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Against my wishes, my wife purchased an English Mastiff puppy in Late May of 2020 (he was about 12 weeks old). Normally we would do puppy training but COVID has created problems in that area (we live in a state where things have been closed off and on (on again).

We have had three other English Mastiffs. Two males, one female.

The first male was about 5 months old when we got him (owner changed jobs, couldn't give him the attention he needed). He was VERY well trained at 5 months old (and was so gentle and easy to work with it isn't funny...could take him to campus off leash and he would greet people but never run toward anyone or try to bolt). He was easy.

The next was the female. She came from a rescue at about 2 years old. She didn't do well with our cats (had to keep her separated from them), but she loved people and was a good listener. She had been starved and neglected (but I don't think she was physically abused otherwise). No problems here.

The third was a male. He came from a breeder at 12 months, but had been pretty well trained by that time. Not as gentle as our first male, but still very good with cats, kids, etc...

Now we come to the one in question. He has never been aggressive (he isn't trying to hurt anyone intentionally), but he plays too hard. He constantly nips at my granddaughter (5 years old) and pushes her around. Same with my daughter 32 (both her and my granddaughter live with us). He listens best to my wife. When it comes to me, I have let him develop bad habits. His playfulness used to be fun. He is now over 170 lbs. (he is going to be big even for a Mastiff) and he nips when he wants me to do something and when he comes into my "man cave" he wants to play very rough (a lot of play biting). I have scolded him relentlessly and he ignores me. Unless I yell at the top of my lungs he doesn't react. I KNOW he doesn't have a hearing problem (he could hear his food bowl from a mile away). It hurts to yell at the top of my lungs. I have tried a lot of things, but I think it is play to him, and even if negative is still positive reinforcement since he is getting some sort of attention (as if he doesn't get a lot...he does). He is good with our Chihuahuas (2 males), they are the dominant dogs of the three. He is relatively good with the cats (we have 3, they mess with him sometimes come out covered in drool, but keep coming back for more so he must not be hurting them even though once in a while he pins one which results in crying from the cat).

Now the big question. How do I stop the mouthy behavior? I have tried scolding and shoving a toy in his mouth. He thinks I am playing. I have tried to ignore him, then he goes after my ankles and knees (which is a bit painful). I have tried time outs. He goes right back to the same behavior. I really need him to stop play biting or nipping at people. He has never bitten hard (never broken the skin, but has caused some scratches from his teeth from the person at the other end pulling away). He isn't dangerous, just hard to live with. The most recent thing I have tried is domination (reading some other posts, maybe this is a bad idea but it works for my brother-in-law with his Pit Bulls). When he starts acting out I will make him sit (the one command he knows, but he won't stay), then I tell him down. If he won't lay down I make him lay down and won't let him up until he stops resisting (good thing I am not a small person, 6'2", 220lbs. but is still takes about everything I have to get him down and keep him down). After he will go upstairs and sulk. If I go up about 10-15 minutes later and give him attention he comes back down. Then we repeat. This seems like it might be working. After each round it is longer before he starts rough housing again, but the next day we are back to square one.

Is what I am doing going to create more problems down the line? Any suggestions on how to stop this behavior? He is EXTREMELY food motivated, but other than when my wife yells at him (she has spent the most time with him due to working at home during COVID) he ignores the rest of us when scolded. I can handle a little pain (we have had at least 12 dogs and probably 25+ cats during our almost 32 year marriage and so I am used to scratches). Have never had one so stubborn that he just won't listen (at least not a Mastiff...we did have a Bull Terrier that was horrible, and a Dogo (Argentinean Mastiff) rescue who were both very stubborn and hard to deal with, but nothing like this with a Mastiff.

Hopefully I haven't created a monster. He is a loving dog and is protective of us, just way too rough when he wants to play. He has a nice sized back yard to frolic in (which he loves to do) but he isn't walked on a leash daily (none of our others were either). It could be extra energy that will fade as he gets older, but I don't want a monster and would love to hear from the community as to the best way to break him of this.

Thank you all for your comments!
 

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STOP the domination forced into a down thing. You will be bitten at some point. All it does is damage the relationship with the dog. He does not understand Down (you will tell me he does but he does not if you have to force him down). Teaching dogs involves two steps: Teaching them how to do something then getting them to WANT to do something.

This dog needs total structure. This means NOTHING in Life is Free. It means he has to do something for you before he does something he wants... from going through a door to being petted. No more food out of a bowl. It all comes from you or your wife and he has to do something to get food. From waiting at the door to sit on command to lie down to go to place (mat or bed or crate). No more interaction with the little child and your daughter at this point. At all.

This is a 170 pound dog that has not been given boundaries. Start it now or it could escalate to something ugly.

No more yelling at him. Pointless to yell. TRAIN him to do what you want.. do not yell at him for what you don't want. He does not understand that. He is a dog. Dogs are non verbal. Humans are verbal.

He has to do something else and you have to train that something else. Like lie down or sit or go to bed. You cannot expect him to stop a behavior you do not want without replacing it with a behavior you do want.

It also sounds like he could use some exercise. Get out and walk him.

If this is all too much for you to do, then consider board and train with a follow up 8 week twice weekly training course so the training he got at board and train transfers to you and your wife.
 

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Agree with "Nothing In Life Is Free" which you can search that phrase and the abbreviation "NILIF" for training details.

Disagree with suggestion of board and train (with certain caveats). I am sure it is not 100%across the board, but at least in my region and in my research and dog people contacts, probably 95% or more of board and train facilities using heavy dominance based training. Exactly what you do NOT want. Some use worse than generic dominance training.

Now, if you found a board and train that was the exception rather than the rule, it might (I do mean might, in the very smallest sense) have possibility but how would you know what training they really use unless you know them very very well? and if you did already know a good trainer that well, I suspect you would be working with them already

That said, working with a trainer in person where you can fully keep an eye on the dog and the training methods is a good idea. Avoid anyone promising a quick fix.
 

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I only suggest B&T in this case as it seems the dog is lacking consistent handling and may need a "reset." I think it is the first time I ever recommended board and train. Around here B&T is not "heavy dominance" and most are quite good. the need for that 8 week 2X a week follow up with the owner is to generalize what the dog learned at B&T to the handler.

I am also thinking about safety here.
 

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I only suggest B&T in this case as it seems the dog is lacking consistent handling and may need a "reset."
"Dog lacking consistent handling and may need a reset" is the fundamental basis for virtually all in-person dog obedience instruction.

I see no need whatsoever for a board and train.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thank you all for your responses. I got some good ideas and did a bunch of research. If you have never had a pet Mastiff they don't react the same as other dogs during training. They are extremely sensitive and the corrections you make to other dogs might not work (and could make the problem worse). Was hoping to hear from another Mastiff owner.

He isn't at the point where he needs a board and train. I did STOP trying to dominate him. I am now using negative reinforcement along with positive reinforcement and am having much better results. FYI, negative reinforcement is NOT being physical with the dog. Negative reinforcement is the removal of a positive (such as taking away TV priviliges from a kid), positive reinforcement is adding something new to the situation (praise, abuse, attention, food are all positive). This is a commonly mistaken term.

The main times he would be mouthy with me are when I am in my recliner with my legs up. He wants to play. In the past I would push him away, yell "NO", or get him to lay down using force. He was getting what he wanted...attention. Everything I did he thought was a game. For the past few days when he gets mouthy when I am in the recliner, I get up immediately and make him sit. If he continues to be mouthy he gets a time out. If he stops for at least 30 seconds he gets some attention. Sometimes he will try to pull at my pants (I put my hands behind my back so he cant mouth them or my forearms). If he still won't stop he gets a 15 minute time out in his kennel to settle him down). Basically he has to learn how to ask for attention properly (which means no mouth). I do know never to hit a dog (any dog), this is a recipe for disaster (not to mention inhumane, and I was on the board for our local Humane Society for 6 years, so any inhumane treatment of any animal is not acceptable to me. Probably part of the problem...I am too soft at times.

My granddaughter is safe. Gandalf won't go upstairs (where her room and toys are), and the living room is partitioned so he can't get in there when she is playing. The problem here is that she hates being slobbered on (unavoidable with a Mastiff) and she runs. He thinks she is playing. He has never acted in an aggressive manner toward anyone. His bites aren't hard enough to break the skin, and he doesn't bite my granddaughter, just gently mouths her (but the slobber sets her off and again, he thinks it is a game). Working on him with this as well, but she is NEVER left unsupervised with him.

Feeding him not out of a bowl really isn't an option unless I was to retire. He eats 13 cups of Royal Canin Giant Breed Puppy food per day (and per our vet is not fat at all). I would have to spend all day feeding him to get to that amount. He is also good with strangers. The first time I took him to the vet his hackles went up (worried me quite a bit), but once they came over and started talking to him he was good. Now he actually enjoys going to the vet (probably because he gets attention and it takes a LOT to hurt a Mastiff).

Throughout all of this, he has always had good body language. Tail wagging, bowing to other dogs (and cats) when he wants to play. I have never seen him tuck his tail...the worst I have seen is the hackles when he was a bit younger and he met someone new (lack of socialization due to COVID). This is no longer the case. Now he just wags his tail and wants to get close to the newcomer so he can smell (and get attention).

Every Mastiff I have had has two main priorities in life.

1. Food.
2. Attention

You can actually hurt a Mastiff puppy by letting it get too rowdy. Our first blew out a knee (took two surgeries to correct) just playing hard. They are known for easily injuring tendons, ligaments and bones when they are young due to the extremely rapid growth (about 1 pound per day for a while, probably about 1/2 to 2/3 pounds per day now). You also shouldn't walk a Mastiff farther than you can carry him/her (worse as a puppy, they get better about this as they mature).

Bottom line, I think removing attention when he is being mouthy along with praise when he stops the bad behavior will work as long as I am consistent with him. He is crate trained and will go to his kennel when told to do so and he is well housebroken so we have done some things right. It is just this one behavior that is problematic. And he has plenty of time with me when he isn't mouthy, it just spoils things when he starts to get excited and wants to play. He has a lot of toys so I encourage playing with them as well after he has sat for an appropriate period of time.

I will post an update in a week or two if anyone is interested. Our biggest problem is there were no training classes in IL when we brought him home (COVID had the state shut down). Normally we go to training, but this time around were left to our own means. We do have experience, but our last Mastiff passed several years ago and we are a bit rusty.

Everyone have a great New Year and let's hope 2021 is a lot better than 2020!
 

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Have you looked into remote training options? Many trainers are now offering online classes (COVID was definitely hard on the industry, since it's typically such an in-person job), and you wouldn't be restricted to someone in your state if that was the case. It's not as good a solution as having someone physically with you, but with video conferencing software these days, it's a lot more doable than you'd think! I have a friend who got a rescue dog this year who had a very good experience working with a trainer this way.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I have not looked into remote training. If the problematic behavior continues I definitely will. He was much better the past couple of days when I stopped pushing back and ignored him when he got mouthy. He would bark a few times, paw at me, then lie down (or go upstairs to find someone else to try and get attention from). Only had to give him one time out for not listening. He spends a lot of time sleeping (common to the breed), and loves to sleep by my feet. Still playing, but less inside and more outside (the way it should be).

I have a strong feeling based on his current weight and height he is going to be larger than most. I bet he tops out around 230 at age 2 (maybe more). Have to get this under control as soon as possible. He will outweigh me (I have been losing weight, intentionally) before it is all over.

He was much easier to potty train than the Chihuahuas, and definitely easier than our Teacup Yorkie (the Yorkie was too jealous of the other animals, he now lives with my son and daughter-in-law, who he loves more than anyone...used to go right to her when they came to visit and insist on being picked up). Harder to deal with the rough play. Not a big deal with a 4-9 pound dog. Much more important with a giant breed.

Thank you for the advice, if things don't keep improving that sounds like the way to go. I would prefer one on one training anyway (he will either scare other dogs in a class or want to play rather than learn). Even if there is more than one participant, he will still be at home and not in a new exciting environment with a bunch of new dogs to play with.

Have a Happy New Year!
 

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Thanks again to everyone. My negative reinforcement is working (complete removal of attention).

I have figured out that he got the idea (due to my lack of discipline) that the basement was a play area. When I took him down he was fired up and ready to play which turned rough quickly. He is learning now that if he bites, nibbles or otherwise chews me he gets an immediate time out (it isn't a game any longer). It may take three or four tries but each time he goes longer without trying to play bite. Each day the onset of the behavior is also taking longer. I am making sure no treats without him doing something (sitting, staying, etc...). Now I can get him to sit and stay when I put down leftovers (his favorite) until I tell him it is OK. I expect to have the biting under control in the next few weeks as I keep up with the plan.

I feel bad that I let him play so rough earlier. He is fine, but he does get a bit pouty when I won't "play" the way we used to (he will leave the room and ignore me when he is pouty).

I am better with cats (not that I don't love my dogs, especially the Mastiff even though he can be difficult at times). They don't really take to training (and don't play the same way a dog does). I had just been way too lax in dealing with bad behavior from the Mastiff than I should have been.
 

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with that dog, you should be using "balanced" training, the use of negitive, and positive consequences.

Sounds like you are doing a wonderful job now, he seems super smart! Catching on great. Please do still play with him! But make sure he knows YOU start the play and you end the play.

I suggest you get into something like bikejoring, so your dog can get the proper amount of exersise.
 

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Bikejoring might be good once he's matured, but I'd avoid it while he's still growing. For a giant breed like a mastiff, you're looking at 18 months to two years before his growth plates close and you want to start doing more high-impact exercise like forced running on asphalt, so this guy still has a few months to go if my math is correct on his age (I think he was born in Feb of 2020 if I've read things right?)

I'm glad he's improving with more feedback from you and a clearer structure about what is appropriate play and where/when he can expect it!
 

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Thanks again...he is getting much better day by day. He is getting some positive reinforcement as well (treats when he responds to commands). He generally gets my leftovers. I used to just leave the plate for him. Now I make him sit and stay, can't have the food until I tell him it is OK. This is going well also. Only had to give one time out yesterday (which is huge). Each day it takes him longer before he starts the rough play. He still gets a LOT of attention from me, but zero attention when he is on a time out (and he LOVES attention).

Day Sleepers, he was born 3/8/20 (just turned 10 months). We have had other Mastiffs so I am very aware of potential growth issues and what can happen if they play too hard. Our first Mastiff blew out a knee playing. Had to have a pin inserted (and removed). Luckily it didn't result in long-term problems. We have been very careful with Gandalf...he wasn't allowed to do stairs until about 6 months. He plays hard for a little while each day (loves chasing one of the cats who lives to play with him, or more accurately, taunt him). I know she (the cat) is playing. She will make her presence known if they are both outside and egg him on. She could easily leave the yard or hide where he can't get to her (which she does if she has had enough). Never any aggression toward other animals (but I do worry sometimes that he will hurt one just due to his size and enthusiasm).
 

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Bikejoring might be good once he's matured, but I'd avoid it while he's still growing. For a giant breed like a mastiff, you're looking at 18 months to two years before his growth plates close and you want to start doing more high-impact exercise like forced running on asphalt, so this guy still has a few months to go if my math is correct on his age (I think he was born in Feb of 2020 if I've read things right?)

I'm glad he's improving with more feedback from you and a clearer structure about what is appropriate play and where/when he can expect it!
yeah, wasn't sure how old he was, and I forgot to Include that information.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
I have always enjoyed watching Mastiffs in agility competitions. I don't know if I have the right personality to do the type of training needed for such competitions (if I tried now he would just bulldoze through everything). Once he is a bit older I might entertain the idea of having him enter a dog pull (if they still exist...I have seen competitions where the dogs pull a sled like at a tractor pull contest and they seem to enjoy it).
 

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Weight pull is still a thing! It's definitely something you want to train up to - it's not as high impact as other dog sports because there's less high-speed jumping or tight turns, but you still want to teach a dog how to pull safely and build up muscle gradually so they don't hurt themselves, just like human weight lifting. The expensive bit is it does require specialized harnesses to be done safely, but if you find a local group or club someone may well have one they'll let you borrow to try it out so you can see how you like it before dropping a bunch of money on a brand new custom one. It's really cool to watch and most dogs really get a kick out of it. Let me tell you, nothing like watching a chihuahua delighted to pull a cart with 600lbs of weight on it, haha.
 

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I will definitely look into this post-pandemic (hopefully it will be over by the time he is 2, 14 months from now). Sounds like weight training. You don't want to go too hard too fast, completely understandable. I will have to find out if there are any clubs nearby that do this (might have to go to Chicago or Indianapolis, we don't even have a Fly Ball club in our town anymore...which was thoroughly enjoyed by fans at the halftime of basketball games when the dogs came out).

I don't think my Chihuahuas would like to pull. They are very docile for the breed (our vet and staff say they have never met any like our two...one lets people cradle him like a baby and just relaxes). The other, who would be more likely to try, has a severe heart murmur (he will eventually go into congestive heart failure) so he wouldn't be a good candidate. I know the Mastiff can learn to pull a LOT. It is a good thing that he is good on a leash or I might get dragged down the street when we do go out.
 

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You'd be surprised how many tiny companion breeds tear it up at weight pull! I've heard people say that in percentage competitions (where you're looking at percentage of the dogs' own weight they can pull, not total weight overall), you know you're in trouble if a Chinese Crested or chihuahua gets called up, haha. Just a video from YouTube but:


Thankfully dogs do learn that just because they're allowed to pull in their weight pull harnesses doesn't mean they can haul you over on walks, or the whole sport would be in trouble.
 
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