Training your puppy to prevent destructive biting and mouthing

Puppy Behaviour, last updated 21st, Oct 2020, DogSpot

We love all things dog. In our endeavour to bring education to pet parents we collaborated with Roohi Kulkarni Kale. Roohi is a Canine Trainer & Behaviorist and Founder- Coach the Pooch. In conversation with Cherian MJ, award winning groomer and Cocker Spaniel breeder, they discussed destructive chewing and mouthing in puppies and how pet parents can tackle this behaviour. They also spoke about basic training tips for puppies to build a good foundation. 

Reasons why puppies use their teeth so much

Teething - For several months, puppies go through the painful process of losing their teeth and getting new ones. Two sets of teeth, including milk teeth in 6-8 months’ time must be challenging for the pups. When it gets too uncomfortable, they decide to start chewing on things and biting on the different textures as well as human skin.

Play – Given that canines do not have independent fingers and toes and are four-legged animals they do not play the same way humans do. Instead, they use their mouth most of the time and unintentionally end up gnawing and chewing on their littermates.

Affection - Some of us who are lucky enough to observe a litter of puppies grow, will agree how cute and inspiring their lives are. All puppies in a litter learn from each other and having different responses to the same stimuli. But when it comes to the comfort aspect and showing affection,  puppies use their mouths with their mothers as well as their littermates. It is a natural habit even in wild dogs.

Frustration - There are a lot of instances where a dog will be exposed to stressful scenarios. These could be loud sounds, unfamiliar environments or being left alone. When a puppy is frustrated or stressed out so much that whining or peeing will not help, they resort to mouthing anything and everything.

Basic commands

We need to teach our dog certain basic commands to help them get the necessary direction from us. Training helps them understand what is desirable vs undesirable behaviour. 

Some of the basic commands that we should start puppies with are:

  • Look at me 
  • Sit
  • Down
  • Stand 
  • Stay 
  • Recall 
  • Leave it 
  • No 

Remember that a dog is looking to identify the pack leader and subsequently get directions/instructions from the pack leader. To ensure that your dog follows your command, make sure you have their attention. When you have your dog’s attention they will definitely follow the command you give them. 

How to give a command

Dogs have an associative memory, therefore positive reinforcement really helps them take up new skills. Find out the reward that works best for your puppy. Also give them lots of verbal encouragement and praises for doing a good job. Following are some basic steps on how to give your dog a command:

  • The first and foremost thing to do is to get your puppy’s attention 
  • Once they have your attention that is when you give a command. 
  • For the command, you need a hand gesture and a verbal command. Be consistent with both the verbal cues and gestures. 
  • Give the dog three second to listen to the command and start moving their body. 
  • Once the dog has followed your command, reward them. 

Environment during the training

Puppies are funny and easily distracted. It is therefore good to give them a training environment with minimal distractions. This will ensure that your puppy is completely focussed on you and is ready for her training. Following are some guidelines to adhere: 

  • Start with the quietest environment. For example, take your puppy in the room and shut the door. 
  • Once the puppy learns to follow the command and follows it, that is when you can gradually start increasing distractions - like another dog, a chew toy, guests, etc. 
  • Kong toys are really helpful when you start training. Kong toys are available in red colour and if your dog is a heavy chewer you can go for the black one. They come in different sizes, so get one according to your dog’s size. 

Training your puppy with the Kong for “look at me” command

  • Take two same size Kongs or treats. Show them to your puppy. Make sure your own energy is high. 
  • Keep them at eye level. The puppy will keep looking at the two kongs, switching from one to another, however there will be one moment when they see you. 
  • That is the moment when you reward them for looking at you. 
  • Repeat this a few times and introduce the command. The puppy will know then to look at you when commanded 

“Leave it” command

Leave it command is extremely helpful when your puppy has something in their mouth that you want them to let go off. To leave or drop is difficult for a puppy, because they are so engrossed in what they do. The "leave it/drop it" command is based on your relationship and energy with your dog. Listed below are a few steps to help you with this command:

  • First up, practice this command separately, not when they are already playing with something. 
  • Turn it into a game of fetch. Don’t chase your puppy but instead call him to you.
  • You can also choose to turn it into a game of fetch. Again do not chase your puppy. Call him to you. 
  • Don’t keep saying “no no no, come back”. 
  • Sit down with your dog. For eg: Use a rope toy. Make them want it. The moment they grab it do not ask them to leave it or snatch it right away. Play with them for a bit. 
  • Show them through your body language that you do not like it so that they leave it.
  • Hold the toy tightly with both your hands but do not pull it. Pulling the toy implies that it is play time. 
  • Watch the dog’s body language and watch for signs of easing their grip and open the mouth. That is when you verbalise, “ Leave it”. 
  • The moment your dog drops the toy, take it, and praise/reward your puppy 
  • Stop them right before then go into a frenzy of playing tug, since then the training wil get mixed with playtime. . 
  • Repeat to reinforce. 

“No” Command

The 'no' command is one of the most important ones in your training kitty. The 'No' command is an impulse control command. You have to catch the dog in the thought. Watch their body language. Keep observing your puppy. The easiest way to teach your dog the No command is to start when your dog is not hyperactive, when they are relaxing or maybe tired.

The most important tip is not to keep repeating the command over and over again. When you do “no no no” the dog sees your excitement level and thinks it is play time. Therefore, that not what you have to say. Here are tips to train your dog on this command: 

  • Take a piece of treat, a low value treat which they may not like but will eat. 
  • Your energy has to be balanced. Keep the treat on your palm. They will try to sniff it and see what is there. Close your fist. 
  • They will try different things to access it. The moment they calm down, that  is when you say “ No”. Then they become uninterested in the treat. Then add “good boy”. 
  • Do not give them the treat. Reward them with another thing which you kept aside. 
  • The low value treat is a no! Try it again with an open palm, then on the floor and say no. They will learn to ignore it. 

After some time, you do not need to reward them with treats; increase your value. Your “good dog”  and petting should be the ultimate rewards. 

Stopping puppies from mouthing on your hands

From day one you should not let your puppy put their teeth on your skin or anything for that matter. You have to correct them. Sit down with them and pet them. The moment they touch your  skin, you should always give them a jolt. Make a sharp short noise like  “Ouch”! Few important things to remember are:

  • Firstly, it is about the timing. Do not wait for them to come to your hand, catch them in the thought. Repeat this whenever you can. 
  • If your dog already knows the “No” you can replace it with the “Ouch”. 
  • Always catch the puppy in the act! 

If this does not work, get up and make a dead face. You are not interested in the dog anymore. Walk out of the room and close the door for five seconds. Go back again once the puppy is calm, then they will understand this was not the right behaviour. 

Crate training for puppies 

Crate training makes your life easier when you have to make them follow a schedule, for toilet training, playtime, food time etc. If your puppy is crate trained, always ignore any whining or howling and the puppy eyes. Go back to the crate only when it is their time to come out. Crate training is the basis of training them and to build a relationship with them. 

If you do not train your puppy, it will go wrong very fast and you will have more problems. It does not take long to crate-train your puppy until and unless they have any negative associations with the crate. Crate training also helps in figuring out the toilet tensing. 

Why do people associate crate training as something bad? 

People think it is a jail because it looks like a cage and is small. They do not like the idea of locking their dogs in a small space for long hours. 
People also think that since their dog is their companion, they should be with them all the time. These are misconceptions. 

Your dog’s crate is their safe space. Your dog does not have to be inside the crate all the time. Only as per their choice and for their schedule.

Making a schedule for your puppy

Even before you get a dog, sit down with your family to make a schedule for your puppy. This is important for everyone's sanity. 

Start from the morning, you take them outside for their pee and poop, then playtime after that the food times, crate times. Puppies get tired so plan the crate times accordingly for their naps. Your puppy might already have one when they come to your house, so incorporate that in your schedule. 

What are Zoomies?

Zoomies are random burst of energy that your dog might have after eating or playing or maybe in between playing. Puppies will keep on going round and round, and not bother about anything in the world when it is zoomy time.

A zommy could be just out of excitement once in a while. If it happens a lot, then you need to look into what is causing it. It is perfectly fine for your dog to have zoomies once in a while. 

Ensure that your dog has enough mental and physical stimulation throughout the whole day so  that their energy is balanced. A lot of zoomies do stem from behavioural issues. 

More questions on training your puppy

1. How many commands can we teach a puppy at a time? 

You have to start teaching the basic commands simultaneously. You can always mix them with fun commands like “shake hand” or “give me a high five” etc. Work together to strengthen the commands. 

2. What is chewing and why does it happen? 

It is a very natural behaviour for a dog. You have to redirect the chewing to an appropriate toy. Do not run after the dog to stop chewing; make them learn the  command to not chew. 

3. My nine-year-old Labrador has started grabbing my hand. What do I do? 

First teach him what exactly you do not want him to do. Sit down with him and teach him that the biting is not allowed. And then start practicing in different scenarios. Catch him in the thought. 

4. Can I start training my two-year-old Labrador? 

Absolutely! You can train a dog at any age, at any time. With an older dog it is easier sometimes as you already have a relationship and you understand their body language. 

5. How do I  train my Labrador to be a show dog? 

The “Look at me” command is the biggest command for a show dog and Stand” and “Stay” . These are all that you need for the dog to run with you or walk well. He needs to have his attention on you. went live with Roohi Kulkarni Kale. Roohi is a Canine Trainer & Behaviorist and Founder- Coach the Pooch.

In conversation with Cherian MJ, award winning groomer and Cocker Spaniel breeder, they spoke about how to best train your puppy. Roohi touches upon topics which include how important it is to give the right enviroment at an early stage of a dog’s development, how to read your puppy's behaviour and some steps to take for the initial training.

We hope we answered all your queries regarding puppy nutrition. In case you have any further questions about the topic, please feel free to leave it in the comments below. An expert will be happy to guide you! 

Transcribed by: Srishti Bhatia

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