Lots of people have been adding new puppies to their homes in this time of COVID-19, and the excitable mouthiness and jumpiness are always of concern for them! It’s perfectly normal for puppies to be crazy at times but to cope with it can be challenging. One behavior that is common and challenging for new puppy owners is when a puppy bites on her leash. How can we address this?
First, it’s important to lay a foundation for reinforcing calm behaviors. Click and treat for your dog’s ability to sit and look at you calmly as often as possible in as many different situations as possible. “Capture” those moments of lying peacefully beside you by telling her she’s good, and treating for it. Being relaxed, calm and having focus on you should be rewarded highly and often!
This video from Emily Larlham of Kikopup is a GREAT way to positively teach your dog how to be calm around a leash, and I really love this method!
Another method is to put two leashes on the dog; when the dog bites at the one you’re using, drop it and pick up the other. If you’re continually NOT participating in the game of “tug” that would ensue with a single leash, ignoring her attempts, it will cut off the reinforcement the biting is allowing her. Also work on teaching “drop it” and “leave it” cues as these can be used to get her to drop the leash as well as leave it alone.
You can also teach her to carry something else in her mouth on walks; this works very well with retrievers. Using a toy she likes, encourage her to hold it in his mouth. Don’t use treats as this may encourage her to drop the toy! Instead, use petting and praise, and gradually build on the time she can hold it to lengthen her ability to hold it while on walks.
Remember, when your dog is like this, it signals a need to chew or tug, so provide appropriate outlets for these needs, like plenty of chew toys, stuffed Kongs, and tug play before and/or after walks with her. If the dog doesn’t want to let go of the tug toy, you can trade a treat to get her to drop it, and this tug play can actually help you teach a good drop it cue! Tiring her out before walks on leash can also help with the problem; do some trick training or simple basic obedience cues training for a few minutes before the walk.
Lastly, you can opt to use a bitter apple spray on your leash, or use a chain leash, as these won’t be appealing for the dog to bite. These aren’t my favorite methods, as they are technically positive punishment-based, and don’t teach the dog an alternate behavior. Chain leashes can also be very uncomfortable for you to hold.
An alternative to a chain leash would be to use a choke chain (NEVER as a collar/walking tool, please!): using a carabiner, attach one end of the choke chain to the dog’s harness or flat collar. Attach the leash to the other end of the choke chain. Now the choke chain is part of the leash, on the end closest to the dog, where she bites. Again, using unpleasant deterrents is not my favorite method; I highly recommend opting teaching alternative behaviors you want, in addition to providing regular outlets to curb the problem instead.
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