Training Livestock Guardian Dog Puppies Not to Bite - It Starts With Teaching Them What TO do, Instead of What to NOT do!
As a Maremma Sheepdog breeder and trainer and Admin or contributor on multiple Maremma Facebook groups, information pages or websites, as well and other dog groups, I often hear people asking how they can teach their puppies not to bite. The first thing people need to know is that biting is a normal developmental stage in puppies. They aren't being "bad", they are just being puppies!
The second thing to understand is that puppies need to learn Bite Inhibition. They first learn this from their mom, siblings and other dogs they are raised with (mentor dogs), and this lesson is NOT best learned through aggression. (Never let an adult dog act aggressively towards a puppy. That's NOT how puppies learn to be gentle and stable LGD's or pets!) Instead, if a puppy gets too rough in their play the other puppies or dogs usually just walk away, thus ending the game. Eventually the puppy learns that if they want to continue playing they need to be gentle. This is one reason why your shouldn't get a puppy that's too young. They need time to learn this and other valuable lessons from their parents, siblings and mentor dogs. Below are two examples of this in action:
In this first video notice how the puppy with the pink tail is happily playing with the green tail pup. But after a bit Pink Tail decides that her brother's biting is getting too rough, so she leaves. Game over. Little Green Tail will remember that and may not play so rough next time, though it will probably take several experiences like this before the lesson fully sinks in!
In the next video I only caught the tail end of the interaction between Gianna and her puppies on video. Before I started filming I watched her patiently and sweetly interact with several of the pups for quite a while, as evidenced by the photos below. Gianna was enjoying a relaxing spring day while I watched as first one puppy and then more and more of them came to see what she was doing. Eventually it was several puppies, all of whom thought mommy made a fine jungle gym and chew toy. Finally Gianna decided she had had enough of these baby sharks and she left! Game over. Gianna felt no need to "reprimand" her puppies, she just left.
What I love about both of these interactions is that none of the dogs got aggressive in order to stop the biting. They simply left, putting an end to the fun but annoying game. That’s not to say some adult dogs don't get aggressive with puppies or that puppies never fight. They do, but that's not what I want to see in a mama dog or my mentor dogs. A mama dog should always have a way to get away from her puppies so she doesn't resort to aggressive behavior with them. If I have a mom who's getting impatient and snappy with her puppies I let her go back to work and bring in one of my patient, gentle mentor dogs. These dogs rarely "correct" puppies. Instead they teach by example and by rewarding the puppies' polite behavior with their attention and affection. That's what I try to model myself in teaching puppies. Aversive training methods are not helpful for training puppies or adult dogs! They just teach them to be either fearful or aggressive or both. That’s not what I want in a LGD who will be interacting with my livestock and my grandchildren!
Clicker Training is the Key
So how do you train a puppy not to bite without using aversive training methods? By focusing on teaching them what you WANT them to do, instead of what you DON’T want them to do. The key to that is Positive Reinforcement training methods such as Clicker Training. There are a lot of great books, videos and other resources out there to teach you all about Clicker Training - what it is, how to do it and the SCIENCE behind why it works. Here are my top picks:
Manding, a Powerful Tool
One of the first things to teach a puppy with Clicker Training is Manding. The puppies catch on very quickly to this fun new game and soon discover that they can “train” you by offering this polite behavior. And a puppy that’s sitting politely (Manding) waiting for a reward is less likely to be jumping all over you or biting you. (Manding isn't sitting on command so read below for more details.)
Below are photos and videos of puppies manding and more information on what Manding is, why it's such a valuable tool, and how to teach it.
Cindy Benson, KPA CTP, of Benson Maremmas Training, works with my 9 week old litter of Maremma puppies, which were born in February 2022 to Celeste and Sevro. This was the first time these pups ever met Cindy but they quickly found her to be fascinating. Notice how well behaved and polite these 8 wiggly puppies are. Notice they are not biting or jumping up on Cindy and they have her rapt attention despite all the barking dogs, goats walking by and other farm activity going on.
And here my friend’s 12 and 4 year daughters also work with the same litter, a few days later. Again, no jumping or biting; just attentive, engaged puppies.
More Information About Manding
More About Biting in Puppies
Now that's not to say that if you teach a puppy to mand he will never try to use you as a chew toy, or that Clicker Training alone is the cure. But both are powerful tools to help you communicate withy your puppy so that he learns what you DO want him to do, instead of what you DON'T want him to do! Below are some great resources to help you learn more about how to survive the Velociraptor stage!
For more information on Training Maremmas go to our Training Maremmas Page or our How We Raise and Train our Puppies page. Thank you!
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Hi I'm Kim. I have been an avid animal lover all my life but goats and dogs are my favorites so I built a business around them, breeding registered Mini Nubian & Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats and MSCA registered Maremma Sheepdogs. I love sharing my passion and knowledge of these amazing creatures with others.