Princeton gets a mischievous, sharkey look in his eyes right before he bites
Our biggest challenge with our Great Dane pup Princeton is that he lunges and bites when he wants to play.
He just wants to play and is too young to know better, but it HURTS! He’s also ripping holes in our pants and sleeves with his sharp little puppy teeth. And he’s getting bigger every day! Trying to escape his jaws or block him just seems like a game to him.
Here are some tactics that we’ve tried and the results:
1. Distract him with a toy. (Doesn’t work. A human target is much more interesting.)
2. Shake a jar full of coins to distract him. (Doesn’t work. This gets him more excited and makes him bark at me between bites.)
3.Gently hold his little mouth shut and say “No bite.” (Works sometimes. But this also resulted in me getting the worst bite on my wrist. His “little” mouth is already as big as the mouths of many full-grown dogs.)
4. Carry a cane to block (not hit) him and assert your authority. (Surprisingly effective. He’s more respectful as soon as I pick up the cane. But he still thinks it’s a fun game when I try to block him.)
5. Ignore him. (Doesn’t work. Ouch! He just keeps biting my skin or tearing my clothes.)
6. Remain calm. (Ha! Stay calm while a shark draws blood biting and circling you? Easier said than done!)
7. Yelp like a puppy to let him know that it hurts. (Satisfying to me, but doesn’t stop him at all.)
8. Spray mint mouthwash into his mouth when he opens it to bite. I carried a pocket-size mouthwash spray with me at all times for weeks. (This worked, but he gradually got used to the flavor.)
9. Nip it in the bud as soon as he starts to act up by removing sources of excitement, such as food or the cat. (Works sometimes.)
10. As soon as he starts biting, give him a “time-out” by putting him in his crate or other isolated space. (This really works!!! When I tried this, Princeton spent most of the first day alone in time-out, but the next day he started biting us a lot less!)
What really worked: Watch “The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan” to learn how to be a calm, assertive pack leader. This turned out to be the key to solving our dog's mouthiness!
The new book “Chewing, Tugging, Nipping and Biting: Detailed Step-by-Step Training for Puppies” and Dogs” by Faye Dunningham looks helpful too.
Another idea: Poke your finger in his cheek so he bites his own mouth and he knows how it feels. (Haven’t tried this yet. He already has sores that won’t heal from biting his own lips.)
Update on May 17, 2009 --
Princeton is one year old now, and several people have asked me if he ever stopped biting. Yes, it’s about 95 percent gone. He still occasionally gets mouthy when he’s excited, but even then he doesn’t bite down hard. It never hurts, but it can scare foolish strangers who sometimes TRY to get him excited at the dog park.
We have a new technique for disciplining him when he gets mouthy, and it seems to be working well. We stand our ground and quietly face him with both hands open, sending him “calm, assertive energy” (based on the ideas of the “Dog Whisperer”).
The most important thing is not giving up before he surrenders. Just keep standing there until the dog lies down and looks away in surrender. It’s really about mental power, not physical strength. At first it took 10 minutes as Princeton barked in protest and lunged to mouth our arms. Now he gives up much more quickly -- although he’s still testing us. It’s really surprising how well this works. The best part is that I don’t feel stressed out, injured or exhausted by the process. In fact, we all end up feeling better and calmer.
I must have seen the Dog Whisperer do this technique on TV more than 100 times before I understood it and got it to work. I’m not sure how well this would have worked on Princeton when he still had his baby teeth -- because it was impossible for me to remain calm when those needle-sharp teeth sank into my flesh. But it works great now.
This has been my most popular post ever, and I still get emails and comments about it. For all you new puppy owners out there, don't give up. Even the pups who are most like sharks will someday grow up, learn to stop biting and become love bugs.
Update in Dec 2016: Princeton doesn't get mouthy with people anymore, but he did chew up another dog bed! Now that he is 8 years old, he is getting stiff and needs a firmer bed. We just bought him the Big Barker 7" Pillow Top Orthopedic Dog Bed for Large and Extra Large Breed Dogs (Sleek Edition).
I wish I bought it for him when he was younger because the foam has a 10-year guarantee. They even have a bigger "giant size" Big Barker Orthopedic Dog Bed -- with a headrest.
Princeton opens wide to bite
Check out Princeton's sharp little baby teeth in profile