To Bite or Not To Bite...That is the Question!
Sammie here: biting can be a controversial topic to discuss. We would like to give you a perspective from the dog's point of view to ponder. From personal experience, "getting the bite out" is something that relieves dogs and actually brings them back to an emotional ground.
"If a dog doesn't love to bite in a moment of tension, then it will NEED to bite in order to relieve that tension and will be at the mercy of its instincts and habits." - Kevin Behan (click here to read his full blog post)
Here's an example: When Sam and I first adopted our shepherd mix, Sunshine, she would guard objects, space, and food. Specifically to me. I would get within feet of her and she would growl, snap, and bite my hand...hard. I had no idea why this was happening, but once beginning my studies in NDT, it became clear. Sunshine was aggressively guarding things not because she didn't want me to take her things (which I didn't). Aggressively guarding was her opportunity to vent that last bit of stress and energy in order to make herself feel better. It was also evident that she had been whacked when biting something. She would wince as though a hand was smacking her when she was guarding - this is an example of a physical memory.
Think of this: Ever have a rough day, week, month, year? Do you ever take it out on someone who's really close to you? Like pick a fight for a stupid reason, but in that moment it relieves some of that pent up stress you've built up and bottled inside? Guilty as charged! It's an easy way to relieve stress... or a path a least resistance to make ourselves feel somewhat more grounded. Now, how GOOD does it feel to go to a boxing class and punch that bag as hard as you can? Great? Yes.
Back to my point, Sunshine needed to learn how to bite as hard as she could (and NOT me) so she would have an outlet to bring her back to emotional neutral. We started with a fluffy toy attached to the end of a hockey stick. The hockey stick would quiver back and fourth thus attracting her to the "prey". With time, positive praise, and practice, she would pounce and bite the toy. Since this dog notoriously held back with her urge to bite and resorted to aggression with guarding, it was tough to try and get it out. We would praise her anytime she would bite the object we put all the energy into (fluffy toy, police toy jute, etc).
With giving Sunshine an opportunity to vent and actually flip the once shamed memory with something that she was praised to do, the guarding improved and she is now able to let out a loud bark instead of lunging to bite. She became more social with doggies on the street, and all together... more relaxed.
Now when we take the bite toy out, she begins to play bow, jumps up on the handler, and bites the rope as hard as she can in that moment.
The muzzle of a dog is a very sensual part of their being. Why not embrace that and use it as a means to bond with the dog rather than constantly correcting or disciplining the dog for doing something that is built into them by instinct?
Lastly, always put the bite into something tangible, like a fluffy toy or a bite pillow. Let this always be outside. If the dog doesn't like to bite or is working through stress built around biting, try a toy with a squeaker first. Get excited and praise the dog. Now they have something to put the bite into and you can get the bite out.
*Gratitude to my teacher & mentor, Kevin Behan, and the entire NDT community.*