...And so to dogs` mouths, which is what this post is about, technically speaking, bite inhibition acquisition: because it seems clear to me that for dogs, kissing is their mode of being, their primary means of haptic communication, in effect the way they touch. We humans unlearn this mode of experience after babyhood, because we are so focused on experiencing and grasping with our hands.
...So when we adopted Nobunaga, and this big setter was always jumping up on me bitey bite as I shrieked, to the great comic enjoyment of my male family members, and while I personally had a problem with him biting my breasts and nipping my love handles, bruising my forearms and scraping my hips with his strong embrace, I nevertheless realized that for him this was his true mode of being and his primal expression of loving contact. In other words, I felt very uncomfortable, even hurt, but never felt intentionally threatened. To have him stop biting was unthinkable, because it was so integral to his being. He needed to learn how to do it gently and well.
First I tried to get him to actually stop, by turning my back on him and crouching down, hunched in a little ball. This didn't work, he would just climb on top of me even more. I realized I had to let him bite something else instead, so I made a habit of carrying an old shoe and shoving it in his jaws when he came at me, saying Omocha, omocha (toys, toys). I made a tugsy toy out of old jeans cutoffs, and invited him to play. I asked friends for giant discarded stuffed animals which he can bite and tug as hard as he likes. He particularly loves my winter coats because he can bite harder without it hurting me! (Good thing he came in winter, and he was bite sensitive by summer!)
We bought all kinds of chewies, horse tendons, turkey tendons, pig trotters, deer horn, and I would sit with him and hold it while he chewed away until he got the hang of using his paws, so he could tell the feel of skin and fingers round his mouth.
I would stick my hand in his mouth covered in coconut oil and the like to let him lick it off and play with my fingers (this works well with Sherlock too, who seems to have had treats thrown at him rather than given).
Just this morning, after meeting a six-month old Akita puppy on a very short leash, who of course invited Nobunaga to play (not sure his owner understood that at all, and the leash was like held so tight, so short)...Nobunaga finally got all fired up and started barking and play-bowing, and when the poor puppy couldn't respond, he turned to me instead, jousting and jostling, and jumping up to bite my breast with just the right amount of pressure so it doesn't really hurt, whereupon i grab my toy from my waistpouch, omocha, omocha, and I can let him bitey bite and I play with him at will until he's feeling loved and appreciated and the world is good. The Akita owner wandered off and fed his dog some treats, they probably thought I was being mauled by a very untrained dog, but on the contrary, this is a dance of delight we have perfected over time...he lets me stroke and hug when I get blue, I let him gently bitey bite when he's fired up, that's who we are.
Special thanks to Companion Animal Psychology who brought the topic to my notice and make my day thinking about the issues and how they relate to me and my setters.
Photos by Lelantos