Are You Teaching Your Puppy to Bite?
These days a lot of training content encourages owners to “redirect” a misbehaving pup. We hear this strategy often with behavior like chewing and mouthing hands. We see folks “redirect” their dogs quite a bit, and it’s usually to their detriment.
In basic terms “redirection” is directing a dog to an appropriate behavior when they’re performing an inappropriate one. A common example would be producing an appropriate item for your puppy to chew/play/interact with when they are chewing on your hands.
We saw a slightly different example the other day with a rambunctious puppy jumping at their owner’s legs while they were going into the house. As our client approached the door with pup frantically begging for attention, she threw a stick. Her puppy chased the stick and she got in the door with the pup left outside. All good right? Well, no. Not really. When she returned, I asked her and her husband what they thought had just occurred. Their answer - she “redirected” the puppy. This is when I knew they’d gotten some bad advice!
Here’s what really happened… Pup was asking for Mom’s attention! Play with me Mom! Play with me! She did exactly what her puppy wanted by giving her something to chase, which is a very rewarding activity for her pup.
When we teach a pup behaviors like sit or lay down, we often use rewards to reinforce their behavior. Simple, right? Good behavior = a paycheck. The more consistent the paycheck, the most consistent the behavior. Pup learns what behaviors get them things they want. The same thing happens though, when bad behavior = a paycheck. Things only get worse.
When our client threw that stick as a response to a rambunctious, jumping puppy she rewarded pup’s incorrect behavior. She was teaching her dog to jump for attention!
When your pup is biting your hands and you “redirect” them, by playing with an appropriate item, you just taught them that biting = a paycheck. Your pup will learn over a number of repetitions that not only is biting you OK, it’s something you like! After all, every time they do it, you produce a toy and start playing. Want to play? Just nibble their hands - works.every.time..
Have a dog or puppy with some bad behaviors? You’re probably reinforcing them. Redirection is one of the most common pieces of bad advice we see, but there are many others. Caveat emptor both the internet and the “modern force free” dog trainer folks.