Dog for 4/1/20

Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at dogbehaviorquestions@gmail.com.

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Dog Gone Problems,

I saw your information on the Omaha.com page and was hoping maybe you could give me some guidance. We have a 13-week-old mini Goldendoodle who is super cute and very sweet — most of the time.

Being a puppy, we know he instinctively wants to chew on everything and we do a pretty good job of redirecting him to one of his MANY chew toy options when he wants to chew on something he shouldn’t. The problem is, every evening, it’s like he turns into a crazed piranha who wants to eat the flesh off of our hands and arms — and I seem to taste the best to him!

We try to redirect, but it’s like he just can’t help himself. We (somewhat) jokingly refer to him as our vampire teddy bear. We are hoping this will stop after he’s done teething, but not sure our skin can take three more months of this. When he gets completely out of control the only thing we know to do is crate him. Is this normal or does it indicate some other behavioral issue? Is there anything else we can do to deter the biting? We have him signed up for puppy kindergarten starting next Monday, although I’m not sure if they will cancel due to Covid-19.

Thanks in advance!

Nancy

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Dear Nancy,

It's very normal for puppies to explore with their mouths. Everything is new to them, and since dogs don’t have hands, their mouths are what they use to sample things.

This is one of the reasons we recommend our puppy class parents use what is called a long-term confinement area. This is a fenced-off area that your puppy sleeps in, eats in and is kept when he can't be supervised.

There are multiple benefits from using a long-term confinement area. First off, it limits what your puppy has access to. Most unwanted dog behavior problems with puppies start in the first week or two that the puppy is in his new home. Chewing is pretty high on this list, but likely not for the reason most people think.

Since puppies explore with their mouths, after some sniffing and licking, chewing is often the next step. And what do we do when we catch a puppy chewing the wrong thing? We either correct or punish him (you should not punish/discipline dogs), or we get up and try to redirect him towards an appropriate chew item.

Here’s the thing, to dogs and puppies, attention in any form — good or bad — from humans is pretty much the same thing. And since we are often predisposed with other things, many puppies and dogs learn to misbehave as one of the fastest ways to get their human’s attention.

But if you have a long-term confinement area filled with all kinds of awesome toys (at least 20) that are not allowed to be brought outside of the area, you can bet the puppy isn’t chewing your furniture, shoes, carpet, etc. Instead of getting into a habit chewing things that are so tempting to a puppy, they get into a habit of chewing dog toys — as that is all they have access to.

Now your other question was how to stop him from chewing on you late at night. I usually recommend these three steps when a puppy gets mouthy or nippy:

1. Yelp loudly (like a young child, almost a scream/yell), then retract your arm and stop engaging with the puppy. It's important you do this the instant the puppy's teeth touches your skin — even if it was gentle. Teaching puppies bite inhibition is one of the most important lessons for us to teach them.

2. Redirect the puppy to an appropriate chew item like a Nylabone, antler, real bone, bully stick or other chew toy. I find that teasing the pup with the new item gets better result than just handing them the item. If a puppy has to work a bit for the item, they will be more interested in their “trophy.”

3. If the puppy gets more aggressive with the yelp or shows no interest in being redirected, they are most likely overly tired. Puppies need to sleep close to 20 hours a day and we often keep them up way too much. When a puppy gets over-tired, they often get cranky and more aggressive with nips, chews and mouthing.

This is where the long-term confinement area comes in. Many puppies will protest if they are put into a kennel — as it's so restrictive. But a long-term confinement area has a kennel, as well as an area for the puppy to play in.

So when you get to the third step, simply walk into the long-term confinement area and the puppy will follow, likely chewing on your pant legs. Once the pup is inside, turn around and exit, closing the door behind you. The pup will likely protest for a minute, but if the area is in another room away from where you hang out, he will quickly give up and lay down to sleep once all the other options are no longer present.

Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.

David

Submit your pet questions to David Codr by emailing a photo of your dog and question to dogbehaviorquestions@gmail.com. Visit doggoneproblems.com for more from David.


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