Mouthing/Biting - need advice - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-09-2010, 03:35 PM Thread Starter
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Mouthing/Biting - need advice

*I'm going to pre-apologize for practically writing a book :-P*

My GSD is just about a year old now, and has always had a mouthing/biting problem. Nothing we did ever helped to discourage the behavior: yelping, ignoring, walking away, loud sounds/shaking a can, shock collar, Cesar's "touch" method - nothing. Everything either was completely ineffective or amped him up more. It has gotten to the point where it's not just in play, but in reaction to several things like holding his collar and putting leashes on and off, any excitement and quick movements, or when people try to leave a group of people. Luckily, he has never broken skin and doesn't growl or anything like that.

However, more recently I've been taking the time to work on more positive reinforcement methods and his biting has gotten better. I've learned what things send him into "biting mode" and either avoid doing it (like getting him over-excited) or doing it over and over and treating/praising when he doesn't bite (like when we hold his collar; I would just sit and grab and fiddle with his collar over and over basically letting him gnaw on me and clicking/treating if I was able to do it without a bite). He has gotten much better with me - very few bites now - and is even calmer in general (less jumping, etc.). In the past few days I've finally gotten to the point of being able to take his prong collar on and off without even an attempt at a bite - that's huge. My arms used to be covered in bruises from his teeth and now I don't have any.

Here's the catch: It's just with me. He's not quite as bad with other people if I'm there, but he's still just as bad with everyone else in my family if I'm not around (supposedly... hard to tell since I'm not there to see!). Certain family members are not exactly "dog people" and are starting to drop hints that my dog is "dangerous and aggressive" and that we should get rid of him. They don't understand the difference between true aggression and mouthiness, nor do they understand that he's in that infamous "butthead" stage as well. I won't get rid of my dog.

I fully understand the need to correct this behavior a.s.a.p. and that I should have done this long before it got to this point, and that it has the potential to lead to true aggression. Plus most people will see it the way that my family does and they won't be very forgiving if his mouth even touches someone. But I'm looking for some input on the approach.

I was thinking working with more general socialization with people, like taking him to parks and pet stores and letting people pet him, etc. and give him treats and corrections on the prong collar as needed. The only thing I don't like about that is it increases the chances of a bite happening since more people will be petting him... :-/ The people that have asked to pet him in the past were always given the warning that he's still a puppy and likes to mouth, and generally those people were dog people themselves and very understanding; and I pulled him away if he got too excited - he never got the chance to get really mouthy with anyone (yet). I have a muzzle but it only sends him into a panicked frenzy trying to get it off and he's more prone to jumping and scratching - I want his experiences with people to have a positive and calm energy and I feel like the muzzle would completely defeat that purpose. But, on the other hand, what if he bites someone? Do I ask people to sign a waver before they pet him?

I've also started to work with him on the "leave it" command and am trying to generalize it so it goes beyond just "leaving" the treats I'm using. He did very well with "leaving" a toy this morning (yay!). Once he's more reliable with that I'll move on to using it to stop his mouthing.

So what do you all think? Work with "leave it" some more, then move on to the taking him out to socialize him better when he's more reliable with following the command? Any other suggestions?

[Moral of the story: People are not joking when they say socialize puppies from the get-go and that the "leave it" command is one of the most important that you can teach your dog, and it's important you do it early. It's only a few short months before the dog gets big enough to do damage - don't let time sneak up on you like it did to me!]
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post #2 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-09-2010, 03:45 PM
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Mia is 14 months and shows the same excitable behavior with one difference-she barks in a high -hurts your ears-pitch. I have tried ignoring, turniong my back, leave it command. I hope she matures and outgrows it.
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post #3 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-09-2010, 03:51 PM
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One other thing you can try is this. When he gets mouthy, wrap your hand around his entire mouth, effectively shutting it completely and hold on. Now, this requires being prepared with a distraction, especially recommended a chew toy that he likes in your other hand. Close and hold the mouth shut, say a firm "no" and then immediately show him the chew toy, release his mouth and praise him heavily when he bites down on it. This accomplishes two things. You are showing mild dominance by making his mouth powerless and are immediately offering an alternative that he gets positive reinforcement for.
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post #4 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-09-2010, 09:06 PM Thread Starter
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JudynRich - It sucks, doesn't it!? My dog usually doesn't bark, luckily... (at least not when he's excited in general, he barks at random stuff all the time). Good luck - I'm half-hoping we can survive until maturity kicks in if nothing else works!

Relayer - sounds like a great idea, except my hands aren't big enough to fit around his nose well enough to hold his mouth shut. Plus I have to do this to put the muzzle on (it's a mesh one) and he goes berserk... takes me forever to get it on (IF I get it on...).
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post #5 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-09-2010, 09:16 PM
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Originally Posted by Namara View Post
JudynRich - It sucks, doesn't it!? My dog usually doesn't bark, luckily... (at least not when he's excited in general, he barks at random stuff all the time). Good luck - I'm half-hoping we can survive until maturity kicks in if nothing else works!

Relayer - sounds like a great idea, except my hands aren't big enough to fit around his nose well enough to hold his mouth shut. Plus I have to do this to put the muzzle on (it's a mesh one) and he goes berserk... takes me forever to get it on (IF I get it on...).
Hmmm... well, the two requirements are large enough hands and a dog that won't go berserk. Sorry. It does work well though otherwise.
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post #6 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-16-2010, 02:37 AM
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My dog is also about a year old and she has (as she's grown more comfortable at home) displayed a bit of mouthiness. Generally it's when she gets excitable and the prey drive kicks in, but she's also started to put her leash/harness in her mouth as well (when I put it on, when she's excited waiting to get out the door). It's never been aggressive yet, but I am determined to put a stop to it ASAP because she has mouthed people's arms/hands. She has never bit down and it is not hurtful, but because of the small children in the household this is 100% unacceptable.

I have been using a similar method to what Relayer suggested. Whenever she mouthes I take a hand (or two) and close her mouth with it. I keep this as calm and gentle as possible along with a verbal "no". Usually I have to repeat this a couple times, but she does not escalate (in that she does not get frantic or bite harder/more) and eventually lies down (in what I read as a gesture of submission).

My question is about the chew toy substitute. The plan with Cara was to not engage in using any chew toys until her small animal aggression (in dealing with birds/squirrel/cats/dogs/deer on walks and with our tabby at home) and people mouthing stops. The reasoning being that allowing her to chew on certain things would be confusing. Can anybody give some advice/feedback on that thought, please?
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post #7 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-16-2010, 07:41 AM
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Originally Posted by Relayer View Post
One other thing you can try is this. When he gets mouthy, wrap your hand around his entire mouth, effectively shutting it completely and hold on. Now, this requires being prepared with a distraction, especially recommended a chew toy that he likes in your other hand. Close and hold the mouth shut, say a firm "no" and then immediately show him the chew toy, release his mouth and praise him heavily when he bites down on it. This accomplishes two things. You are showing mild dominance by making his mouth powerless and are immediately offering an alternative that he gets positive reinforcement for.
When I adopted Phoenix he was extremely mouthy. So mouthy, I had to get my dad a pair of welding gloves and my mom heavy leather gardening gloves for when we visited. It was so bad that we went for a private consultation with a trainer who was very familar with GSDs and Mals. (she owned them herself)

I DO NOT recommend wrapping your hand over muzzle and closing his mouth. If you have an already excitable dog, this could ramp him/her up even more. While it may work for some, but still not something I recommend because your guests and other family members will not be willing to do this. First and foremost, you need to do some training with everyone involved.

Some of the best things you can do is to have an acceptable alternative for him to put his mouth on at all times. Yes, this may require you to carry a ball, stuffed animal, or bone on you at all times. This also requires a lot of patience. When he becomes mouthy or looks like he's going to mouth you, put the acceptable item in his mouth. Did I mention this will take some time and lots and lots of patience to correct?

Until you get the mouthing problem taken care of, I would not let strangers pet him. He WILL mouth them, especially if he's excited. It's a natural reaction until he's been taught it's not acceptable behavior. while I think a muzzle has it's place in certain situations, this is not one of them. If you find that it already ramps him up, then it's something you need to stop. It's his fight/flight reaction.

You need to implement a plan that everyone in the family can follow, even if it means everyone in the house is carrying around a toy/bone/ball.

Diana

Bentley - the light that brought me out of the darkness

RIP Phoenix, Brightstar Rescue, 2006 - 5/6/2017
RIP Dakota 1/5/93 - 10/23/2006
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post #8 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-16-2010, 07:53 AM
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I like to teach an alternative behavior like kiss, or touch. I also like to give everything names so that they know what it is they are doing that I do/don't like.

Because people get a little freaked over a mouthy GSD, I use silly words, so for no biting I say no bitesies (cute right?) and kissy kiss as the replacement behavior, which is licking.

Or just having them touch my hand with the nose. I think that it helps to channel some of the herding stuff that is happening with the mouthing but does it tooth free.

Now, I cannot tell you HOW I get them to go from mouthing with open mouth to offering a kiss. I am thinking that I wait for the lick to happen and name it, then reward/praise for licking, saying kissy kiss...then when they mouth I say EH! no bitesies, and ask for a kissy kiss.

I find that if they know EH! in general for things that you don't want them to do (paws on the counter, pushing, etc) it becomes easier to transition the general EH into a specific thing you don't want them to do.

Touch is pretty easy with a clicker. I also use it to calm if the dog is able to concentrate.

This is pretty incomplete, but hopefully you can pull something out of it!

And is it me or do they go through another mouthy stage after they are a year old?





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post #9 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-16-2010, 11:18 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks everyone! Just as a general update: my dog is doing better already. Some people have petted him lately (family members and close friends, people that are acquainted with him but don't see him all that often, [no strangers]) and he stayed calm and didn't try to mouth them... until they started baby-talking him. Why do people feel the need to baby-talk a 90+ pound GSD??? *scratches head* (no offense to anyone that does this, but GSDs don't strike me as a dog that you immediately have the urge to do that to). I stopped baby-talking him ages ago because using my voice in general amps him up and the cutsie voice is even worse... and I have yet to convince other people of this. *sigh* Oh well, if they don't listen to me then they shouldn't wonder why the dog misbehaves (although it would be ideal that he behaved no matter what, but you know what I mean).

But I've been using "leave it" and he's doing really well! He still puts his mouth on my arm but doesn't bear down, which is progress and I'll take it (for now). But like another person who posted about biting problems, he's learning that the routine is I grab his collar, he bites, he lets go, I treat, so he thinks the bite is necessary - he even looks at my other hand waiting for the treat. So I'm taking advantage of the "golden moments" when he doesn't put his mouth on me at all and "jackpotting" them, so maybe he'll get the picture. Plus I'm starting to use more praise as reward and will be upping the bar so he doesn't get a treat/praise if he mouths whatsoever. He's learned to "leave" treats very easily, even if I toss them at his feet. Toys are another story - he'll put his mouth on it, then look up at me, then put his mouth back on it again and go back and forth until he finally yawns and sits in frustration. But he's not picking it up and running away with it, so yay!

DnP = I will try the thing with the toy, but I know I'll have to be careful with the selection... Certain toys get him really excited and he will get mouthy trying to engage people to play with him. Or, he gets possessive of the toy and will avoid people completely. But I think he has one that he would be content with to not do those kinds of things with... I'll give it a try. Thanks! :-D

Jean - I love the cute-cover-up idea with using cute terms... that's funny. :-D I actually did start working with him on the "touch" thing a while back but never got very far. He was having a hard time distinguishing that a gentle nose touch was fine but his teeth touching me in any way was not. I should try to revisit that because now that we've made some progress he may pick up on this really easily. Thanks for reminding me!
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post #10 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-16-2010, 11:33 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by StarryEyes View Post
My question is about the chew toy substitute. The plan with Cara was to not engage in using any chew toys until her small animal aggression (in dealing with birds/squirrel/cats/dogs/deer on walks and with our tabby at home) and people mouthing stops. The reasoning being that allowing her to chew on certain things would be confusing. Can anybody give some advice/feedback on that thought, please?
I'm obviously no expert, but it makes sense to me if you're talking about chew toys that resemble the small animals that you are trying to discourage her from being aggressive towards. Also, it would make sense to me if you're avoiding playing games like tug that encourage the dog to play rough. But I personally wouldn't see a problem with the dog having a generic squeaky toy, ball, rubber bone, or something to chew on when they are in their crate or just chilling out...

Also, it might have to do with how your dog plays with the toys. Does she "kill" the toys (regardless of what kind they are)? If your dog plays way too rough with any toy even by herself, then yes, I would agree that it would be best to not have any toys because your dog sees it as prey and not something to play with.

So it really just depends on whether your dog is actually playing or is going on pure prey drive with the toys, I think... Does anyone who is more knowledgeable have thoughts on this???
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