Thank you all for tuning in!
So tonight’s episode is about puppy biting. Specifically puppy biting during play, and this episode is inspired by an email that I got in from a listener!
A listener writes in: I was wondering if you have any tips for puppy biting and over excited ness. I have just taken our 10 week old Havanese Mix to visit one of its litter mates and it is very clear now how they have matured.
Our Gracie is quite the feisty little pup and can get a bit too aggressive while playing, while her sister is a much calm more reserved pup. So far I have tried to redirect Gracie’s energy and enthusiasm into different toys, squeaky, chewy, balls, or tried mixing in training for fetch and sit. Unfortunately this just did not work when she was with other pups. Her sister was started to get stressed by the situation and there didn’t seem to be much I could do to help. Any suggestions for an overly bitey energetic pup?
Well, first of all, thank you to this listener for writing in because I love to hear from you. I also think this email is going to help a lot of people!
And, I love this email because there are so many puppy owners who are SO oblivious to this type of behavior, and will just allow their puppies to continue overwhelming other puppies. It’s so common for me to hear, well, she just likes to play rough!
I personally like my puppies not to play in an aggressive manner. I think you get what you practice. So, if allow your puppy to play roughly, that is how she will play.
Also, I don’t think the puppies who play like this are particularly happy. Often there is this manic quality to their play or this glazed over look when they are playing in this manner, and it is pretty clear that they are not in control of themselves.
So for this reader, I think you are smart to intervene now. When they are SO young, only 10 weeks in this case, they are so much easier to influence. Also, as dogs age, habits tend to solidify, and aggression commonly escalates at social maturity, around 1 year of age for a small breed dog.
So getting started now makes a lot of sense, and this is the plan I would implement.
Starting immediately, I would cease any sort of rough play at home. Certainly no roughhousing (not sure that that’s happening with a 10 week old small breed dog, but just in case!), no chasing and biting feet, no playing with your hands… I would even limit tug for now.
Make sure that everyone in your household who interacts physically with your puppy does so in a gentle, calm manner. Even petting needs to be predictable and calm for your puppy.
The other training that I would implement at home is a lot of impulse control work. So, teaching Gracie that just because she feels an emotion or desire, doesn’t mean she has to act on it right away. Teaching her to think about her emotion or desire before simply reacting to it.
One of my favorite exercises for teaching impulse control to young puppies is to do really structured handling work. You can hold her very gently, fully supporting her body and only put her down when she is calm.
If she wiggles, bites, or thrashes, even screams at you, just keep holding her gently and securely. Wait out the storm, which is often just like a toddler’s temper tantrum, and when she quiets, even for a second, put her down. Repeat this exercise often throughout the day, gradually extended the amount of time that you would like her to be quiet before releasing her.
If she is good at the exercise, you can start adding in variations such as holding her a little more firmly, with more restraint; holding her while checking her paws/nails/teeth/and/or ears; holding her belly up, etc. The important thing is to make sure she is fully supported in your arms or lap, and not to let her go unless she is calm. Again, with each new position, you will want to start with just 1 second of calm before releasing her and gradually build up from there.
Other impulse control exercises I would implement are:
- Mealtime manners – both around her food bowl, and when humans are eating
- Waiting at the door until you release her to go through
- Stays (both down and sit)
- Crate work
- Leave it exercises
So, those are all the things you can start doing at home.
In regards to the dog specific stuff, I would wonder how well socialized she is? There are a few situations commonly come up when a puppy is playing too roughly in the manner described.
- Was their breeder supervising them well? If the puppies were consistently together, especially without a lot of toys or alternative stimulation, and if they left the breeder at an older age (older than 8 weeks), certain puppies in the litter can learn to be bullies through practice. So, if they are bored, they just learn to bully the more submissive puppies in the litter for entertainment, and because the shyer puppies can’t get away, it just becomes this terrible habit.
- In her current life, is she playing regularly with older dogs or dogs who are rough and energetic? If so, she could be learning her rougher playstyle from them. It is often the dogs who have a lot of unstructured dog exposure who play in this really intense style.
- Does she play a lot with dogs who allow her to “be in charge”? This could, obviously, teach her that being bossy is acceptable.
- Do you play a lot of tug or other biting games with her, even unwillingly? If she is practicing biting at home, this could encourage arousal and biting.
So, answering those questions might give you some idea of where this is all coming from, and some of those things are in your control and you can play around with them to see if tweaking things helps.
At the end of the day though, you may not be able to figure out why she is like this, and it may just be her personality.
Either way, we can still do a lot of things to improve it!
The day before the playdate, make sure Gracie is fully exercised. For a 10 week old Havanese, this may be 3 15-minute strolls around the neighborhood.
The day of the playdate, make sure she is hungry. Bring high-value treats, such as small pieces (about the size of a grain of rice for a 10 wk old small breed puppy) of fresh, boiled chicken breast to the playdate.
Also, right before the playdate, take Gracie on a 20 minute stroll around the neighborhood. Let her explore to her heart’s content. If she wants to just sit on the sidewalk and absorb everything, that’s great too, but get her out and about.
When you get to the playdate, leave Gracie’s leash on. You can actually start the playdate by holding her, I recommend that because she is smaller, it will be easier.
When she sees her sister, she will likely get super excited and try to squirm out of your arms, vocalize, bite, and otherwise tantrum. This is where all of those earlier impulse control exercises can really come in handy!
Just ignore her and continue holding her securely, but also calmly.
You can help take the pressure off of her even more by socializing with the other owner for a bit and 100% ignoring her. Don’t worry about treats or anything right now. Just let her do her thing and ride it out. It may take a bit, but hopefully with the extra walks the day before and day of the playdate, she will tucker out sooner.
When you feel she is totally calm for at least 3 solid minutes, you can let her down to go play, but leave the leash dragging (if she never gets calm in 3 minutes, keep holding her, it will happen eventually, I promise!).
By doing this, you are teaching her that being calm earns the reward of going to play!
If she is hyper and crazy she will not longer be rewarded with play. This is how we will begin to teach her impulse control around her littermate, by starting with the very first step.
The reason that we leave the leash on is that It is almost impossible to give timely feedback to small puppies during playdates because they are so little and fast it’s hard to get them in a timely fashion so that they can understand what you want. The leash will facilitate that for us.
We are going to use the leash to give feedback on impolite behaviors.
Decide ahead of time what those behaviors are. Just speaking from what average canine social behaviors are rude, I would recommend something like interrupting any:
- Going overtop of the other puppy in ANY way (chin over, paw over, mounting etc)
- Hard biting the other puppy, so that that puppy yelps
- Biting and hanging onto the other puppy
- Chasing the other puppy when it is clear that the other puppy is just trying to get away and not playing back and forth chase
- Doing anything that seems like she is being relentless with the other puppy
You could pick a lot more, but those are a few that might help you to get started.
Anytime you see any of these behaviors, IMMEDIATELY (while she is doing the behavior) say “OOPS!” and pick up her leash, pulling her along with you a good 5 ft away from the other puppy.
If the other puppy follows, the other puppy’s owner should stop her from following for a few seconds.
When you’re puppy is with you, do some obedience such as sit.
If she’s too riled up to sit and eat chicken, she will need to stay with you longer until she is able to calm down enough to focus.
If you release her to play again before she has calmed down enough to comply with a simple sit, then you will be releasing her to a HUGE reward, play, in an overly aroused state and also rewarding her for ignoring you. So, get the sit.
After she sits, give her a piece of the chicken, and tell her “go play!”
Repeat as often as needed.
Initially, you will likely be intervening every second and it will be very difficult for her to sit and eat the treat. Don’t worry, she will get better! Just stay consistent with her.
Over the course of a few playdates, she will start running over to you, sitting, eating her treat and happily going off to play again. This is going to set the stage for some really excellent off leash obedience later.
Also, you may find that as she starts to “get it” she hangs out with you sometimes during playdates. Anytime she is around another puppy or dog and she CHOOSES to hang out with you, I would reward that with treats. Eventually, you may find that she enjoys hanging out with you as much or more than playing non stop with the other puppy.
Finally, it’s okay if you need to end her first few playdates early.
You don’t even have to leave if you don’t want to. If you feel like she’s overstimulated, full, and tired (you’ll be able to tell this because she won’t be able to sit when you ask, she won’t be interested in the chicken, and she may get more bitey), just pick her up and chat with the other puppy parents.
This would be a GREAT way to end the playdate. So, you can stay and socialize, but she doesn’t need to keep going if she’s obviously too tired! And, she learns to end playdates in a calm way. Don’t be surprised if she falls asleep in your arms!
One last note, if you’re lucky, you can find a good puppy kindergarten class in your area that teaches in this style. So, all of the puppies are off leash for most of the class, but there are just tons of interruptions and refocusing on the owner. If you can find one of these in your area, you are golden! Sign up, and watch her improvement over the course of the class. Plus, you’ll have the support of a teacher to help.
Alrighty, I hope that’s given you a lot of great ideas for teaching Gracie to be more polite to her littermate, and other dogs in general.
I look forward to talking again soon! Bye!