Controlling the Canine Mouth
Human infants are born with a natural grasping instinct. Their tiny hands, with incredible opposing thumbs, explore and manipulate objects. Hands play a vital role as the sensory system and brain develops. Children learn by playing games with their hands and by manipulating objects. Human hands are remarkable learning assets.
Canine puppies are born with a natural grabbing instinct. Their tiny heads, with incredible noses and snouts, explore and examine objects. By nine weeks of age they race around the house carrying socks, shoes, or whatever they can grab. They pull plants from the garden, chew on hot tub covers, and use their teeth to play tag with their canine and human buddies. The canine mouth is a remarkable learning asset, and by directing its use, we can help our dogs to learn to use their mouthing instinct on appropriate objects.
Dogs can be encouraged to focus on "approved" objects by making these objects more exciting. A simple piece of rope can become a valuable dog toy. Make the rope interesting by turning it into a prey object. Wiggle the rope on the grass in front of your dog, in a sense mimicking the motions made by a snake as it slithers away. Increase suspense and challenge by causing your dog to lunge and miss a few times. When your dog grabs the rope, let it tug back before releasing. Your dog will prance around the yard with the rope toy in their mouth. They are proud. They have just vanquished their prey -- the "urban rope snake".
Try tying an old hand towel to a piece of cord. Make the rag more exciting by whirling it slowly around. As you "fly" the rag more quickly, mimicking the motions of a bird, your dog's prey instinct will be stimulated. When the dog grabs the rag, allow it to tug before releasing.
After playing these short chase and tug games with your dog, calmly encourage them to return the object so they can play again. When your dog returns to play with you, they are acknowledging that you are the leader - the game only begins when you decide to start and ends when you stop.
Apply the same concept to the "fetch" game. Excite the dog's prey instinct by wiggling one of two toys before you throw one. Your dog will chase and grab the toy and then will look at you. At that moment wiggle the other toy. This will make the toy in your hand more exciting because it has now become the prey. When your dog runs towards you, throw the toy. Your dog will drop the old toy and chase the new one. You can pick up the toy and continue the game.
A willing learner makes learning fun and rewarding. Make your dog a willing learner by playing games. Encourage them to use their mouths in appropriate ways. Be firm and fair, and have fun with your dog!Noel Pepin -- Noel Pepin Canine Behaviour Specialists