Bringing home a new puppy is an exciting and heartwarming experience. However, along with the adorable cuddles and playful antics, many puppy owners encounter a common challenge: puppy biting. Puppies are known for their sharp little teeth and tendency to nip, which can be both bothersome and painful. But fret not! In this blog post, we'll delve into the reasons behind this behavior and offer some effective strategies to help curb it, fostering a happy and harmonious relationship with your furry friend.
Understanding Why Puppies Bite
Puppy biting is a natural behavior that stems from several reasons:
Teething: Like human babies, puppies go through a teething phase where their baby teeth fall out to make way for their adult teeth. During this time, usually around 3 to 6 months of age, they may feel discomfort and itchiness in their gums, leading them to chew on anything they can find, including your hands.
Exploration: Puppies use their mouths to explore the world around them. A puppy bite is simply a curious behavior. They learn about their environment through taste, texture, and mouth-feel. While it may be adorable at first, it can quickly become a problem if not managed appropriately.
Playfulness: Puppies play with their littermates using their mouths, using bite inhibition to gauge how hard they can bite without causing harm. When they play with humans, they may unintentionally apply the same biting behavior, unaware that it can be painful for us. Puppy biting can be a playful act in the mind of a little one.
Attention-seeking: Puppies crave attention, and sometimes they resort to biting or nipping to get it. If they discover that biting elicits a reaction from you, even if it's negative, they might continue the behavior to gain your attention.
How to Solve the Problem of Puppy Biting:
Now that we understand the reasons behind puppies biting, let's explore some effective strategies to manage and reduce this behavior. It may even be possible to stop puppy biting all together, depending on the severity of the behavior. Almost every puppy owner shares the problem of puppy biting. It leaves you with a lot of problems, like:
Chewing and nipping can hurt your hands and fingers.
What if they bite someone else – perhaps a child or another dog?
The worry they will grow up to be an aggressive dog.
Even if you know this is just puppy-business, what will others think of your lovely puppy?
Therefore, you need to discover how to stop puppy biting. Most puppy owners have been there. And in 99 out of 100 cases, this is not a serious business, but natural puppy behaviors. They bite to learn. It’s their way of exploring this new, big world. And of course, they are growing teeth and it itches, so biting helps.
Socialization and Puppy Bite Inhibition
It’s important to understand that biting and puppy mouthing are a part of your pup's language. It’s in their basic nature and how puppies explore. All small puppies bite and chew. Early socialization is crucial for puppies to learn appropriate behavior with other dogs and humans.
While they are still with their littermates and mother, they learn bite inhibition, understanding how much force is acceptable during play. If you adopt a puppy, try to mimic this process during playtime by using positive reinforcement. When your puppy bites too hard, let out a yelp or say "ouch" to signal that it hurts. Over time, your puppy will learn to be gentler.
Instead of being angry or doing nothing, you must show your puppy what you will accept. No matter what you do, your puppy will bite or nibble. This is normal puppy behavior, so they can’t help it. This is where you can set the stage and play with your pup by keeping your hand at their body. At some point your puppy will bite – this is how they play, remember? Here’s what to do:
Provide Chew Toys: During the teething phase, your puppy will have an irresistible urge to chew. To save your fingers from their sharp teeth, provide a variety of chew toys specifically designed for teething puppies. This will not only soothe their gums but also redirect their biting behavior to appropriate objects and discourage them from nibbling on furniture or your hands.
Use Positive Reinforcement: Reward your puppy with treats, praise, and affection when they exhibit non-biting behaviors. Positive reinforcement helps reinforce good behavior and encourages them to repeat it.
Teach 'Leave It' and 'No Bite' Commands: Utilize training techniques to teach your puppy the commands 'Leave it' and 'No bite.' These commands are invaluable in redirecting their attention away from undesirable behavior.
Be Consistent: Consistency is key in training any puppy. Make sure all family members follow the same rules and methods for curbing biting behavior.
Avoid Rough Play: While it might be tempting to engage in rough play with your puppy, avoid activities that encourage biting, such as wrestling or tug-of-war. Instead, focus on interactive games that promote non-aggressive behaviors.
Time-Outs: If your puppy becomes overly excited and starts biting during play, initiate a brief time-out. This sends a clear message that biting results in the end of fun playtime.
Address Fear and Anxiety: If biting is a result of fear or anxiety, consult a professional dog trainer or behaviorist who can help you address the underlying issues appropriately.
Remember to Give Your Puppy a New Chance
Remember that a timeout is just a short while, so your puppy is not sent to their crate to stay there for long. I believe that puppies (and dogs as well) learn the best if given the opportunity to make a choice and you then react to their choices. Either reward your puppy for good behavior or ignore the bad. Never scold, shout or hit – just ignore. And praise when your puppy gets it right. Give treats, play with them or just cuddle. Reward your puppy in any way you can.
With this mindset, you don’t have to tell your puppy not to bite. Instead, when your puppy bites, you just let them know about their poor choice by staying still. This is the consequence of your pup’s action. If they keep biting, you let them into their crate for a timeout. They will now be excluded from the "community." This is a severe consequence of play biting or when they bite hard. It will help with future aggression and teach them to play gently.
On the other hand, it’s very important to remember to praise and reward your pup when they get it right. So let your dog out of the crate when they are calm and give them a new chance to play without biting or to only bite what you allow, like a sturdy bone or teething toys. Now reward! It’s important that your pup knows the consequence of all their actions, good and bad.
Prevent the Pounce
If your puppy is pouncing on your legs or feet as you walk, a common playful puppy behavior, I recommend holding a high-value treat next to your leg as you walk, to help the puppy learn to walk nicely alongside you. This same tactic is used when teaching a puppy to walk on a leash.
Teach The "Leave It" Command
Teaching your dog ‘leave it’ is a powerful technique to get your dog to stop biting you. In its simplest form, the leave it behavior is all about restraint. The "leave it" command is used to prevent your dog from picking things up, running towards something, or doing a certain behavior. It allows you to tell your dog not to touch things that you don't want it to have, like a child's toy or a dirty tissue or any one of the hundreds of things dogs try to pick up and chew. It can even work with getting a puppy to stop biting.
A dog that can restrain from lunging and grabbing a treat on the ground, is much more likely to be able to leave your hand alone when you ask.
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Set Your Puppy Up For Success By Diverting Their Attention
When at all possible, set your puppy up for success. Instead of waiting for them to bite, divert their attention. Observe your pup’s actions, so you know how they react in all situations. This way you will recognize when there is a danger, and before anything happens, you can calm your puppy either by calming your own body language or asking them to do a sit or something else.
You can also divert their attention with a ball, a toy for mental stimulation, or something else you will allow them to bite. Make it possible for them to be excited and still have success. In my opinion, puppies often bite because they get excited. They simply get so happy and overjoyed, they can’t control themselves and that is totally normal. Setting your puppy up for success and providing a chew toy or a game to teach your puppy something new will help your puppy learn.
Exercise Your Pup’s Mind and Body at the Same Time
At feeding time, let your puppy work for their food. If you have a lawn, spread the food on it and let them search and find it. If you do not have a lawn, try hiding the food around your apartment or house, or in a toy such as a snuffle mat. The important point is to combine training the mind and exercising the body when it's feeding time. It’ll take your dog longer to eat, but it’s good for their digestion and it’ll bring them joy and exercise, which is a win-win.
Give your pup exercises they can also do alone. Hiding treats in a toy is how puppies learn. You can buy one, like a Kong, or you can make one. Make sure your dog knows how to handle it and just leave them alone with it. They will not miss you until it’s empty. It's a great way to keep a puppy's attention.
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Don't Make Yourself Enticing
Sometimes without knowing it, you may be making yourself more enticing to be bitten by your pup. Of course, I’m not saying your puppy biting you is your fault, just that you can do things personally to make yourself less enticing to be bitten.
For example, when your pup starts nibbling, do your best to not jerk your hand away quickly. Most dogs love things that are moving! So if you jerk your hand or foot away, your pup may think you are trying to be playful. If your pup starts biting, let your hand go limp. Then implement some of the other techniques we’ve chatted about in this article like redirection to chew toys or training.
Another way to make your human skin a little less enticing is to keep them covered when possible. Wait a minute… hear me out before you get upset and start thinking that this isn’t a tip to “stop” puppy biting.
Being a successful pup parent oftentimes comes down to how well you can set your pup up for success. If you are always leaving out things on the ground that you don’t want your 4-month-old puppy to chew on, whose fault is that?
So if you know your pup is going through an extreme biting phase, consider keeping that skin covered when at home. It can be wearing socks, long sleeves and pants, and other things like that! When the puppy biting phase is at its worst, every little bit of help is important!
Remember, Never Hit Your Dog
Never, ever hit or otherwise physically punish your dog. If your pet seems to be biting out of aggression, speak to a veterinarian or dog trainer about ways to manage that behavior. There is also a qualified professional known as a veterinary behaviorist who can help, in addition to specific puppy classes.
Puppy biting is a natural behavior, but with patience, understanding, and consistent training, it can be curbed effectively. Remember that puppies need time to learn appropriate behavior, and every pup is different, so don't get disheartened if progress seems slow. Building a strong bond through positive reinforcement and consistent training will set the foundation for a well-behaved and loving canine companion. Embrace the journey of training your puppy and cherish the moments as they grow into well-mannered adult dogs. Happy training!