Friendly Or Nasty? Identifying The Problem
Shih tzu puppies that are constantly mouthing, nipping and chewing at people or objects are doing so because either they are teething, they are after your attention, they are trying to move up the pack hierarchy, they are just simply exploring or any combination of these.
This is not a scientific fact, but I estimate that 99% of people coming to this website wanting to know how to stop a shih tzu puppy from biting are having problems with an attention seeking, teething puppy that is inexperienced in how to deal with the soreness.
Although a puppy will typically grow out of this phase, the nipping and mouthing problem needs to be addressed as it isn’t advisable to rear your puppy with him thinking that biting is part of normal behaviour. As he gets older his teeth will become fully developed and his jaw bones stronger; if he is allowed to carry on biting into adulthood there could be serious consequences.
For the other 1%, the problem is much more serious. Although generally shih tzu are stubborn yet friendly companion dogs who will do anything to please their owner, there will be the odd one or two that have become aggressive, probably due to having a history of being badly treated, being in pain or being frightened. It could also be a territorial, dominance or possessive issue. These dogs are usually past the puppy stage and are biting to hurt.
Dealing With A Dangerously Aggressive Dog
Because aggressive biting can have grave consequences, I’ll cover how to deal with that first and come back to the more common puppy nipping further down this post.
It is important for the safety of you, your family, your dog and everyone else that aggressive behaviour is curbed as soon as possible. The only strategy you can try that will have any effect on calming aggression is the time out method.
If your shih tzu growls, lunges or bites in anger he will need to be isolated in a crate, cage, playpen or gated off part of the room. If you can put his harness and leash on it will make moving him easier and lessen the chances of you being bitten. While your dog is in his place of isolation, you and the rest of your household must ignore him totally, avoiding any eye contact.
Keep him in isolation until he calms down. When he has remained calm for a few minutes you can try releasing him back into circulation, keeping his harness and leash on. If he stays calm, reward him with a treat.
Should he become aggressive again, carry out the isolation routine again. After a few repetitions he may come to realize that his aggression is not effective and nice things, his rewards, happen when he doesn’t growl and bite.
If, on the other hand, it becomes apparent that the aggression is not going to go away, you will need the services of a dog behavioural expert to resolve the situation. These people are trained to recognize what causes a dog to behave in a certain way and to produce a training program to resolve such behaviour.
Ask at your veterinarian surgery for recommended specialists or search online for one who has a good reputation judging by the reviews. It is likely to be expensive but it will be well worth it.
Aggressive dogs dealt with, let’s get back to the more innocent puppy nipping.
The Origins Of The Problem
Before dealing with the puppy nipping problem, let us take a moment to understand why he does it. Please bear with but if you have some knowledge of why your puppy is nipping you it will help you to train him out of the habit.
Any puppy should stay with its mother and litter siblings until at least eight weeks old before it is introduced to its new family. During this eight weeks the puppy will learn a lot about social behaviour.
He will be exploring his environment with his mouth, including nipping his siblings to establish rank within the pack. As he is doing this his siblings, by way of squealing, will let him know when he is biting too hard and causing pain. This is how the puppy learns to explore with his mouth without biting down too hard.
Now, if the puppy is taken from his mother and the litter before eight weeks, as happens with pet store dogs so that they may be sold at eight weeks, he hasn’t stayed long enough for his oral education. He will not know anything about biting too hard and causing pain.
This problem is compounded by teething. A shih tzu puppy, born toothless, will develop its baby, or deciduous, teeth from three weeks until full growth at seven weeks. The puppy will seek to sooth its oral soreness by clamping his jaws on something comforting such as your ankle, fingers or wrist. Teething continues as the deciduous baby teeth are replaced by the adult teeth. The adult teeth come through from three months and are fully developed at seven months.
If you are going to teach your shih tzu puppy not to bite, you need to make sure that in his mind you are the leader of the pack, or Alpha. He is not likely to follow your commands unless you establish yourself as the Alpha.
There are several ways to ensure that you are seen as the Alpha, the most effective of which is the way you present his food. Although, in my experience anyway, shih tzu are not greedy dogs, you can still use food as the main tool to ensure you are the pack leader.
When serving a meal or a treat to your shih tzu, never give it to him unless he sits calmly first. To train him to sit, with a morsel of food or a treat held in your fingers, hold it above his snout, move it up and over the top of his head, along his back and gently pat down his backside, all while uttering the “sit!” command. When he sits and stays calmly in the sit position, let him have the meal or treat.
Hierarchy at meal times does not stop there. If you put the food bowl down and your shih tzu ignores it, he is trying to exert his dominance by dictating to you when and what he will eat. The solution is to remove the bowl immediately and not return it until the next scheduled meal time. Don’t worry, a shih tzu won’t starve if he misses one or two meals, or even one or two days if necessary. See my post, “How Much Food Should A Shih Tzu Eat?”, for more information about meal times.
There are still more actions you can take to reinforce your status as Alpha. When you are entering or leaving the home, make sure that you go through the door first. As pack leader it is your privilege to go first. Do not let your dog go first. Hold him back on the leash if necessary, Better still, though this is a little more advanced, have him sit while you go through the entrance and then call him to come.
To further your claim on the Alpha status, when you take your shih tzu for a walk keep him in his harness on a short leash and don’t let him walk in front of you. Make sure he walks by your side at all times. Which side depends upon where the lampposts or trees are!
If he starts to pull on the leash, turn him around and walk in the opposite direction. Be persistent with this and he will eventually understand that it is you who decides on where the walk is going.
I have tried all of these strategies with Bruno and Charlie. They do work, behavioural problems have decreased. If you establish yourself as the Alpha with your nipping and biting shih tzu puppy, you will find it easier to implement the methods I am going to tell you about now aimed at getting him to stop.
How To Stop A Shih Tzu Puppy From Biting
There’s more than one way to teach your shih tzu puppy to not nip and bite, if one method doesn’t work for you then try another. I’ll go through them in my own personal order of preference but, hey, it’s whatever works for you.
Remember! None of these methods are intended to be used for a shih tzu biting in anger, aggressively and violently. Refer to the section headed “Dealing With A Dangerously Aggressive Dog” for this.
This first method best suits a puppy that is separated from his mother and litter siblings too early as it replaces the biting and mouthing education he would have received from them had he stayed with them longer.
Okay, so when your puppy comes up to you and you feel the needle points of his teeth against your skin, sharply withdraw your hand, or whatever else it is he has clamped his jaws on, from his mouth. As you do this, squeal in a high pitched voice doing your best impression of a puppy in pain.
At the same time, turn you back on your shih tzu and totally ignore him, no matter how much he begs you for attention. Avoid all eye contact during this time.
Wait until he has left you alone for around three to five minutes before turning around and resuming play. If he doesn’t nip you again, reward him with his favourite teething chew toy. If he does nip you, repeat the process again.
In all, give this sequence of actions up to three tries. After this, if your shih tzu still mouths or nips you, you will need to start time outs of around fifteen minutes duration.
For these time outs to be effective your shih tzu needs to be isolated somewhere where he can see you so that he knows he is being ignored. Choose something like a crate, playpen, cage or gated off area of your sitting room.
These actions communicate to your shih tzu that his actions are causing pain and that he may lose his favourite companion, you.
You may find as this training progresses that his nips become less and less forceful until he is doing no more than laying his opened mouth upon you. If you want your shih tzu to completely stop biting it is important that you treat each nip as if it were as intense as the first one, giving your squeal with just as much vigor.
This requires a little bravery on your part as you have to put your hand inside your puppy’s mouth. As long as you have established yourself as the Alpha you will come to no harm.
When your shih tzu nips you or tries to nip you, say in a calm voice but with firmness “Ah!Aah!”, then, palm down, put your flat hand right to the back of his mouth, pressing inwards where the top and bottom lips meet. Applying pressure here will be uncomfortable for your dog. Hold your hand there until he tries to spit out your hand, which is your cue to withdraw it.
If he then does not try to nip you, reward him with a treat or his favourite chew toy. If he does try to nip you again, continue to repeat these actions until he does realize that, “actually, this biting thing isn’t a pleasant experience, at all”, and ceases his attempts at it.
This technique uses treats to train your shih tzu to leave alone objects that he has the urge to bite and chew. It really does help here if you have attained Alpha status using the sit before food method described above. This method is best applied to an older puppy or adult dog.
Get a few treats that your puppy goes crazy over. Hold one or two in your clenched fist and put the rest out of your shih tzu’s reach. For this training it is important never to let him have the treats in your fist.
Do allow him, though, to sniff the treats concealed in your clenched fist, commanding, again in a calm but firm voice, “Leave!”. When he does leave your hand alone, obeying your command, reward him with a treat from your reserve pile.
Repeat this exercise a few times until he leaves your fist alone instantly on command. This is progressive training and the next step is to place the treats from your fist on the floor. Again, command “Leave!” but if he makes a move for them cover them with your foot or hand. When he does leave them reward him with a treat from the reserve pile.
When he has mastered that stage, move on to dropping the treats on the floor. Once again, be ready to cover them if the “Leave!” command is not effective straight away.
You can then progress on to objects. For example, if your shih tzu likes to chew your slippers, substitute the treats for your slipper. Get him to the stage where he will leave your slipper where you drop it on the floor. Then train him on the final stage, which is for you to actually wear the slipper while commanding “Leave!”.
If you have completed this method with patience at every step, you should now have a shih tzu that won’t be so eager to bite and chew things but if he does try will stop immediately on your command.
Now that you have found out how easy it is to establish yourself as Alpha and as such, how readily your shih tzu will try to comply with what you want him to do, you may be interested in training him further.
The expert dog trainers at TrainPetDog.com have devised a free mini course specifically honed for training your shih tzu. If your shih tzu could be a little more obedient, follow this course for fast and effective results. In very little time you will be the proud owner of a well trained, fully house trained, healthy, obedient, disciplined and, consequently, happy shih tzu. You can sign up for this free mini training course here.
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I hope that you have found this article helpful in getting your shih tzu puppy to stop biting. Please, if you have any questions or observations about this article or shih tzu in general, make a comment or use our contact us form.
See you next time.