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, but 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. Sarah says

    I apoligize in advance for typing so much.

    Today I was outside with my dog and my family. It got late and I decided to bring my dog in, and thinking that because I was walking with him, I took him off his leash that was tied to the tree, and told him to go inside. Normally he listens to this command, but as soon as we got about five feet from the door, he bolted and ran away, which he has suddenly been doing recently.

    My dog is an eleven year old Labrador Retriever, and also the sweetest dog I have ever met. He has never once bitten anyone, growled at anyone, jumped on people, or shown any type of aggression, even when dealing with my little brothers (age 8 and 10) who are not exactly” gentle” with him. He does not have many behavioral issues, other than it being virtually impossible to walk him on a leash, and the biggest problem of his that has gotten very bad as he gets older, which is that he runs away.

    My family uses the “reward training” method. When he behaves well, we reward him with praise and/or treats, but if he behaves badly, during the day he is put outside on a leash, and during the night he is put in the garage. We have only used the “adversive training” method once with a zap collar, but we always made sure that the setting was never too high and we even tested it out on ourselves to make sure that it didn’t hurt him too much. That method seemed to work very well, but the zap collar broke and we haven’t used it since.

    I really don’t know what to do with him. He is running away almost daily now, and I’m worried because it has not only become a disciplinary problem, but is now a question of his safety. When he runs away, he swims in a lake and after he returned home one day, we noticed that he was in a lot of pain, he wouldn’t wag his tail, and couldn barely sit down. We immediately took him to the vet and found out he had acquired “limber tail syndrome” from the lake, which is common in Labrador retrievers. It goes away after a couple of days, but it was undeniably painful for him and I don’t want to see him go through something like that again.

    I don’t know why he has been misbehaving so much as he gets older, but he no longer listens to any commands we give him, such as sit or stay, and he barely even comes when he is called. The only reasons I think could be the cause of it is that a.) he is getting old and tired and does not have the energy to do what is asked of him, or b.) it is because we recently got a cat and he is acting up because he is not receiving the same amount of attention he once had and is jealous.

    I care a great deal about him and it just breaks my heart to see him asking this way. Do you have any advice on what to do? At this point, I am completely out of ideas.

    • shibashake says

      What is his daily routine like? How much exercise does he get in a day? How much people time does he get in a day? How long is he leashed outside to a tree? Is he supervised when he is leashed outside, or just left there by himself? Is he comfortable in the garage at night? Why is he kept in the garage at night?

      When I was young, we had a great family dog who kept running away. Here is his story.

      I still feel very sad when I think about him today.

    • Sarah says

      Well, first of all, to answer your questions…
      He is very old now and has arthritis, so we try not to walk him too much, because we figured out he will end up limping afterwards. If he is walked too much. However, we have a very big yard and we play with him until he gets so tired that he either falls asleep or just lays in his bed for a while until he has regained his energy. There’s eight people in my family (including me), so he usually gets plenty of people time, although it has decreased since we got a cat, but I have been trying to give my dog extra attention because I don’t really get along with the cat. My dog is usually leashed outside for an hour, varying slightly depending on if he guilts us into bringing him in or not. He is almost always supervised outside, but for the very rare occasions where he is not, the tree isn’t very far away from the house anyways and he can even sit on the porch. Where we can simply glance through the window to see how he’s doing. He is comfortable in the garage, and we make sure it’s warm and that he has food, water, a bed, an area for himself so it doesn’t feel cramped, and that anything that he can get into is put somewhere out of his reach. He is put in the garage as a form of punishment for running away or something similar, and the main reason he doesn’t like it is because he is seperated from people and he can’t have attention, which as a Lab, he likes to have a lot of. However, as I said earlier, his punishments usually don’t last very long as he knows exactly how to make us feel guilty until we bring him back in, or sit out in the garage with him and give him attention.

      And, second of all, about the story…..
      That story actually brought tears to my eyes because I’m worried that one day the same thing will happen to my dog. This story actually helped me out a lot, seeing how things could turn out, and it helped me figure out what I can do to help my dog out. Thank you so much. This website has been incredibly helpful.

  2. D says

    We recently rescued a young catahoula mix. After 2 basic obedience classes, the trainer pushed using a prong collar. Reason: dog pulled on leash.
    I refused.

    I asked to be shown other ways, that the collar would be last-resort only.
    “They will take more time,” was the response. I said we had the time to do the work. So, we were shown other approaches to the modify the behavior.

    I think the temptation of a quick-fix creeps in for everyone. The fog which tells me I’m really doing the dog a favor by causing it pain.

    When I get frustrated or lazy or domineering…I see that, thanks to loving & working with a dog.
    I train as the best person I am. Which shows me areas I need to improve to become a better human. It’s part of how this dog rescues me.

    Thank you for the quality website. It has lovely artwork.

    • shibashake says

      I think the temptation of a quick-fix creeps in for everyone. The fog which tells me I’m really doing the dog a favor by causing it pain.

      When I get frustrated or lazy or domineering…I see that, thanks to loving & working with a dog.
      I train as the best person I am. Which shows me areas I need to improve to become a better human. It’s part of how this dog rescues me.

      Wow! So very well said. I very much feel the same way. “How My Dogs Rescue Me” – that would be a fun article to write. 😀

    • D says

      Thank you for your kind words. I hope you will write that article. I’ll look forward to reading it.

  3. 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.

  4. 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. 😀

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