pay attention to when and why your dog is being rewarded. My father was rewarding his dogs when they were vocal and overly aroused. This reinforced their excitable behavior around food. When he started rewarding them only when they were calm, the entire situation changed and the dogs’ behavior changed.

When? And How Much?

Once you figure out how to treat and what behaviors not to reward, it’s time to think about when to offer your dog a treat and how much to give him.
Your dog will learn to associate the behavior that precedes the treat with getting a reward, so it’s important to think about when you offer that treat. The way you time your dog’s treats can unintentionally create some unusual habits for your pooch. If you are consistently rewarding a behavior, make sure it’s one that you don’t mind having your dog repeat over and over again — because chances are, he will.
I worked with a family whose Heeler would occasionally bring a pine cone in from the yard and chew on it. Her owners would offer her a treat in exchange for the pine cone. Over time, she learned that pine cones could be traded for treats, and she would spend her day dutifully retrieving them from the yard and bringing them to her owners, who would immediately offer her a treat — and a one-dog yard cleaning service was born. Her owners knew that chewing on pine cones can be dangerous for dogs and they didn’t mean for this to become a habit. In order to put a stop to the behavior, they had to change the timing of the reward and teach their dog that her efforts to pick up the yard would no longer be rewarded.
Timing is important when you are treating your dog, but so is the size of the treats. Rewarding behavior with frequent small treats is more likely to be effective than offering your dog a single large treat. Frequent treating reinforces desired behavior, while smaller, low-calorie treats help your dog manage his waistline. A dog can only be given so much food before he reaches his calorie allotment, and too many treats can put your dog at risk for obesity and stomach upset. In addition, at some point your dog will become full and lose interest in being rewarded in this way — which can make it harder to get him to behave in the way you desire. Breaking up a large treat into several pieces that are blueberry-sized or smaller allows for greater opportunity to reward behavior in a productive and waist-friendly manner.
There are plenty of variables to think about when treating your dog. The next time you offer your pooch a treat, pay attention to your own behavior and your dog’s response to it, and consider how you might change your tactics to get a better response from your canine.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372



Is a Retractable Leash Safe for Dogs?

Flexi leads or freedom leashes, might seem like more fun for Fido, but at what cost?

Once touted as the best thing since sliced bread because a retractable leash allow your dog extra freedom while still being on-leash, these flexible leashes are now being banned by many doggy daycare, pet retail, and grooming facilities.

Find Out Why:


As a dog trainer, I cringe when I see a client come in on a flexi-lead. Usually the first thing out of their mouth is then, “my dog pulls constantly!” I usually have to hold my tongue at this point because I really want to say something like this:

Instead, I say something along the lines of “well, you are using an extendable leash that rewards your dog with freedom when he pulls.”

These leashes are a great way to teach your dog to pull. They are the worst way to try and teach your dog loose leash walking or heel. Not only do they reward your dog when they pull, but when they come back to you, or try to give  you “loose leash” they are “corrected” by losing their freedom (leash retracts). So why on Earth would your dog ever come back to you?

Teach Your Dog to Stop Pulling on the Leash>> 


Probably the most dangerous thing about these leads is the lack of control. In order for an owner to get their dog back, the dog has to come toward the dog. So, if your dog is 20 feet away from you and something happens:

  • An aggressive dog appears
  • A car comes whizzing out of nowhere
  • Your extended leash is over a sidewalk where a biker, skateboarder, etc. is fast approaching
  • Your dog is aggressively reacting to someone or something
  • Your dog is chasing a bike, car, cat, etc.
  • Your leash gets wrapped around another person, dog, etc.

What can you do?

Well, you can lock the leash, so your dog cannot get any more lead, but you can’t bring him back. You are left trying to grab a thin piece of line, and drag your dog back to you, or you have to run the 20 feet to him. And, if you do grab that cord and your dog pulls, you can be severely burned.

This is all assuming you can even see that your dog is in or is causing trouble. If there is a hill or a corner, you may not even be aware.

By the time you have pulled your dog to you or ran to the scene, something tragic could have already happened. It’s just not safe.

It’s for this reason that Keith Miller, owner of Pampered Pooch Playground and Bubbly Paws Dog Wash in Minneapolis, Minn., does not sell them.

“We refuse to sell flex leashes in our stores because of the dangers associated with them,” Miller explains. “I have a huge scab on my leg right now from an irresponsible customer that let her dog run in our door and pull. The leash burned the front of my leg.”

Safer Alternatives

So you want your dog to have a bit of freedom without causing an accident or ruining your training.

Miller suggests the following two leashes, both of which he sells in his stores:

  • Stunt Puppy – Stunt Runner Leashes. They are a hands-free leash that gives your dog 3’ of freedom without teaching them that pulling is a good thing.
  • Ruff Wear – they have several options available, including leashes with the “traffic handle” which are great for when you need to get quick control of your dog.
  • 3rd Hand Leash – this is a unique design that has some great features including a quick grab handles and place for your phone or

A solid leather leash is also always a safe and sturdy choice.


Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372

Housebreaking A Puppy

Training a puppy to “go” outside requires a consistent routine, lots of praise, and some patience

This article is courtesy of

By Phoebe Assenza

Whether you call it housebreaking, house-training, or potty-training, there are some simple and basic rules to follow while teaching your puppy to “go” outside. We’ve outlined some of the house-training basics below:

Carry puppy to the outdoor place you intend to use as his “toilet area.”Ideally, this would be a spot close to the door that you’ll use whenever you take him out. Have some puppy treats on hand or in your pocket (some of his regular kibble will do), and put him down in that spot. When he squats to pee, give him some kibble and praise him.

Puppies under the age of 10 weeks have no control of their bladder or bowels. This means they should be taken out every hour that they are awake. (Luckily, puppies sleep a lot, too.) It helps to have each family member take a regular “shift” for house-training the puppy, so the responsibility doesn’t turn into a burden for one person.

If the puppy has an “accident” in the house (and he will), do not react either negatively or positively. Simply remove the pup from the area and immediately clean it with Nature’s Miracle or another enzyme cleanser that will erase any lingering scents.

As the pup gets older, he can spend longer periods of time in his crate before being taken out. A general, almost-universally accepted rule is that a puppy can control his bladder one hour for each month of his age, so a three-month-old puppy is usually able to control his bladder for three hours before he has to go.

Even if you’re taking the puppy on frequent trips outside, there will be other times he has to go. Watch for puppy behaviors like suddenly replacing playing with sniffing around; it usually means he’s looking for a place to pee, so it’s better to be safe and take him outside immediately. Also, about 20 minutes after a puppy eats or drinks — and almost as soon as he wakes up from a nap — are ideal times to take him outside.

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372

Dog House Training Dos and Don’ts

Brindle and white puppy with red collar on

You’ve brought a new dog into your home—congratulations! Now comes your first dog-training challenge: house training.

House training is not an exact science—there’s no sure-fire formula or timetable that will work for every dog. The important thing is to make it a positive, not a stressful, experience. Beingattentive, patient and consistent are the keys to success, along with the following dos and don’ts:

Do: Closely supervise your dog. Limit the dog’s run of the house to the one or two rooms where you are able to see her at all times. Dogs usually show “pre-pottying” behavior such as sniffing, circling and walking with stiff back legs; all signs that you should get her to the potty area ASAP! As the training begins to take hold, you can slowly enlarge her territory as she learns where the potty area is—and that the house is not a toilet!

Don’t: Yell at or spank a dog for a mess she made earlier. If you catch her in the act, it’s okay to startle her by clapping or making a noise (hopefully this will stop her long enough for you to whisk her outside). But a dog will not learn anything by being scolded for a past accident, even one a few minutes old. Just clean it up and soldier on.

Do: Offer big, enthusiastic praise when she gets it right. Whether your goal is for your dog to eliminate on pee pads indoors or to do it outside, you have to really throw a party for her when she succeeds. Lavish her with praise, affection and some yummy treats!

Don’t: Rub her face in it. Ever!!! In addition to this action making your dog fear you, she’s incapable of making the connection that it’s the act of soiling indoors you object to—to her, you just really hate pee and poop. If she thinks that the waste itself is what you dislike, she’ll only get sneakier about hiding it from you.


Managing Dog Play-Biting/Mouthing/Agressive Biting

Managing Dog Play-Biting

Lisa Giroux, 

All dogs play using their teeth, and this can be a large concern to pet owners.  Whether it be a very young puppy incessantly chewing on hands or an older dog that grabs pant legs or shirt sleeves, it can be an extremely annoying behaviour to pet owners and the people who encounter the dog.  At worst, it can escalate into more severe issues that are much harder to deal with.  In any case, training is necessary and advisable for any dog, no matter what the size or breed, so that he can learn to behave appropriately.

One of the most common issues for new puppy owners is how to handle their puppy’s needle-sharp teeth.  Parents of small children feel the greatest brunt of the problem.  The children run around, the puppy gets excited, and the next thing you know the puppy is hanging off the pants or hair of a child that is screaming in pain.  Although the puppy is not trying to hurt anyone, its needle-sharp teeth easily break the skin.  Many a puppy has been re-homed or put down because it has put scratches or holes in a child’s face.  Adult owners of new puppies often feel frustrated because they cannot interact with their new pet without having hands bitten and clothes torn.  No matter what they do, it always ends painfully, and they start to think the puppy is “bad” or “doesn’t like them” and they might even wonder if the mouthing will lead to serious biting when the dog grows up.

Older dogs who mouth a lot scare strangers who aren’t sure if the dog is behaving aggressively.  Also, dogs who mouth their owners a lot are often confused about the leadership structure in the household (and think they might have a shot at being the boss, which can lead to multiple serious problems). 

For these reasons, dog owners should know what mouthing is, reasons why it needs to be thoughtfully and seriously managed, and how to teach a dog appropriate use of its mouth among humans. 

What is dog play-biting or mouthing?

All dogs play and interact using their jaws, teeth and tongue. Called “mouthing” or “play-biting” (very different from aggressive biting), it is their instinctual programming to play with their littermates and other dogs by jaw-wrestling and inhibited biting.  Most dogs attempt to play with humans in this way as well, especially during puppyhood when the urge to use their mouth is strongest.

Play-biting serves an important purpose in a dog’s life.  Because dogs use their mouths to interact with their world (unlike humans, who usually use their hands) it is crucial that a dog keeps this sensory organ in good shape with lots of exercise.  Jaw-wrestling and inhibited biting are important parts of a dog’s social behaviour, and much rehearsal is necessary for these social behaviours to become honed to the point where the dog can function properly in doggie society.  So, dogs mouth and play-bite throughout their lives to learn how hard or soft they should bite, and to keep their mouths speedy and functional.

Young puppies learn a great deal about how to appropriately use their mouths from their mother and littermates from four weeks of age.  The mother dog will quickly and firmly discipline a puppy for mouthing too hard or too much, and the littermates will also teach each other when things have gone too far.  People who don’t know any better often feel that because the puppies are weaned (happens at around 4 weeks old) and because the mother is becoming “mad” or “rough” with the puppies, that it’s time to send them on to their homes.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Puppies need that experience in order to develop proper inhibition.  Puppies that are taken away earlier than 7 weeks often mouth excessively and harder, and have more difficulty learning appropriate use of their mouth.  Because play-biting is part of the social repertoire, dogs taken away too early can have more trouble than average when interacting with other dogs.

Why does mouthing need to be managed?

Dogs have to live with people.  For this reason it is critical for dogs to learn appropriate use of their mouths with people.  Because dogs can bite with great force, even in play, it is crucial to get a management plan and thoughtfully teach your dog what is appropriate, and what isn’t.

In particular, great care needs to be taken with dogs and children, who present the ultimate in excitement for a canine.  They move quickly, they like to have fun, and best of all…they SQUEAK when bitten, better than the best squeaky toy on the pet store shelf!  A child’s natural reaction to painful puppy teeth is to back or run away screaming shrilly.  This stimulates the puppy to higher excitement levels and harder, more intense mouthing.  An adult dog can badly bruise a child while innocently trying to play, and at the extreme worst, become so stimulated that they see the child as prey (especially when they hear that rabbit-like squeal and see the child running away).

Children like to “horse around” physically with dogs and often actually encourage the mouthing (until it gets too hard, at which point they “squeak”).  This can lead to ripped clothing, bruises, broken skin.  In the worst case, it can lead the dog to believe that the child is similar in status to a littermate or another dog that is lower in status.  Dogs readily discipline dogs that are lower in status. A dog that has been allowed to mouth children can unintentionally learn that it’s OK to discipline a child for wrongdoings such as bumping into them, disturbing the dog while it is resting, trying to put the leash on and off, and for coming to close to anything the dog “owns.” 

The same is true when adults horse around with a dog and allow mouthing.  Dogs that are allowed to use their mouths on humans will sometimes get the idea that they are equal to or higher in status, and certainly will feel free to whip around and mouth during necessary handling or other times when the dog disagrees with what’s going on. For instance, when dogs are lying on the couch and the human tries to get them to move over, the dog that has been extensively allowed to mouth might choose to snap or even bite (the same thing he would do if a lesser-status dog made the brazen move of trying to push him out of his comfy spot).  Putting on or taking off the leash becomes a struggle to stay out of the way of the dog’s teeth.  Vet visits become a nightmare and nail clipping virtually impossible.

The dog learns that sometimes when it bites, it can cause a human to flinch, move away or stop.  This is a very dangerous thing for a dog to learn.  Dogs do what works.  If snapping or biting has worked for them in the past, they will continue to try it in the future.  For example, a dog that has whipped around and snapped during leashing will certainly escalate to actual biting in the future if the whipping around and snapping made the person even slightly flinch (and it’s almost impossible NOT to flinch under those circumstances).

This disciplinary behaviour can no longer be called “play-biting.”  It is the real use of force and aggression to get their way, and definitely stems from the dog thinking it is allowed to use its mouth on people. 

Another reason for thoughtful management of play-biting is how dogs act with people outside the immediate family home. If the dog encounters a stranger and tries to play-bite it can easily be misconstrued as aggression, which is dangerous to the dog.  Often, dogs rip people’s clothing in an attempt to play.  It’s easy for a dog to bruise or break skin while playing. All it takes is a person or two that claims the dog “bit” them to send the dog on a one-way trip to the vet’s office.

For all of these reasons, it is inadvisable to allow your puppy or dog to play with you using its mouth on your skin, clothing or hair. 

When dogs play together, they usually play-bite and mouth.  Often there is a great deal of growling and “imitation” aggression which can look and sound like true aggression—loud and scary!  This is usually nothing to be worried about—it’s practice for dog/dog social behaviour, and you shouldn’t interfere unless one of the dogs is much larger than the other, much more physically fit (as in puppy/old dog situations) or much shyer.  If you see desperate attempts to get away, it’s a good time to break it up.  If the tone of the wrestling play begins to look more serious, it might be a good time for a break to allow the excitement levels to die down a bit before continuing play.  Otherwise, play-biting between dogs is a nice way for the dogs to enjoy themselves, and is really important for maintenance of social skills. Generally it is not something to be concerned about and will not lead to dog/dog or dog/human aggression.

How is play-biting managed?

Fortunately, managing excessive mouthing is a simple exercise that gives speedy results and is very easy for the dog to learn.  Dogs readily learn to distinguish between appropriate dog/dog play and appropriate dog/person play.  Whether it’s a new puppy, a new older dog, or a dog that is already in your household, the methods for management are the same.  Prevention, Redirection, and Punishment.

Prevention:  Prevention of the mouthing is the first priority.  Do not horse around with the dog and encourage it to mouth.  It is difficult for the dog to learn that mouthing is only appropriate SOMETIMES.  Consistency is the key.  Also, be aware that as the excitement level of play gets higher, the tendency to mouth goes up exponentially.  This means that if you are playing with your dog and he begins to get really excited, he will probably mouth you. Predict this fact and try to make a break in the play BEFORE the excitement levels go too high. In dog/child interactions, parents should carefully observe the puppy and break up the play before it gets out of hand. 

Also be aware that as excitement levels increase, playful mouthing can easily become very hard biting or true aggression that is meant to do harm.  Dogs that get to a really high level of excitement lose bite control/inhibition and can actually “click over” into aggressive mode.  This is why it is particularly important to monitor excitement levels in play, and try to keep things to a medium or lower level.

Remember that dogs learn to do things by rehearsing the behaviour over and over.  If the dog needs to learn to sit on command, the learning takes place by doing it again and again, and the dog gets better and better at it.  So if the dog is allowed to play-bite again and again, he will definitely get better at it.  The best way to teach a dog to mouth/play-bite is to allow him to do it! Prevention of this kind of learning is the first (and most crucial) step in managing this issue.

Redirection:  A great way to play with your dog without encouraging mouthing is to use a toy or bone.  In this way you can physically play with a dog, allow them to use their mouth, yet teach them that there is to be no contact with human skin, hair or clothing.  You can get the same fun down on the floor horsing around allowing the pup to chew on a bone you are holding in your hand, a tug toy, or a stuffed animal.  

The human must control the game, NOT the dog.  Never start a game because the dog brought you the toy–keep fun toys up off the floor, and get them out only when you want to interact with the dog (you can of course leave some chewing items down).  Then initiate the game and have a great time!  To end the game, simply take the dog’s collar, hold him still, and let go of the toy.  Wait for the dog to drop the toy, give a treat or praise, and put the toy away. 

If a dog begins to mouth you, and you have a toy nearby, you can firmly say NO, then pick up the toy and encourage play while praising.  This shows the dog that teeth on skin or clothes is a no-no but teeth on toy is fine.

Redirection allows the dog to play in the way nature intended, without harmful side effects.  The dog gets a mentally and physically entertaining experience and you get to “horse around” with your dog!

Punishment:  The dog needs to understand in very clear terms what IS allowed, and positive reinforcement should be used as much as possible, but at some point (especially in the case of puppies, who mouth much more than adult dogs) punishment will be necessary. 

What works best as punishment for mouthing is simply to end the game.  Have a baby gate or small room nearby to where you normally interact with your dog, and as soon as his teeth touch you, immediately stop and put him behind the baby gate or door for a time-out.  It must be done extremely quickly, the instant he touches you with his teeth.  Immediately drop eye contact, stop speaking to him, scoop him up or take him by the collar and good-bye doggie for a time-out from humans.  The whole thing should be unemotional and FAST. 

The play must be stopped and dog in the time-out area within 10 seconds of the mouthing for this to work.  In addition, it might be a good idea to intentionally stimulate mouthing (get down on the floor and horse around) over and over for 5-10 minutes so that you can quickly show him that not mouthing=continued play and mouthing=game over.  Many repetitions in a short period of time is the quickest way for a dog to learn.  With new puppies, doing this twice or three times a day will help them to understand more quickly. 

You needn’t be harsh or physical with your dog to teach him not to mouth—just consistent.  TOOTH CONTACT=TIME OUT.  No exceptions!

Using this method also produces a very beneficial side effect—it teaches the dog “who’s the boss” and reinforces that humans are the leaders.

Advanced Method:  Another method is to allow the dog to mouth your hands, and time him out as suggested above only when he bites too hard. 

HARD tooth contact=TIME OUT. The game is always initiated and ended by the human and not the dog.

It is theorized that this method teaches the dog that humans are much more delicate than dogs. Certainly dogs playfully bite one another much harder than our sensitive skin can tolerate.  Using this method, you might be able to get some “insurance” that the dog will realize that bites to humans need to be more inhibited, so that if the dog ever does bite fearfully (a possibility with any dog) hopefully the damage will not be as great as it could be.  This theory is of course impossible to prove, but makes a lot of sense.  Correct implementation of this method does not produce the harmful side effects of un-managed mouthing.

However, this method presents several challenges to its success and is not the best choice for dog trainers to advise to clients, or for inexperienced people to attempt.  It is difficult for a person to accurately judge just how hard is “too hard” on a consistent basis.  Most dogs are interacting with more than just one person in the family, and if Jimmy lets the dog mouth very hard before timing him out and Molly times him out for just a little pressure, there is so much inconsistency that it’s difficult for the dog to learn.

This method requires extremely good judgment and timing.  Because most people are not experienced dog trainers, good success is difficult for the average home. In capable hands and with utter consistency, however, it is probably an ideal solution for managing mouthing.

I use this method successfully with my own dogs, but do not recommend it to most pet homes due to my experiences with a general lack of success in those situations.

Other Methods:

Dog books and internet sites widely promote many different methods for managing mouthing. Unfortunately, these methods don’t often work, sometimes make the mouthing worse, or cause unwanted side effects such as fear or aggression.

Forceful Methods:  These include slapping the muzzle, squeezing the mouth shut, forcefully shoving your hand down the dog’s throat, etc.  Sometimes these methods work to stop the mouthing, but usually produce unwanted side effects.  A dog with a soft temperament will usually stop mouthing, but has a good chance of becoming fearful, anxious, distrustful of his owner, or even become so fearful that he bites. With “harder” dogs, this method rarely works to stop the mouthing and will usually actually cause the mouthing to get worse.  With Labrador Retrievers, for example, this method is FUN.

Pushy, physical dogs actually take the physical contact as a “bring it on” signal and escalate the mouthing, or may try to bite you to discipline you for daring to push THEM around! 

Yelping:  Puppies and dogs often yelp when they are bitten too hard, causing the dog doing the biting to cease momentarily.  It is theorized that when the puppy bites, imitating this yelping or yelling OUCH in a high-pitched voice will make him stop.  The yelping/OUCH method sometimes work, but only with pups of a shyer or softer temperament.  Bolder pups can take it as an exciting “squeak” and become more excited which of course leads to more, harder mouthing.  If you wish to try this method, YELP loudly and sharply, and if the puppy stops mouthing, quietly and slowly stroke the puppy’s head and verbally praise as soon as they stop. 

Be aware that with any method you choose, puppies will be much more persistent in their mouthing attempts than adult dogs and require far more attention and consistency of handling in order to improve.  Certain breeds such as terriers and nearly all of the retriever breeds have extremely high “oral fixations” and puppies from these breeds usually need careful management for months before the concept is truly understood and accepted.

If your gut feeling is that the biting is coming from a motivation other than play, you might be right and should seek professional help for a solution.  The problem will not go away on its own and action needs to be taken to prevent further escalation.

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372