Dog on the Couch

2017-06-01 06:00

Hi Susan, I am a bit concerned that my puppy is dominant. A trainer told me that mouthy behaviour in a puppy is a display of dominance. Please help.

Theresa

Hi Theresa, young puppies, blind and deaf, naturally explore their new world with their mouths. This is certainly not a sign of dominance.

From day one the puppies begin nibbling and mining with their mouths and noses in search of their mother’s milk. Only the uninformed would punish a year-old human baby for pulling at hair or testing objects by mouthing. The same applies to dogs.

Unfortunately, many trainers do not question and correct wrong thinking but remain stuck in ruts, religiously quoting old wives’ tales and following archaic methodology that we now know has done so much harm.

Have you ever seen a human mother mouthing or nibbling her baby’s hand or ear? Is this displaying dominance? Of course not. Although you might not know the explanation of this behaviour, you know instinctively that it is anything but aggressive.

The “I could eat you up” impulses elicited when seeing a cute creature have been shown in functional magnetic imaging scans to be a result of activation of the reward centres in the brain regions, triggering a pleasant rush of the “feel good” chemical dopamine.

Play-biting behaviours occur between trusted associates. Susan Perry and colleagues at the anthropology department of the University of California have recorded capuchin monkeys in ritualistic behaviour exhibiting clamping down of fingers with their teeth, hard enough to trap, but without hurting, sending the message “I’m so trustworthy, you can stick your fingers in my mouth.”

Far from being dominant and manipulating, these are displays of affection and benign intention.

Nuzzling, mouthing and gentle nipping behaviours, which resemble biting behaviours, are not only for feeding and aggression but are part of the friendly social repertoires of many mammals.

They are also a means of developing and practising bite control. However, it is desirable and important to train a young puppy to inhibit his bite and to refrain from demanding mouthy behaviour.

There are many ways of doing this in a compassionate and force-free way. I can’t stress enough how important it is to choose a trainer who is up to date and uses non-aversive training methods.

Susan Henderson© accredited animal behaviour consultant - info@dogboxtrainingschool.co.za Phone 082 386 5805.

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