Q: We have a 4-month-old Cardigan puppy, who knows the basics but we are currently having problems with him constantly biting and nipping at my partner. We understand that teething is in the formula, however, he would draw blood and rip clothes and is weirdly directed at only one of us. It doesn’t seem like he is scared of him though. We are wondering if this is something you can help us out with? Or is he still too young and we just have to toughen it out?
A: At Way of Life™ Dog Training, our goal is to understand dogs, coach people, and change everyone’s lives in the process. We go beyond training, beyond reinforcement, and work with way of life as cause and solution to our difficulties.
It seems that you are trying to understand the puppy’s behavior and considered that he might be afraid of your partner. We often believe that fear is behind aggressive behavior and sometimes that’s the case, but more often it’s not. Rather, it is the upset and frustration that comes with not being understood, for being inadequately handled and seen as a dog.
Your puppy is very young still but you should not just have to toughen this out. Sure, puppies can be relentless biting and nipping machines, this made worse sometimes by the teething period. But I also know that we do things with pups that make them lose respect. These may or may not apply to you, but here goes:
1. We coddle our new pups. We dote on them, shower them with affection, and show them off to people for more attention and affection. Meanwhile, everything is new and scary for this new pup who does not know nor care about us or any of these people yet. This alone is enough to get us started on shaky foundations.
2. We give puppies premature freedom and choice. I am all for dogs being as free as possible but there is a time and place for this. As an example, when we “crate train” our pups instead of simply crating them, we not only stress them with more choices than they care to make, but also deprive them of rest they need badly. When pups are mindlessly biting at things, without thought and out of control, I know they’re a little tired and overstimulated, if nothing else.
3. We ask for manners too soon. When you say, he “knows the basics,” this suggests to me that like many, you followed the advice of not waiting a moment too soon to start training your pup. I was never a fan of this approach as I think it’s detrimental to healthy development. There will come a time for manners and obedience but not when we have an infant on our hands.
4. We don’t channel our pups’ drives and energies. You have a breed that’s grown in popularity recently and sure many think that Corgis are cute. Personally, as a student of sheep herding for many years, I would not underestimate a Corgi. I have seen these dogs take on cows, get kicked, and not flinch but come back with renewed vigor. This is the kind of dog we have on toilet paper commercials these days.
Therefore, instead of allowing your pup to misbehave and learn that you’re the kind of leader who lets that happen, take charge of your puppy.
Put an end to this problematic behavior not by asking your pup to behave, which he can’t at this point nor should he be asked to, but by managing his life.
Structure the dog’s every moment, set a schedule, and give the pup several hours each day crated with the door closed, alternating with exercise sessions where you engage your dog with toys, tugs, and balls, away from your body. Redirect away from you and back on to toys without anger or frustration, but with humor and appreciation for the fire you see in your pup.
Remember that you’re dealing with a baby and not an adult or even a teen just yet. Give this way of life the time it deserves and let the dog mature. The more you let him be a pup, the more eager an adult he’ll be when the time comes.
For more on getting pups started right, including avoiding many common mistakes, check out the free Way of Life™ Puppy Primer: https://wayoflifedogtraining.com/puppy-primer/