Dogcharmer: Jumping and biting

It can be fixed, and that persistence can be put to good use.

Being social and full of energy, a Labrador puppy may need persistent training. — Lauren Liebhaber

Dear Tom,

We have a soon-to-be 4-month-old black female Lab puppy, Molly, who is very persistent with her jumping and biting. Do you have some suggestions for us?


Dear Marcia,

To me, the unofficial maturation of a dog goes from puppy to punk, to young adult (still “punkish”), to adult, to senior. Molly sounds like she’s an early bloomer — right into “punkdom.” I’m not a fan of “all rewards” training, but rather adhere to the International system of LIMA (least intrusive, minimally aversive), especially when it comes to persistent jumping coupled with biting.

I haven’t used the word “No” for many years, because by the time I get there half the dogs think their name is “No!” I’ve met a zillion obnoxious 4-month-old jumping, mouthing puppies in my career, and with the dog dragging a light leash, I’ve probably gotten 90 percent of them to stop the unwanted behavior within 3 minutes with a simple leash correction. As the puppy’s front paws leave the floor I’d snap the leash to the side with a frown on my face while saying, “Uh-uh”. The split-second four feet are on the floor, I’m smiling, saying, “Good dog!” The right timing of the correction and praise is critical.

What really helps make the dog a fast learner is first teaching the pup to come with an automatic sit. When the dog arrives, my hand (with a small treat) rises up past his nose to my chest as I say, “Sit.” After a couple of those, I don’t have to say, “Sit,” the hand signal alone will suffice. A few more of those, and Molly is sitting automatically to earn the small treat.

As for the persistent jumping to bite, the aversive I’ve found to be quite effective is a spray bottle with a strong stream of water right in the face with an “Uh-uh” as the front paws leave the floor. If a puppy is strong-willed enough to persist through that, it’s time for a time-out. The leash is immediately picked up and clipped to a spot where she can’t reach anyone, and is separated from the action for 10 or 15 minutes. Being social animals, most puppies will hate the separation, and put it together: Jumping to bite equals separation. Having met Molly’s incredible persistence, I suggest that when she gets really obnoxious, she can’t have you to harass and abuse — she’s “cut off” for a period of time.

The good news is that a dog with that type of perseverance, when channeled properly, can be a fantastic dog. A search dog, whether looking for missing people or bombs or whatever, needs to be a dog with that kind of perseverance. So does a duck hunter’s retriever.

Persevere in the training now, and it will be well worth it for the rest of her life.

Good luck,
Dogcharmer Tom

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