11 weeks 5 days old
So this will just be a fairly quick one. It's a crazy time at night as I just got up to take Knightley out to go "looloo" which is the cue I am training for him to do his number 1. I think we are close to him being able to comfortably sleep through the night though, so that'll be nice for me.
Anyway, I said I would write a post on puppy nipping, as we have virtually completely eradicated it, after dealing with a very very nippy puppy for a few weeks. As Knightley is a Golden Retriever he is genetically predisposed to want to have things in his mouth - something that is great for his future career as a assistance dog, but not so great for while he is a puppy and those things are our hands and clothes!
We tried the high pitched "owww!" method and then ignored when he nipped, it may have worked briefly, but eventually if anything he found it exciting. Walking away didn't work - he would follow biting at our ankles and jeans, making more holes in them. We tried putting him in his exercise pen when he got nippy to calm down, but as soon as we let him out he would get back to eating us. I tried shaping him not to eat me, but the success of that wasn't helped by the fact he is not a food motivated dog. So we had tried many of the accepted techniques with no success.
Then I decided to try the tether method. When he started nipping painfully I took him to a tether point (a cheap but strong leash attached to a strong anchor point, in this case the baby/pet gate, impossible for him to pull down). I had his favourite treats, some roast chicken. I stroked him everywhere, around his face, collar, everything. Of course, very quickly he started nipping. As soon as I felt painful tooth contact I quietly said "Ah!" and quickly walked away about 3 metres where I stood facing away from him. I paused for maybe 5 seconds, then returned, and continued praising him and feeding him bits of chicken so long as there was no painful tooth contact. As soon as there was, I repeated it. I then worked on touching his ears, feet, mouth area... everywhere that is usually touchy. Then I started dangling my sleeves, jean legs... anything that would usually tempt him and doing the same thing.
Over about 5 days of doing 3 short sessions daily there was a huge huge change. The biggest change was in those first sessions, I could see him get the message so quickly. I found everyone in the family needs to do this for him to get the message that no nipping is a universal requirement. He still does it a bit when really excited... but he was like nipping 95% of the time you tried to touch his mouth area or collar and it's maybe 5% now. A huge difference.
He was still grabbing his leash occasionally, despite me doing the same thing with his leash.... so on the advice of the guy at his recent puppy pre-school (will post about that too soon!) I put some bug repellant spray on it. There has been one bite since! I feel a bit bad I wasn't able to stop it with more positive methods, but at least it wasn't aversive *coming from me*, which is what matters to me personally. If he doesn't associate it with me, our relationship is intact.
Anyway, if you are having puppy nipping problems, give this tether technique a go. I still put him in his exercise pen to calm down if he gets excited and I think he may start to want to nip. It is best to avoid a nipping mindset if you can, that way he will learn faster that human skin is delicate. Oh - and make sure you have lots of dog toys around, sometimes when he's being a bit of a pain all he needs is some exercise with a good play. Practice training him via the tether, have calm down times to avoid those nipping moods, and have play times to burn excess energy and you can avoid the worst of puppy nipping - trust me! It's certainly worth the work. Those puppy teeth sure are sharp!!!
Oz Working Dogs - Assistance & Working Dog Equipment
For assistance/service dog equipment, as well as guide, therapy, detection, search & rescue, police and dogs in training equipment check out my website http://www.ozworkingdogs.com.au - I make and sell vests, capes, belly bands, harnesses, handles and more... and will post to the world!