ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Insights Into Puppy Mouthing

Since your dog's clear intention is to get your attention then yelling "no" does little beyond reinforcing his behavior. He wants your attention, he nips you, you give attention. Worked perfectly. Keep doing it. If it stops working do it harder or bigger.

And about the yelping out in pain technique. I hate when people suggest this as if it is the Holy Grail of stopping mouthing. It totally depends on why the dog is nipping, how you yelp and how they respond to the yelping. With some dogs this idea alone can stop nipping and play biting in its tracks. But as you have discovered there are other dogs who are simply more triggered by the response. And you actually escalate the intensity of the behavior.

We can't ever just say if a dog is doing X behavior that a handler should always do Y handling technique. It just never is that black and white.

Its all about probabilities. If a dog does X behavior and the response is Y technique than we can often say there is a high probability of a particular response happening with most dogs. There are some fundamental things that are very high probability that apply to many dogs that do nothing or get a completely opposite response from other dogs.

Run away there is a good chance the average dog will follow or chase. Squat down or make little cooing noises then the probability is high they will come closer. But you must always take into account the dog's personality, relationship, situation, current emotional and mental state, temperament and history.

Run away from another dog and them may take you down with a bite in the butt. Squat down for and make cooing sounds with an abused fear biter and you may loose your nose.

It looks complicated when plotting it out but in general people have a much better feel for what the dog's probabilities for certain things are then they do in applying that knowledge to specific situations.

90% of the time if I clearly define something for owners and ask what their dog will likely do, they have a wonderfully detailed knowledge of what their dog will probably do. But most people don't look at the perimeters objectively or with clarity and worse they fall into a pattern of waiting until the dog has done the thing they don't want that they knew was probably going to happen. They then respond to what the dog did even though they could have predicted the Undesired response a week ahead of time.

I digress. :-) But don't reinforce the Undesired behavior of nipping either intentionally of subconsciously.

Something else this makes me think of. I must say I have a different take on the notion of negative punishments. To begin with I don't call them that and think the semantics of them is a problem because of the attitude it creates. I do not want to take anything away from the dog as a punishment so that they will decrease the chance of the behavior happening. I Reward the dog. Just not with the Reward they would prefer

If for example the dog is jumping and nipping for attention I reward the Behavior. BUT I reward it with something like me going away. "Yippie, you win! I bet I know what you would like! Your Reward is my disappearance." I know that it is semantics on one level but on another level it is really a completely different methodology.

I don't do "penalty yards" (TM pending, Lana Horton). "You pull on the leash... Yippie! We get to walk backwards or stop." If the dog thinks I am an idiot... Great!

"Bob, you fool. I am not trying to get you to walk backwards. Hmmmm... what do I need to do to get this idiot to stop going the wrong direction???"

If my attitude remains that I am having a great time and even better if I am acting like I think that the Undesired Reward is what the dog wants I am not setting up a conflict. But I am motivating the dog to reexamine its choices. I am encouraging the dog to try and educate me as to the best thing to do. And when the dog figures out that biting and nipping me is the stupidest way to get me to play they will look for a better way. And when they think that the reward I offer is not worth the effort it weakens the probability of that behavior continuing to be offered.

If a good friend wants to get you to go golfing every weekend and you hate golf you could tell them how boring it is and keep debating the point forever.

Or you could enthusiastically head to the course wearing the most outrageous outfit you can put together at Goodwill. Hit the ball in the opposite direction because it is so much fun watching everyone's expression (besides you were never much of a conformist) Talk constantly. Hug them and scream with joy at every stroke they make and express your amazement at their skills. Then tell them what a wonderful time you have golfing with them and can't wait to do it again. I bet your friend won't be available for another round for months.

Bob Bellamy
copyright 2002 Bob Bellamy


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