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There is arguably nothing quite so sweet as a Beagle puppy...those big floppy ears, the big brown eyes...and everything they do is cute. When he was little, it seemed cute when the puppy attacked your hand. His lips were soft and his whiskers bristly, and it was funny that this little scrap was bold enough to take you on. Besides, which, those bites didn't really hurt, just scratches really.
Only now he's grown into an adult dog and those play bites aren't quite so funny. In fact, they hurt. Clearly, he isn't being malicious, the tail wags and he seems generally delighted by the game, but you don't find it amusing anymore. You've tried pulling your hand away, shouting, and even resorted to smacking, but all that happens is he gets more excited and ramps up the fun.
What to do?
Biting behavior, whether in fun or something more serious, should never be tolerated. But, this doesn't mean punishing the dog (which is liable to increase tension and make matters worse). Instead, it's important to know the appropriate way to react so that the dog calms down or redirects his mouth to a more appropriate object, such as a toy.
Ideally, start by teaching bite inhibition to a puppy. This can require you to use techniques such as timeout out or redirecting play onto a toy. An adult dog, with the potential to do harm, is a more serious prospect to deal with. Consider the suggestions below, but also know that for safety's sake it may be necessary to consult a certified behaviorist and have a safe strategy put in place.
Teaching a Beagle not to bite is mostly a matter of how you react and timing, rather than special equipment. However, you will find the following training aids a great help.
- Pea-sized training treats
- A treat pouch or bag, for easy access while retraining
- A tug toy
- Balls or toys to play fetch with.
The Teach Bite Inhibition Method
Understand the idea
Puppies learn acceptable behavior from the reaction of their littermates. When playing rough and tumble games, if a puppy bites, his playmate will squeal, sending out the message that the nip was too hard. Next time the puppy plays using a softer mouth, having learned 'bite inhibition'. This can also be taught by an owner to their dog, in order to have a puppy (or dog) that isn't mouthy.
Help the puppy understand
Your Beagle needs to learn that teeth against human skin hurt, and that it's not appropriate behavior. Play with your dog, but if he bites your hand, let out a high-pitched squeal and let your arm go limp. The dog should look startled and stop in his tracks. Your squeal has told the dog in a language he understands that the bite was too hard.
And if he doesn't back off...
However, if the Beagle doesn't get the message say "Too bad" in a stern voice and withdraw from the game.
Practice and praise the pup
Let's say the pup bit, you squealed, and he backed down. Now praise him and give a small reward. Then continue the game. What you are subtly doing is rewarding the good (non-nipping) play, which makes the dog more likely to repeat it.
If the dog is slow to catch on or gets over-excited by the squealing, the next option is to withdraw attention and institute "Time out." This is a matter of ending the game, folding your arms, and ignoring the dog when he bites, you yelp, and he carries on. If the dog continues to throw himself at you, for the worst offenders, you may need to leave the room. Again, the message the dog receives is that the game ends if he plays rough...and since Beagles love play and fun, he won't want the game to end.
The What NOT To Do Method
Don't ignore biting
Never be brave and tolerate biting. If you let the dog bite, even in play, he won't understand that human skin is fragile. Instead he'll think you aren't feeling anything and may nip even harder next time. Always take appropriate action, such as squealing or time out, so that he gets the message.
Do NOT attempt to manage an aggressive dog yourself
Rare as a truly aggressive dog is, you should never try to manage the problem by yourself. There's a good chance you may make the issue worse, which could be dangerous. Instead, seek help from a certified animal behaviorist, who will assess the dog's triggers and put a plan of action in place to keep everyone safe.
Do NOT jerk your hand away
Short, sharp movements, such as jerking your arm away, may be mistaken by the dog for play. Reacting with a jerk may accidentally encourage the dog to bite, rather than deter him. Instead, be sure to let your arm and hand go limp, or slowly fold your arms putting your hands out of sight.
Do not strike or hit the dog
Physical punishment when he bites may excite the dog further or make him fearful of you. Since anxiety is a common cause of biting, this is liable to make the situation far worse.
Don't encourage him to play with your hands and feet
It sounds obvious, but it's easy to overlook: don't actively encourage the dog to view your limbs as toys. If he shows interest in chasing your feet, stand still and produce a toy from your pocket to distract him. By doing this, it discourages teeth from contacting skin.
Do give an outlet for chewing
And last but not least, give your dog plenty of opportunities to chew, since this satisifies a deep-seated need to exercise the teeth and jaws. By expending energy in a healthy way, the dog is less likely to nip things he shouldn't, such as your hands.
The Redirect the Bite Method
Understand the idea
It is a rare Beagle that is truly aggressive. Instead, it's more likely his bite is inappropriate play behavior. Indeed, Beagles are dogs that love to mouthing objects and holding something in their mouth. This method focuses on redirecting biting behavior onto a toy or something more appropriate than your skin.
Substitute a toy
If your Beagley-friend wants to play and nips at your hands, distract him with a toy. Wiggle the toy so that it moves, which instantly makes it more interesting to the dog. At the same time, hold still the hand that has the dog's attention, which makes it less enticing as a toy. When the dog switches his attention to the toy, praise him and engage in an active game of fetch or tug as a further reward.
Encourage non-contact play
If your dog keeps making lunges for your hands then desist from games that involve direct touch, and play fetch or tug. Keep a tug toy in your pocket, and then when the dog shows signs of being mouthy, redirect his energy to the toy. Eventually, the dog will look for a toy to latch onto and will leave your hands alone.
Basic obedience training such as 'sit', 'stay', and 'look', can save the day. By teaching these commands the dog learns to listen and focus on you.To do this he must control impulsive behavior, such as biting, hence giving him time to calm down.
Provide opportunities to play with other dogs
If your dog gets over-excited but isn't aggressive, then giving the dog the opportunity to play with others can give him feedback of the canine-kind to help him understand his bite is unwanted. However, if the bites are aggressive, then this option is not appropriate and instead you should seek the advice of a professional dog behaviorist.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 12/19/2017, edited: 01/08/2021