*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!]