Expert advice on training puppies not to bite

Written by jaime guillet
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Share
  • Pin
  • Email

Tamar Geller's advice for halting puppy chewing

Expert advice on training puppies not to bite
Tamar Geller, best-selling author, founder of The Loved Dog method and dog trainer to the stars explains how you can train your dog to stop chewing. (Chris Amaral/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

.. It is crucial, crucial to play tug of war with your dog. A lot. You want always to release pressure from your dog’s head, heart, muscles.

— Tamar Geller, dog coach and founder of The Loved Dog training method

Tamar Geller’s client list reads like a daily email blast from Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood blog, including names like Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Goldie Hawn, Natalie Portman, Owen Wilson, Larry King and Ben Affleck. But Geller is much more than a dog coach to the stars. Geller is a best-selling author and founder of The Loved Dog method, a playful and nonaggressive approach to canine coaching. Geller says she believes people have been fighting an uphill battle against old, misguided methods of dog training -- philosophies that encourage brusque submission training and the use of fear as the main tools to affect behavior changes. People using fear-based dog training methods, Geller said, simply are combating the symptoms of their dog’s issues, not the causes. “When you try to shut down the symptom, it shuts it down for a little bit and then when it does erupt, it erupts worse,” Geller said. As founder of several nonprofits including Operation Heroes & Hounds, which pairs injured military veterans with shelter dogs, and as the resident dog expert on NBC’s "The Today Show," Geller is finding many ways to convey her philosophy to pet owners. She shares with her recommendations for stopping a common puppy problem: biting.

eHow UK: With biting, is there a certain breed or class of dog that excessively bites, or is it simply a puppy thing?

Tamar Geller: See, the word biting is very confusing to me. Because to me, when I hear the word “bite” I hear injury.

eHow UK: Oh, OK. So the proper word should be “chewing.”

T.G.: Yes, chewing. I separate between “chewing” and also “nipping.” The word biting is like, “My God, how many stitches did you get. [Clients] will look at me [and ask], “What stitches?” [I reply], “Well your dog bit you.”

T.G.: The funny thing -- to want a puppy not to chew is like wanting the sun not to rise. It’s like, “Really? Really?”

So you don’t fight the sun. And that’s kind of like the way we look at chewing. We’ve got to remember that dogs are hard-wired to be dogs, meaning to behave on the instincts that are built in, like factory built-in instincts. This is not a choice that they make. These are the instincts. You know, to pass the time they will not pick up a book. It’s what they do to pass the time, is to chew: when they are bored, when they’re stressed. That’s what they do. We have other ways: We can go and grab a beer; we can have a conversation. They don’t. They can either play, dig, chew, or bark or sleep.

Instead of looking at it as the enemy, we have to look at (chewing) as part of the healthy developmental stages that every dog has to go through. I can tell you a lot of parents would love to give their children something to chew on to keep them busy and get a break from them. Chewing is our friend.

What we do though, is we have to teach a dog how not to behave only based on their instincts, but also to learn how to make conscious choices. This is what dog coaching is about, or parenting, whether it is a kid, two-legged, or a dog. We coach them not to behave just on their instincts, but we find as parents of dog owners, different vehicles to meet that core, built-in natural instinct. So first we’ve got to get rid of (the idea) that it is wrong. It’s not wrong. It’s normal. It’s part of life.

One thing is, in order to stop chewing -- we can’t stop the chewing, we discussed that already -- we need to redirect it where we give the dog a lot of chew toys. I divide them into three categories: gold, silver and bronze (which indicates) chew toys that are OK, chew toys that are better and chew toys that are the best. Dogs will get those chew toys -- the best -- when you leave the house. So I’m not only going to get the dog focused on chewing the right things, I also want to help prevent separation anxiety.

We use chewing to help with separation anxiety. How do I do it?

I love to get from the butcher raw soup bone, marrow bone -- but it’s got to be raw -- and you leave it with the dog, but not to let the dog have it. If your dog knows how to stay, that’s great; if not, then you leave it on the floor right before you leave the house. If the dog does not leave the house, put the marrow bone not on the rug but in the kitchen floor or anyplace you have tile or outside. But you tell the dog to “stay,” and only as you're closing the door you let them have it. Or, put in the dog’s crate if they’re a puppy and they're still being housebroken, for them to chew on.

eHow UK: And you don’t have to worry about it splintering?

T.G.: That’s why it’s important for it to be raw; if it’s raw it doesn’t splinter. So what happens is not only will your dog not chew on your stuff, they will be looking forward to you leaving because that is the only time they will get that special bone. So we make chewing into our friend now.

A lot of things in life is (about) taking something we see as the enemy and turning it into our friend, something that we see as pain and turn it into pleasure. (Just like) fighting the sun -- fighting chewing, it’s ridiculous.

The other thing is you don’t want to leave all the chewing toys on the floor all the time. That’s a common mistake that I see. The dog is just bored with his chew toy because it’s always there and he’s looking for the elusive shoe, the elusive remote control or glasses. So you want to spend as much money as you can, when you first get a puppy, on chew toys.

eHow UK: What are the best chew toys?

Expert advice on training puppies not to bite
(Jupiterimages/ Images)

T.G.: Let’s talk for a second about what chew toys are, because a lot of people think that play toys are chew toys. They show me all these stuffed animals, and they think these are chew toys, and I’m like, “No, these are not chew toys. Rope is not a chew toy.” So let’s (indicate what is not a chew toy): anything with a squeaky inside, anything that has white stuff inside, any plushy thing is not a chew toy. These are play toys, designed to play games with -- catch games and tug of war games.

eHow UK: And then it is picked up?

T.G.: And then (it is) picked up. You want to give the dog different chew toys at different times. I really like the chew toys -- I call them “Occupiers” -- there’s one that I really favor. It’s called TwistNTreat by Premier … I don’t have any business with them (and am not) affiliated with them, but what I like about it is it’s like two mushrooms being screwed together so you can make it as easy or as difficult for the dog. So, don’t use one chew toy but leave like a bunch of them -- like five or six chew toys at a time -- and each chew toy is filled up with part of the dog’s breakfast or dinner and with healthy, healthy, healthy treats. I’m talking about human-grade treats. So chicken, and meats and veggies and fruit -- eggs.

Any type of toy that will occupy your dog’s time -- and they're not destructible, meaning the dog cannot swallow pieces of the toy itself -- that’s a chew toy. You want it to occupy your dog. Besides that, the other good chew toys we have now are the Himalayan dog chews that are very good. They're made out of yak and buffalo (milk). We have the antlers, the bully sticks -- (but) make sure they are made in the United States.

Another way to decrease the amount of chewing your dog or puppy is doing is by playing with them a lot of games of tug of war. When you play tug of war with the dog, this is like the highest level of quality of game you can play with your dog -- if you’re playing by the rules.

The rules are:

You start and you finish the game.

You let the dog win 90 percent of time.

When the game is over, you say, “No more,” and put the toy away.

Teach the dog that when they hear the words “drop it” they either -- some dogs you have to use a treat; some dogs you can just open their mouth and take the toy out, and then you tell them to sit and take it -- they will get either a treat or the toy right back, it’s not the end of the world. You want the dog to look forward to “drop it.”

So what happens with the most crazy dogs in the world? I start playing with them tug of war, and within minutes they calm down. They have an outlet. Because all dogs need to play wolf games. A lot of people feed their dogs the best food, take them on seven-mile walks a day but they don’t play games with the dog. Dogs need games in order to engage emotionally with the game and with the owner. And when they do that -- the one reason for chewing that we take out of the equation is nervousness/anxiety or boredom. So it is crucial, crucial to play tug of war with your dog. A lot. You want always to release pressure from your dog’s head, heart, muscles.

eHow UK: Is there anything else pet owners should do to curb chewing?

T.G.: You can also booby trap your dog if you like. Let’s say they like shoes, you get one shoe of yours that you would not normally wear and you spray the heck out of it with every anti-chew deterrent that you can find on the market. Make it disgusting. Next to it you leave a really, really good chew toy. What you want (is) the dog to associate the shoe with negativity -- not you -- or associate the remote control or associate anything that you don’t (want them to chew) with pain. So what you are doing is, you’re not only teaching your dog to associate what they’re not supposed to (chew) with pain, you are also teaching them to look for the pleasure. You are habituating them to look for something that is good that is nearby. You can’t just do the “no;” you always have to do the “yes.” If you spray something, you’ve got to make sure that you put nearby an appropriate replacement because the dog doesn’t know to find a replacement unless he’s going to be shown again and again and again: “this is your toy; this tastes yucky.”

A lot of people do half of the job very well. They took the best ingredients to make the best cake but they didn’t put it in the oven. Because (dogs) don’t know naturally what is the “yes.” You just tell them “no” for the instinct, but we have to be the coaches. When you look at any athlete, the coaches don’t tell them “no,” the coach tells them what to do instead. The coach is there to empower them, the coach is there to find what they’re naturally good at and what will make them successful. That is the role of a parent.

Don't Miss

  • All types
  • Articles
  • Slideshows
  • Videos
  • Most relevant
  • Most popular
  • Most recent

No articles available

No slideshows available

No videos available

By using the site, you consent to the use of cookies. For more information, please see our Cookie policy.