Yesterday at the natural stone store where I went to look at their granite, the guy that helped me mentioned that his friend’s German Shepherd puppy kept biting his owner. Puppies do that because they are exploring their world. They are babies using everything as their personal teething rings.
When my lab mix Pepper was a puppy, I took her to Puppy Manners class at the organization that had rescued her mother from a kill shelter and had put the new mama dog and her litter up for adoption. Tony La Russa of baseball fame had started ARF two decades before. It’s now the Taj Mahal of animal rescue facilities. Its new building is named for the Peoplesoft Mr. Duffield’s family pet, Maddie.
I learned from that class that there is a window of time to get your puppy to have a soft mouth. A soft mouth is a dog mouth that won’t hurt you when you give your dog a treat or brush his teeth. The only way to get a soft mouth is to let your puppy know when he is hurting you.
“Your homework is to stick your fist in your puppy’s mouth every day until next week’s class,” the trainer said.
The class participants in the ten million dollar ARF training pavilion laughed. None of us wanted to do that.
“The window is closing on teaching your dog not to bite you,” the trainer said. “If he bites down too hard, you need to squeal like his litter mate would if they were playing together and he bit him too hard.”
I practiced saying ouch in a high-pitched voice, easier for me than for the men in the class.
It really works. I tried putting my aging hand in Pepper’s mouth a few times and then squealed when she bit down too hard on it. After a few tries, she learned to treat my hand with a soft mouth. Now, three years later, I can give her a treat and she gently takes it. That is the benefit of getting a dog as a puppy, when the training window is still open.
My other dog, Daisy, is a three-time rescue dog. She was at least three years old when I got her. She doesn’t take a treat with a soft mouth. No one ever trained her and the window has closed. She doesn’t mean to hurt me when I give her a treat, but I have to remember that I can’t stick my hand near her mouth the same way I can with Pepper. She often gets my finger in her bite. Once she drew blood. I screamed. She felt bad after that. Me, too.
We used to call Pepper the shark puppy because she ran down the hallway with her mouth open and her razor-blade teeth ready to bite. Now she has her big teeth that could break the bones in my hand, but they never will.
She is my big soft-mouthed dog with her smaller hard-mouthed buddy.
You can’t teach an adult dog the same tricks you can teach a puppy.
Couldda Wouldda Shouldda
I should’ve gotten a second puppy? No way, Jose. That window has closed forever.