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Puppies are adorable, and arguably a Havanese puppy more than most. With that delightful soft curly fur and black button nose, the Havanese pup could easily be mistaken for a teddy bear. However, if you've been on the receiving end of a nip from the pup, it doesn't matter how sweet he looks, the bite still hurts.
Now is a step-through moment to nip (pardon the pun) this bad behavior in the bud before it becomes established. It's probable that you get advice from friends and family, some telling you to smack the pup, others saying it's not fair to do so.
Once, out of desperation, you shouted at the pup, but he seemed so cowed afterward you didn't like to do it again. But what is the right way? How should you teach that adorable teddy-bear pup not to bite?
Havanese are a mild and gentle breed that make for a great family pet. But just like any breed, he does need to learn good manners, and this includes not nipping. Even more than this, it's important to teach him a general rule that biting as a whole is not acceptable. This means teaching the pup some self-control so that he doesn't become over-excited, which is the most common reason for biting or nipping in puppies.
You need minimal equipment to teach a Havanese, or any puppy, not to bite. Most important is knowledge and understanding how a puppy's mind works and how you can get the message across.
It is helpful to have the following equipment:
- Toys, such as tuggers or balls, so that you can play without your hands being near the dog's mouth
- Treats to reward the pup when he does well
- A place you can withdraw to when the puppy gets over excited and won't calm down
- A watch or means of timing 15 seconds.
The Bite Inhibition Method
What is bite inhibition?
Puppies learn a lot about what's OK and what isn't through play with their littermates. Biting is a perfect example. During a game when a puppy nips another, that other pup is likely to squeal and object. He may even stop the game. Thus the first puppy learns to nip more gently (or not at all) so that the game doesn't stop.
Why teach bite inhibition?
Bite inhibition is a form of self-control. Thus the dog learns to control their biting behavior and stop it. This is different to smacking a dog to make him stop biting. With the latter the dog stops himself biting out of fear of that one person. Although the difference is a subtle one, it matters. A dog that has learned self-control will not bite when his paw is trodden on. However, if someone other than the owner steps on the paw of the smacked dog, the dog is still likely to bite because he hasn't generalized his learning.
Take a lesson from the littermates
To teach bite inhibition think about how the pup's littermates react. They squeal or cry when bitten, and withdraw from the game. This gives the pup a verbal signal that the bite hurt, plus the fun stops, which is a form of punishment.
Put theory into practice
In practical terms, this means yelping or crying out when the pup mouths your skin. Let your hand go limp and then make whimpering noises. Most importantly, end the game he was playing. Do this every time and the pup will understand that humans are really delicate and for the game to continue he has to be really careful not to mouth their skin.
Walk away as needed
If the puppy is so overexcited that even yelping doesn't get through to him, then be prepared to get up and leave the room. This is the ultimate withdrawing of attention. Only return and resume the game once the pup is calm.
The Self-Control Method
Are you mad? Teach a dog self-control!
Most pups bite not because they are aggressive but because they get over-excited. By regularly interrupting play in order that the puppy calms down, you can avoid over-excitement and reduce biting behaviors.
Understand the plan
The idea is to play in short bursts of around 15 seconds, then stop and wait for the pup to calm down. The game resumes once he is calm, hence rewarding the better behavior. Because play stops before he gets overexcited and starts nipping, this makes this behavior less likely.
Time 15 seconds of play
Start a game with a tug toy or an object that doesn't involve the dog having direct contact with your hand. Engage him in a game, but keep an eye on your watch and stop after 15 seconds. Put the toy down and wait for the dog to grow calm.
Praise the dog's calmness
Once he grows quiet, praise him and tell him how clever he is. This helps him understand that calm is good.
Restart the game
Now restart the game as a reward for being calm. Keep repeating in this cycle, so the pup has short periods of play interspersed with timeout periods.
Adding a cue word
As the pup gets better at controlling excitement, put this action on cue by using a command. When you stop play say "Calm" as he grows quiet, then praise him. You can also gradually extend the length of the bursts of play, by adding on 5 seconds, being sure not to overtax the pup and have him play for so long he gets over excited.
The Do's and Don'ts Method
Don't: Smack or punish the puppy
This may seem to work, but what's happening is the pup becomes fearful of you which inhibits the biting. However, he doesn't learn the more general rule that biting anyone is unacceptable. Indeed, he may even hide feelings of aggression or frustration and bite unexpectedly as a result of being fearful of your reaction.
Don't: Use your hands as toys
Young puppies investigate everything with their mouths. Thus, it's unfair to expect a pup not to bite your hand if you offer it out as a toy. Don't tease him with your fingers or prod and poke the puppy into reacting.
Do: Use toys
Chose toys that put some distance between you and the puppy's teeth, such as tuggers, balls, or cuddly toys. Use these in games so the dog doesn't learn to grip your skin.
Don't be bashful
It's important to squeal and cry loudly, and then play act that you are hurt when the puppy nips. You may feel strange doing this, so explain to the family what's going on and why, so that you don't feel inhibited about communicating with the pup in this way he understands.
Do: Seek professional help
If you are struggling with a bity puppy then call for professional help sooner rather than later. Young puppies are receptive to learning and so now is the time to correct that bad behavior. Speak to a certified animal behaviorist or a dog trainer who uses reward-based methods.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 03/07/2018, edited: 01/08/2021