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Use mother dog's technique for correcting nipping puppy

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By John Ross
Sunday, Dec. 14, 2003

Dear Dog Talk : We have had our 5-month-old puppy, Jada, for one month. She is a collie/German shepherd mix. Recently she has been nipping at me. When we first got her, she was biting and mouthing both my husband and myself. She is 95 percent better. When my husband is around, he is the alpha. When I am with Jada by myself, I am not the alpha. I have tried several things to correct this problem, but they haven't worked. Do you any suggestions•

Dear Nipped Upon : I do not know what techniques you have tried so far to curb Jada's nipping. However, if she were my puppy I would do what her mother dog would do. I would growl at her to stop her biting.

I use a guttural growl sound - "Nhaa!" - that comes from deep in my throat to imitate mother dog. Also, like a mother dog, I strive for perfect timing. The best time to growl "Nhaa" at Jada to stop her biting is right before she actually does it. If your intuition tells you that Jada is thinking about being aggressive and nipping, growl "Nhaa."

Dog trainers call this ability "reading the dog." Fortunately for humans, "reading a dog" is not difficult. Most of what a dog is thinking is apparent in his or her facial expressions and body language. Trust your intuition. If you feel that Jada is about to nip, growl "Nhaa."

If you do trust your intuition, you will find that you will probably be right 99 percent of the time. Even if some of the time you may be wrong, you will be better off wrong than late!

If you do not successfully anticipate Jada's behavior, the next-best time to correct her is precisely as she starts nipping. After the fact is too late. Mother dogs never correct their puppies after the fact.

Also, be consistent! Mother dogs are extremely consistent creatures. Consistency is a sign of pack leadership. Every time Jada shows aggression, you should correct her.

Sometimes puppies are not submissive to a mother dog's growl. When a pup does not stop immediately when a mother dog growls, she escalates her aggression. I have seen mother dogs hover over a fresh-acting pup. She stares into her pup's eyes and growls more ferociously. I have seen mother dogs take a mouthful of loose skin at the scruff of a puppy's neck and roll the pup over. I even have seen mother dogs put their mouth around an incorrigible pup's muzzle and lightly bear down.

When aggressive puppies ignore my "Nhaa," I continue to emulate mother dog. I will growl louder and use my eyes and facial expressions to convey that I mean business. If the situation calls for it, I will also lightly hold the pup's mouth closed and grab a handful of neck scruff. (I don't use my mouth for these corrections!)

Mother dogs never hit, kick or choke their puppies to teach them to behave. Doing these things to a puppy - or even to an adult dog - is abusive. I have seen some trainers and pet owners lift their puppies up by the scruff of the neck and shake them. Mother dogs do not do this. This is an incorrect technique and is also abusive. You will always get the best results if you train naturally and through a canine point of view.

Having said all of this, I have not personally evaluated your puppy and situation. I highly recommend getting involved with an experienced trainer in your area. I do not want you to risk getting bitten, and I do not want you to overcorrect Jada.

If well-time verbal corrections do not stop Jada's nipping and you need to escalate the corrections, do so only under the guidance of an experienced dog obedience instructor. Plus, obedience training will help Jada view you as pack leader as well as teach her to be an obedient dog.

Good luck, and keep me posted on how things are going.

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