This is a training plan for dogs exhibiting mouthing and/or leash biting behaviors. This plan is behavior modification specific and should be used in addition to the Advanced Training Plan for Shelter Dogs.
- Dogs must have access to a variety of toys in their kennels at ALL TIMES. At least one of those toys should be a durable chew toy like a Nylabone.
- Offer safe, consumable enrichment items like bully sticks to satisfy need to chew.
- Put dogs on a puzzle feeding schedule.
- Channel energy into appropriate outlets like interactive toys, agility, and nosework.
- Play impulse control games and engage in calming activities from the advanced behavior plan.
This is anytime dog teeth touch human skin or clothing. Mouthing can be the result of dogs not learning appropriate play as puppies, or not understanding the difference between play with dogs and play with humans, or a symptom of a dog who is stressed, overstimulated, or frustrated.
When dealing with mouthing, STAY CALM. You can unintentionally reinforce or escalate the behavior by becoming excited or overly animated. The technique you use to redirect and modify mouthing will depend on what works best with a given dog.
- Remove yourself from the situation. If you are sitting, stand. If you are standing, turn away. If you need to leave a kennel, pen, or room, do so.
- Ask the dog to perform an incompatible behavior like sit or touch/target.
- Redirect the dog to an appropriate object like a toy.
- Ask the dog to engage in an activity or game that gets him moving like “toss the treat” or “go find”.
- Walk through some simple obstacles (trees, cones, poles, agility obstacles, ec.) to break the fixation and channel energy somewhere positive.
- Bring the energy level down by becoming still and using gentle touch or TTouch to help the dog calm.
If none of these work and the situation may become unsafe for you and the dog, use a time-out:
If you cannot redirect the dog to an appropriate behavior, then the dog is usually over threshold and needs help to calm the down. Use a sturdy carabiner clip to attach the dog to something secure (a tree, fence, etc.) and walk just beyond the end of the leash. When you do this, stay calm and neutral. Wait until the dog visibly calms. When you go to remove the dog from time-out, ask him to sit and offer appropriate behavior as he would during kennel routine. The dog does not leave time-out until he is ready to do so without resuming the behavior.
If a time-out is impossible, try stepping on the leash and turn your back towards the dog. Make sure that you have the end of the leash secure in your hand and that the amount of leash the dog has is sufficient to stop the mouthing but not so short that his neck is being pulled taut or downward.
In addition to handling mouthing in the moment, work with dogs exhibiting this behavior on self-control games, give them appropriate outlets for chewing (and frustration), engage in calming exercises, and teach them to use all of their senses to explore through things like puzzle toys and nose work.
The important thing to remember with leash biting is you DO NOT want to engage in a game of tug. This can reinforce and escalate the behavior. For dogs who do not pose a redirection risk, dropping the leash and a securely holding the harness will stop the behavior. Or use two leashes so you can drop one and switch between them or slip a length of PVC pipe over the leash so the dog is unable to grab hold of it. Hold the leash lower (keep your hands near your hips) so the leash is less likely to pass near the dog’s face or be above them.
Though leash biting sometimes really is just a play behavior, leash biting, and leash “climbing” in particular, can also be caused by significant kennel stress. In addition to the exercises for mouthing, de-escalate this behavior by:
- spending time in the kennel to build a positive association with that space,
- making kennel routine solid so your interaction takes on a calmer, more focused direction,
- providing plenty of enrichment that includes time away from the shelter environment,
- teaching the dog to carry a toy in their mouth as an incompatible behavior.