By Dr. Sophia Yin
My husband and I have a 10-week old yellow lab named Avery. We brought her home 3 weeks ago, at the age of 7 weeks, and have been using the methods we learned from your book, Perfect Puppy in 7 Days, to teach her to say please and to sit for everything. It is going well, and Avery is becoming a good puppy…not perfect! She likes to bite us A LOT. We try to give her something else and reward her for not biting, or for stopping, but she still likes to do it! That will just take time, I am sure. My REAL question for you is about something books seems to be lacking or that I missed, but WHEN do we stop the treats for everything and start actually feeding her from a dish? I know she is not perfect yet, but she seems to just want to sit at my feet each morning and have me hand feed her treats because she is sitting and making eye contact. She will do this all thru my packing my husband's lunch, ironing his clothes and making his breakfast, about 30-40 mins! I am not sure this is the right message now. Let me know! Thanks.
Julie and Bill Russ
Sounds like you’re doing a good job so far and experiencing a problem that most owner wish they had—that the puppy they have been training for only a couple of weeks is sitting politely for them too much! The answer to your specific question is that I never switch to feeding in a bowl. When I have the perfect dog and don’t need to use her daily allotment of food for training anymore (Chapter 5 in Perfect Puppy in 7 Days), I put my dog’s food in a food-puzzle such a frozen Kong toy (p. 56), Egg-Cersizer® by Premier Pet Products, or the Bob-a-Lot® by StarMark Pet Products (p. 55).
Reward your puppy for lying down away from you instead
But the question you really want an answer to is not “When do I stop rewarding with treats (bits of her meal)?” but “How do I reward a different behavior instead?” Specifically, if you don’t want your precocious puppy to sit politely and calmly for you at your feet, train her to lie politely on a rug instead (p. 128). To make it easier, you can tether her to furniture near the rug and have her lie down in order to practice her down-stay. Once she’s staying nicely, you can give her food rewards or use other motivators, such as praise and petting, at longer and longer intervals until she just lies happily and politely out of habit.
What do you do with the rest of her meal? You can use it for training the behaviors she still needs to work on, such as walking politely outside, greeting people while remaining seated, coming when called, focusing on you instead of trying to chase cats and squirrels outside, and learning how to be handled for toenail trims or examinations. And don’t forget you should use it to help ensure she has positive socialization experiences with many different types of people (100 people in 100 days), well-behaved, friendly dogs, new environments, and even other animals! So, at 10 weeks, there’s still plenty of ways she can earn her food and additional good habits she can form!
Prevent puppy play-biting by improving your timing and removal of the reward
Regarding her chewing behavior, if it’s taking you a long time to fix, then that means some people in the household need to sharpen up their timing and technique or need to learn to be consistent. You’ll know which members these are because they are the worst targets of the biting behavior!
Take, for instance, the case of Lucy after her first two weeks with my parents. I only had a chance to show them a few exercises and then had to leave town for a few weeks. When I returned, their main two complaints were that Lucy would chew their arms at home and on walks she would grab the leash. When she tried mouthing my arm in play, I just removed my arms and stood up if needed so she clearly understood I was removing my attention rather than engaging in more play. Immediately, she would stop and sit. I only had to do this a few times and she understood this was an inappropriate way to play. Then I could resume petting her. Similarly, when she grabbed the leash to play tug, I just stood still and she stopped within a second and sat. Then I could go on with my walk. She only tried tugging the leash twice more.
On the other hand, for my dad, when she pulled on the leash and he stood still, she kept pulling and, if she was mouthing my parents’ arms and they pulled away and stopped interacting, she would continue to try playing for several more seconds. Why the difference? Because they were inconsistent. Sometimes when she grabbed them, they would shout “out” as they had been told to do in puppy class, but they didn’t remove their hands and attention within a split second. Instead they let their arms dangle, sometimes even repeating “out” over and over. In other words, they still looked like an interactive squeaky toy to Lucy. Of course if they had read the 25 page photo-illustrated Perfect Puppy draft instruction manual, where I’d specifically stated that didn’t work on her and that they needed to clearly and quickly remove their attention/interaction, maybe they would have been more successful. On a positive note though, they did know to replace their arms with one of the assortment of toys that Lucy loved.
Similarly for the case of the leash grabbing, Lucy had learned that her senior citizen owners were slow to react by removing their attention. Sometimes they’d also interact with her by telling her “no” or moving around instead of standing silent and stationary, so it wasn’t clear to her that pulling equals no attention or tug play. On top of that, when they did reward her for good behavior by interacting again and doing repeat sits backwards or walking with her by their side, they moved so slowly that it was relatively boring to her compared to grabbing the leash.
The take home message: Look closely for errors in timing, consistency and avoid confusing signals.
The take home message here is that it’s important to watch closely to see what everyone in your family is doing. Have they made the repeat sit games fast-paced and fun and is their body language clear or are they accidentally waiving their arms around or dangling them so it’s not clear to her when she should grab arms or jump to get the treat? If she does start to chew, are they removing their attention within a split second in a way that she immediately stops? I guarantee that the answer is no.
Now all you have to do is figure out how often little blips in timing and execution are occurring and tighten up your technique. When you do, your already nearly-perfect puppy will be playing with toys and interacting politely with you instead of biting and chewing on your arms! You will all have a lot more fun playing that way!!