Just Like a Mama Dog Biting on Her Puppy's Neck

Some people claim that using a prong or pinch collar is effective because it simulates the bite of a mama dog on her puppy’s neck.

Others claim that jabbing or poking a dog with our fingers is effective because it simulates the bite of a mama dog on her puppy.

What is it about the mama dog story that makes it so compelling?

The mama dog story is often used because it associates a training method with the image of a protective and caring mother. She plays the disciplinarian role, but she would never hurt her own puppies because she loves them and would protect them with her own life.

By linking this story to a training method, we impart all of these positive mama dog feelings to the method, and can use it to justify training techniques that may otherwise raise valid questions and concerns.

Is Jabbing Our Dog Like a Mama Dog’s Bite?

Dogs are clever. They are very aware that we are humans and that we are not dogs. They know that when we jab them with our fingers or with a collar, it is not their mama dog biting on their neck.

Try jabbing yourself with a finger, with a prong collar, and with your dog’s baby teeth. They are all very different.

In addition, mama dogs have very accurate control of the force and placement of their bites. This is why mama dogs do not accidentally hurt their puppies when they hold, carry, or correct them.

In fact, all dogs have accurate control of the force and placement of their bite. When a dog is young, he learns from his mother and litter-mates not to bite too hard on each other while playing and interacting. That is why puppies should not be separated from their mothers and siblings until they are at least 8 weeks old. Otherwise, they will miss out on this very important lesson.

We can also train our puppies not to bite too hard on people through bite inhibition exercises.

Unlike dogs, or even mama dogs, we humans do not have such accurate control over the force or even placement of our jabs.

Furthermore, mama dogs only correct their offspring in this way during the early stages of puppyhood. Once a dog becomes an adult, such discipline methods are no longer very effective.

In fact, mother dogs may even get into serious fights with their adult offsprings. Such fights may get as bloody and destructive as fights between unrelated dogs. While a mama dog will never be violent in this way with a puppy, it is a totally different story when a dog enters adulthood, offspring or not.

The mama dog story is very compelling but it breaks apart when we try to apply it to poking and jabbing at our adult companion dogs. As a dog owner, I want to get all the proper facts and information on a dog training technique, not sugar-coated versions that do not hold up under close scrutiny.

But Jabbing My Dog Works!

Jabbing a dog can sometimes work, i.e., discourage certain behaviors. It works not because our dogs think we are their mothers, by because it applies pain to the dog and causes an aversive response.

In essence, we apply pain when our dog performs an undesirable behavior. Our dog stops that behavior in order to avoid further pain and stress.

This is why prong collars and jabbing our dogs can discourage some behaviors when applied to the right dog, with the right timing, force, and redirection.

What Is Wrong with the Mama Dog Story?

The mama dog story is very powerful and it has been used to justify many false claims including -

  • Jabbing our dog’s neck with our fingers or with a prong collar is superior to other dog training methods. After all, what can beat the actions of a loving mama dog?
  • Jabbing our dog’s neck does not truly hurt him because a mama dog would never hurt her puppies. If it does hurt, it can’t hurt too much. A mother knows best and a bit of tough love today will be good for the long-term welfare of the puppy.
  • Jabbing our dog’s neck is communicating to him in the same way as his mother. Therefore, it is the more natural and right way. Anything else is only humanizing and babying the dog.

We make the best decisions for our dogs when we accept a technique for what it is. Jabbing a dog can discourage certain behaviors, but it ‘works’ only because it causes pain.

  • Using pain to train a dog is not superior to other dog training techniques.
  • Using pain to train a dog can be risky especially when not applied with exact timing, force, and redirection. If not properly applied, or if applied too often, it can cause loss of trust, increased levels of stress, lower quality of life, and even increased aggression.
  • Dogs communicate and play with each other through precise bites that we have no way of mimicking because we are not dogs. Dogs also communicate with each other through a variety of other techniques including a combination of body language, scent, and vocalizations.

Whether a dog training technique works or not, depends on more than stopping certain undesirable behaviors in the short-term. It is also important to build a strong and positive bond with our dog, and provide him with a happy and low-stress lifestyle.

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  1. Mary Beth says

    I love your site!!! All the articles including this one are so informative and it is clear that you are extremely knowledgeable and compassionate owner. Both these pups are beautiful animals.

  2. R Frank says

    Love your website! It has helped us immensely with our little Lucky who just turned a year old January 1st. He was given to us by a family member who could not take care of another dog, and this site was very helpful in teaching how to deal with him.
    At about 5 months, he got loose and dove off a high porch and broke his leg in 5 places. We were devistated. We think the neighborhood chicken tormented him until he broke the collar and wound up killing the bird. It hasn’t been seen since. He is absolutely healed and running around like a silly little Shiba should.
    He is still a little difficult on lead, but getting better. A trainer talked my husband into a prong collar stating the “Mother Dog” thing. When it was put on his neck, Lucky began to scream like he was dying and fell on his back. We never used it again. The “no pull” harness works best as does the Easy Walker harness. They give just a little pressure when he pulls and it truly helps keep him reigned in while walking in town. For the park, we use the No pull harness for security with a retractable 25ft or longer lead so he can just run and play without fear of losing him.
    He is very obedient, playful, silly, cheeky and downright stubborn at times, but we do love him.

    Also, this dog is very friendly with people and other dogs. Will that lessen as he matures? I have read so much on these dogs and being unfriendly, we worked diligently on socializing him with both people and animals. What have you experienced?

    • shibashake says

      I have read so much on these dogs and being unfriendly, we worked diligently on socializing him with both people and animals. What have you experienced?

      Sephy is also friendly with people but mostly because people don’t usually try to challenge him. He can get grumpy with other dogs. In particular, he doesn’t like new dogs sniffing his butt. Also, if other dogs challenge him, he will challenge them back. My other dog, a Siberian, is more submissive in nature and will roll onto her back to avoid conflict.

      I think in general Shibas have a more dominant personality, so they usually choose to fight back when they see a perceived threat. Another thing I have noticed with Sephy is that he gets excited very quickly, and when he gets over excited, play becomes really intense and may sometimes overwhelm the other dogs or just piss them off. I always step in to calm him down before he gets too excited. I also only let him play with larger dogs because small dogs don’t enjoy his play style.

      When dogs meet, they flash body signals so quickly that often it is difficult for us to catch what is going on. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, if seems to us that they are going at it. However, invisible to us, they have already had a whole conversation going on that we were not privy to. Nowadays I do my best to observe Sephy so that I can help him avoid bad situations. I don’t let strange new dogs sniff his butt, and I only let very friendly, non-dominant dogs with loose body posture meet him.

      Shibas will usually not back down and not surrender, so it is best to set them up for success. :D

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