There is a strongly held belief that a puppy learns bite inhibition (to moderate the strength of his or her bite) from playing with other puppies in a group setting, or from the owner through training. However, evidence suggests that bite inhibition is a matter of genetics and the first 10 weeks of sibling playtime. There is no scientific evidence to support the idea that it can be taught by owners later on, or by other puppies after the dog leaves the litter. While a dog can learn to have a soft mouth in many situations, telling dog owners that they can train their puppies to have generalized bite inhibition creates a false sense of security. It’s good to keep in mind the mantra “Every dog can bite,” which makes appropriate socialization, positive exposure to a variety of situations and public education even more important in reducing the odds that a dog will feel the need to bite.
Should owners facilitate grooming procedures?
“One-trial learning” is also creating conversations about grooming and veterinary visits. Sadly, a single instance of poor handling can give a dog a reason to be conflicted and develop a negative association. Dogs who aren’t sure what will happen once they’re restrained will become cautious about being handled. This is a bigger deal than it may sound like. Cautious dogs will run and hide, or worse, growl and bite. Even simple procedures, such as administering ear or eye drops can take an hour (or more) if the dog is too fearful to cooperate.
If something does go wrong and the dog becomes fearful or phobic, a trainer will look for the best ways to help the dog work through the trauma. Current options include medication or sedation, counter-conditioning, teaching an alternative behavior, or using two or more of these methods in tandem.
There’s a new game in town, however, seminars that teach us how to train dogs to understand that they have a choice about participating in grooming and vet visits. Dog trainers are learning and teaching two new programs: “Ready … Set … for Groomer and Vet” and the “Bucket Game.” Both involve teaching dogs how to calmly accept grooming and vet care.
Dog owners who want to learn these techniques should hire a private trainer. While a few minutes may be spent on these skills during training classes, the puppy or dog is often asked to tolerate the entire procedure before the preliminary training steps have been completed. If the dog or puppy is uncomfortable and the owner is the one doing the restraining or the nail-clipping, the dog may infer that the owner is not always safe. Instead of risking this, while training is still in progress, owners should invest the time needed to find the right team to whom to outsource this aspect of dog care. Many groomers and vets are learning stress-free handling techniques from courses such as those offered by FearFreePets.com or DrSophiaYin.com (check these websites to find accredited practitioners). Options such as mobile grooming and in-home veterinary care are also now available in every state; while they are often inherently less stressful for dogs, it’s still a good idea to ask the care providers if they practice stress-free handing.
Is asking dogs to “sit for greetings”creating arousal and frustration, as well as joint stress?
Training a dog to “sit for greeting” is a common method used to teach self-control. Recent data now suggests that self-control (in both humans and dogs) is a limited resource, and if we require it in one situation, the human or dog has less of it to spend on tasks or undertakings that come afterward.
In a study by Miller et al.*, dogs were asked to do a series of tasks and evaluated on how focused they were in completing them. The researchers found that dogs whose first task was to hold a sit or down position while their owner left the room rapidly lost their focus and gave up on subsequent tasks more quickly than dogs whose first task was to wait in a cage while their owner left the room.