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Stopping Fizz from Biting – Karen Phillips

My new border collie, Fizz, is now four months of age and very much the adolescent.  All my training focus at the moment is on developing a well-adjusted adult.  This period in her life is quite critical and the decisions I make now in how to deal with the behavioural challenges that she throws at me can have a huge impact on the puppy and the type of adult she turns out to be.

I often get posts on Facebook about how to stop dogs from chewing on household items.  This is where restricting access around the house while unsupervised becomes so important.  What I commonly see is people leaving puppies free to entertain themselves around the home which is asking for trouble.

Chewing is a perfectly natural doggy behaviour and when the puppy finds the remote control lying around it’s ripe for the picking.  The end result is that the puppy is scolded for chewing which teaches it nothing.  Either don’t leave items lying around or restrict the puppy’s access to areas of the house.  Make sure the puppy has interesting chew treats and treat balls to keep it entertained.  For example, think about moving away from old habits of giving the puppy meals in a bowl and instead use food to stuff inside treat balls and Kongs so that it gets to spend hours trying to get the treats back out.  This will not only keep the puppy entertained for long periods but ensure that it becomes very attached to its chew toys rather than mobile phone or remote control.

Biting puppies can drive everyone mad.  I can’t wait until Fizz is old enough so that when I pat her, she doesn’t use my arm as a chew toy.  As annoying as it can be, a puppy must learn to bite in order to learn “bite inhibition”.  Bite inhibition is when the puppy learns to control the force of its bite so that it understands not to use its teeth to hurt or cause damage when it is an adult and has a lot more strength in its jaw.

Puppy biting is totally normal, very natural and very necessary.  The more the puppy bites and receives appropriate feedback the more likely it is to develop a lovely soft mouth as an adult.  The more opportunities a puppy has to play-bite with people, other dogs and other animals the better the bite inhibition will be.

To teach bite inhibition to a puppy, when it bites with too much pressure say “ouch” and stop interacting with it for a few seconds.  If the puppy ignores this and continues biting, leave the room for a couple of minutes ceasing all interaction with it.  After a couple of minutes come back and make up!  This departure tells the pup that if it uses its jaw inappropriately, the fun stops.  This is one of the reasons that puppy pre-school is important since it gives puppies the opportunity to learn to play appropriately with other puppies which is important for dog on dog interactions when adults.

Unfortunately having a spectacular garden as well as a puppy is not something that goes hand in hand.  Puppies love nothing more than to dig and discover, generally to the detriment of the plants.  My back patio is currently arrayed with an amazing assortment of sticks, rocks, leaves and banksia nuts courtesy of Fizz.  As I’m at work all day it is impossible for me to expect that I can prevent digging altogether however I can teach my puppy to dig in appropriate areas by educating her.

While going through the teaching phase I try and keep Fizz indoors if I’m away from home and when she’s outside I go with her so that I can be there to teach her what to do.  It is worthwhile to either build a sandpit for the puppy or purchase a plastic one.  Fill it with sand and bury the choicest bone in it and after a few weeks the dog will realise that the place of all joy is in the sandpit, not in the flower beds.  If there is a particularly special area that the puppy should not go into such as a vegie patch, fence it off so that the dog can’t get in there to begin with.


Karen Phillips is the owner and trainer of Riot, the beautiful border collie that is the Better Pets and Gardens mascot.  Karen has had immense experience and success with her border collies as well as little Cassie, the very fast papillon, and is currently involved as a trainer with the Agility Club of WA.  Karen is also a regular expert on our Facebook page every Monday night.

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