Destructive Behaviour & Bite Inhibition
It is important to understand that during the formative (sensitive) period, the puppy is teething. During this time, they show a lot more interest in chewing, biting and mouthing. This is natural and expected in all puppies, but some are more inclined than others. There are numerous reasons they chew a lot around this time. They are learning to use their nose and their taste, along with how to use their mouth. They are also learning what they can and can’t eat or play with, so this is where we need to give them a bit of a nudge in the right direction.
The first thing we do around this age of teething is make sure the puppy has access to some soft toys that it can play with and chew when it desires. HOWEVER, it is very important that these toys do not resemble anything that is commonly found in the house – a fake shoe is a prime example of a bad chew toy, because once your dog realises it can chew shoes, you will have a hard time stopping it. Select toys like rubber Kong® toys, a rope, or tennis balls (if you don’t play tennis!), special wood toys for dogs with no sharp edges, etc. We don’t recommend soft teddy bears, blankets or pillows, as these will encourage them to chew cushions, couches and bedding. Don’t leave your shoes and slippers or clothes around on the ground in the first few months of your pup’s life inside your home.
Bite inhibition is a natural progression and occurs at the same time as the chewing and destructive behaviour. This is seen naturally when the pups play with each other. In the wild, they are basically learning how to fight and attack prey by play fighting with each other. In the home environment they will automatically. Try this with you and your family, as you are in essence the other pups, or family members in their pack. At home, we teach them that it is fine to play and run around as much as they want, but they must not bite.
The lip roll and jaw pinch are two techniques we like to use to initiate bite inhibition with puppies in the later part of the formative period. The way these techniques are executed is very simple: when the pup approaches to mouth, bite or nip, you simply let your hand be enclosed by their jaw and either roll their lip onto their teeth and press down slightly as they bite, until they pull away. Alternatively, press your thumb down under their tongue and pinch down against your forefinger on the underside of the jaw again until they pull away. You need to do this every time they try and nip you and use a firm “no” command. It is important that you never encourage biting when you are playing with your pup, and always discriminate against biting using firm tones of voice.
Offer alternatives. It’s all well and good discriminating against bad behaviour, but your puppy still needs to bite and chew, It is great to encourage this in the form of fetching or retrieving. We tie a toy to the end of a piece of rope and throw it away, followed by a “fetch” command. When the puppy grabs the toy we pull it towards us while enticing the puppy in with a “come” or “bring it here” command, followed by a click and reward. Be careful not to start a tug of war – unless that is what you want of course. This is a multi-purpose exercise with many benefits. We are teaching bite inhibition by redirecting their biting onto a toy, and we are teaching destructive discrimination but helping them understand what is appropriate to chew. We are also fulfilling their natural prey drive and instinctive behaviour to hunt or chase things. Lastly, we are enriching their learning. This is a form of playtime that is very beneficial to their development as a well-rounded dog, and keeps them happy and fit.
For unwanted licking, you can simply give a light flick on the nose with a “no” command, but be careful not to initiate a game with the flick as this can sometimes be interpreted as play time by the puppy.