Why Do Puppies Bite?
Wondering how to stop puppy biting? Well, it’s not a quick fix but it can be done with the right attitude. Humans in general use their hands to interact with the world. Dogs predominantly use their mouth, because your dog’s paws are simply not sensitive enough. When a puppy is young, they especially use their mouths. Everything is new to them and they like to bite and chew things to figure out how they feel to them and what they are.
This is fine when it’s a chew toy that you have especially bought for your dog to keep them entertained. It’s not good when it’s your expensive couch or worse, your finger, that they want to chomp down on. That’s why it is important to teach your dog when it is OK to bite and chew things, and when it’s not OK.
If you want to learn how to stop puppy biting, you need to remember that it is natural for them to use their mouth. Dogs of all ages mouth when they play, they mouth each other around the face, ears and each other’s mouths. Growing up, a puppy exhibits the same behaviour, the issue is, compared to an older dog, they do not know the ‘limits’ of this play.
When a puppy is teething it’s quite a stressful time in the young dog’s life. Similar to human babies, teething comes with a level of discomfort and a natural tendency to want to bite down on objects for relief. This urge can be directed by a human to acceptable objects such as ropes and toys with some basic training.
Your young puppy doesn’t know any better and as a responsible dog parent, it is your job to teach them. Just playing with a human is not an issue for a puppy, and that should remain the same. It’s your job to teach them the limits of that type of play and the benefits of staying within the limits, i.e. more play!
Why Is It Bad?
Puppies have pretty sharp teeth for the little fur-balls that they are. A common occurrence for pet owners trying to raise a puppy is to experience a painful nip that draws blood. During the learning and growing process, it’s not so much of an issue. You don’t want this behaviour continuing into adulthood though.
The majority of dogs surrendered to shelters are between 18 months to 2 years old, when behaviours that were cute as a puppy become frustrating to the owner and they give them up. If the dog was never trained properly, it’s the owners fault more than the dog.
In any case, biting is never a desirable trait in any domesticated dog, so let’s learn some ways to nip it in the bud before it ever becomes an issue.
What To Do About It
The first step is to begin training using your best tools, your hands. Playing with your hands makes it easier to train them as you have a lot of movement and control with your hands instead of, for example, your arm or your foot.
Draw your puppy’s attention to your hands by tapping the ground in front of them. Don’t tap their face as this may cause an instinctual reaction to bite out of self-protection. (Imagine a puppy in the wild being attacked by a predator while mother goes to find food, a bite could save its life.)
Remember the lessons in your head when you’re trying to learn how to stop puppy biting:
- It is OK to play with your human.
- It is OK to use your mouth and teeth to play with toys.
- It is OK to get excited and be playful.
- It’s NOT OK to bite human skin.
- It’s NOT OK to bite clothing or other household items like furniture.
- It’s NOT OK to be aggressive in your behaviour.
When puppies play together, they will mouth each other. One puppy will probably get a little bit excited and bite down hard on the other. The puppy on the receiving end will let out a loud ‘YELP!’, and the biting puppy will release. This behaviour is what you will mimic in the first tactic.
Begin playing with your puppy and let him mouth your hands. Once he bites too hard, don’t pull your hand away, let your hand go limp and yelp or say ‘OW!’ in a high-pitched tone. Pulling your hand away encourages a chase reaction and will make your dog believe it is a type of play.
Once you yelp, praise your dog when they stop or let go. Wait for about 2 or 3 seconds, then resume play. If they bite again, say ‘OW!’ again and praise them once they stop. It is important to praise once they stop so they can learn. A yelp teaches them that the behaviour is bad, praising once they stop teaches them that stopping the bad behaviour means praise and more play time.
Repeat this action no more than 3 times in 15 minutes. Make sure you do it every time because otherwise if you’re not consistent you will confuse your puppy and you will teach them sometimes, unpredictably, biting you is OK.
If after three times your dog is still biting, it’s time to up the ‘punishment’ a little bit. You can do this with the time-out technique. Play with your dog again and when they bite, you yelp or say ‘OW!’ then once they stop, ignore them for 20 or 30 seconds or get up and walk away from them. Return after a while and play again. Teach them gentle play is OK but painful play isn’t.
Continue in this vein, and you can even start yelping for moderate bites and soon your puppy will only mouth you very gently. This will teach them that human skin is super sensitive and should never be touched with their teeth.
Trainers believe that a dog who knows human teeth is super sensitive may even control his bite when biting out of anger or fear in the future, vs. a dog that will bite harder to hurt a potential threat. Your dog will see it won’t take much pressure to make his point if he believes a tiny touch on human skin is already hurting us.
When playing, it is useful to have a treat in your other hand to redirect your dog once he begins mouthing and biting. If you feel them begin to mouth you and you think they may bite, produce a treat with your other hand and have them bite that instead. Eventually, and with some practise, they will learn to play without mouthing or biting your hand at all.
Play non-contact games such as fetch, instead of games like tug-of-war as this will encourage the kind of behaviour you’re trying to avoid in your dog. Only play tug-of-war once he has been trained to ‘let go’ on command. This will minimise future aggressive behaviour.
If your puppy is a chewer in general, it is a good idea to have them channel their tendencies into a toy or other chewable object. Strong rubber toys and puzzle toys are good for distraction, especially those with a treat inside. These get dog to use their head (and their teeth) to get the reward.
Socialising your dog is extremely important too. Older (vaccinated) dogs will be able to show your puppy what is and isn’t OK when playing and teach them not to go too far. If you don’t have access to any friends with dogs, puppy classes or doggy daycare could be a good option too.
Taste deterrents are good if your dog has not responded to the previous training steps. These are sprays that give your dog a foul taste in their mouth when it goes inside. If you would like to try this tactic, take your dog’s water bowl away for an hour or so. This is not to be cruel, but if they know they can just wash the foul taste out of their mouth then your efforts will be wasted.
Spray areas of your body he usually bites with the spray before you interact with him. The foul taste should make him release. Continue to praise your dog when he stops biting you. Continue with the spray for at least 2 weeks.
As with any kind of dog training it is important to be two things: patient and consistent. You need to teach your dog what is good and what is bad, not what’s okay sometimes and not okay other times. That will confuse your dog and compound the situation for both of you. It takes time to teach a dog a new behaviour, so don’t expect it to happen overnight.
Consistent action towards a desired goal is the name of the game. Practise 15 minutes a day if possible. You’re trying to teach your dog that biting ends the fun with his master and he shouldn’t do it.
Remember: It is okay for them to use their teeth on other things, just not people or clothes. Keep toys close by to assist you in training.
Training your dog and learning how to stop puppy biting is definitely something that should be done early in their life, if you invest the time and effort to do it effectively, you can share a long and happy life together, along with other dogs and children too!
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