You will find the top searched for question on Google is “How do I stop my puppy biting?”
You’ve probably even done it yourself. The reason most people cannot find the solution they’re looking for is that the information out there is actually pretty generic and the truth is there is not a one size fits all approach.
Puppies bite for a number of reasons and it’s not just because they’re teething. Let’s face it, the biggest problem with it is that they have razor sharp teeth at this age and it really hurts!
For you to find the solution for your puppy. You need to know all the reasons and how to help them not feel the need to bite you or your clothes in different situations.
Handling, puppies have to get used to being touched. Puppies do not sit there stroking each other in the litter, in fact, dogs do not pet each other at all. We touch dogs much more than they want to be touched and far more than we would touch each other. Often puppies do not find stroking as rewarding as we think at the start, it takes a while for them to find it enjoyable. Now if you look at it from a dog’s point of view, sometimes we can be pretty annoying when we’re touching them. So one of the reasons they might be nipping hands is to say I don’t like that.
We do of course need to get puppies used to being handled because people are going to touch them with or without consent. But this should be done in a positive way pairing it with rewards, doing it in mini sessions and giving them breaks before they try to nip stroke with one hand only, gives them the choice to move away. Stroke in a calm way. Find the spot your puppy likes under the chin on their chest are normally places they prefer rather than over the head. Try stroking when they’re calm, not when they’re playing or over excited. Otherwise they will just play with you like you’re another dog, with their mouth. Keep it brief initially, always stroke then paused for a few seconds to see if they want more and then repeat.
Frustration is another cause for puppies to bite us. We sometimes are a competitive species, particularly when we’re playing a game of tug. There’s a lot of controversy around playing tug games stemming from outdated advice, one of them suggesting you should always win, firstly where’s the fun in that! This can teach puppies not to trust you around items causing them to feel the need to guard and also it makes the game pretty boring. If you do not release the toy regularly, they might resort to biting you to make you drop the toy sooner or they give up and find something else to do.
When playing tug with your puppy keep them engaged by letting it trail on the floor, bouncing it around like pray and then tug gently when they get it and then let them win, then repeat. This will drive them back to you to play more. It sometimes good to have two toys keeping it interesting for the puppy. Tug toys that are around a metre long helps keep puppies at a distance
If your dog likes to parade around with it in their mouth and not drop it or takes it to chew. This is not an invitation to play and remove it from them. In fact, this can cause distrust, lead them to chew or play with it the way they like.
Managing physically, whilst puppies are young, particularly for smaller breeds, we have a habit of physically removing them and picking them up constantly. Hands can become pretty negative to them. This can again cause frustration, leading them to nip us to say put me down or to make us get off them when putting new equipment like leads and harnesses on puppies, they have no idea what it is. With us leaning over them or grabbing them, it can be pretty scary. When putting new equipment or clothing on them, it’s important to break this process down and pair every step with treats until they’re comfortable having it on and teach a hand target and leave it to get them to move away or come to you, rather than being physically forceful.
Teething, when the biting is related to teething you will find they are trying to get what ever it is in their mouth and generally to their back teeth, fingers feel so good on teeth and for them it can appear you are trying to take their teething toy away. Always have some edible and non edible chews available to hand as they need to chew a lot. You can put toys in the freezer and give frozen carrots finding, what your puppy enjoys chewing is the trick as each puppy is different.
You can get coffee wood chews specifically for dogs that crumble instead of splinter, pizzles, other meat or vegetable based chews and yak milk chews are great, find what’s right for your puppies age. It is vital particularly when they are resting near you to have these within arm’s reach. As chewing is often common when puppies are tired, chewing releases a calming hormone so usually the thing nearest to them will be gnawed on to get them off to sleep.
Teething starts around eight weeks just at the time they’re in their new home and goes on until about eight months. Usually the worst period for teething is between 12 to 16 weeks when tooth eruption is at its highest.
Play, puppies play using their mouth and feet, it’s a little like wrestling. If it moves, puppies investigate and like to pounce on it and mouth it.
All puppies can see is everything below, the knee moving along and it’s fun. Add to this dangling clothing like dressing gown chords and you’ve just made it the best game ever! During this exciting period, prevent temptation by tucking things in, wearing clothes that are not great tug toys and keep the fluffy slippers upstairs until they’re a little older. With children it is important to prevent puppy practising chasing and biting. The long fleece tug toys are good if your child really wants to play with them however it’s also important children do other activities with puppy. Get them involved in designing enrichment activities like; searching for treats, hiding a toys or kong, stuffing boxes or making a towel burrito with treats rolled up in it, this means they’re involved with puppy but not always wanting to pick them up and play with them all the time, getting them over aroused and over tired, where the puppy then constantly bites them. Getting children involved in training is important so puppy doesn’t want to see them as something to chase all the time. Management is crucial. So puppies don’t rehearse the behaviour preempting it is important. If the chasing happens whenever the kids come home, set up an enrichment activity for puppy and children to do together or use pens and barriers when they cannot be supervised to keep them apart.
Witching hour, puppies are crespuscular, which means they’re more active at dawn and dusk. This normally ties in when you’re getting ready for school and work or when everyone is home in the evening trying to relax. It’s important to get the balance right of your puppies routine. Puppies need a lot of sleep between 16 to 20 hours a day, overtired puppies nip, they become restless and they get zoomies which often looks like their biting is more deliberate and is then often made worse because everyone is trying to grab them and there are more people in the house. The biggest mistake new owners make is thinking walking them and playing with them loads tires them out but this does the complete opposite, sniffing, chewing, enrichment activities and training are the things that are more calming not play, which is why it’s important to end play with an activity like this to dissipate their arousal levels. It’s important that they get good quality rest where they are not disturbed, touched or woken, they should wake up naturally where ever possible. If they do not get enough sleep in the day, they can get restless at night too. When they get like this, it’s about getting them in a quiet space providing a chew or stuffed calm to bring their arousal down.
So what do you do when puppies do by first always have toys and choose within reach of you and rotate them to keep them interesting? You can never have too many. Start using a finished signal to let puppy know when it’s the end of training, treats, play or fuss, this helps them learn how to switch off. I will let puppies mouth me a little if it’s gentle and not hurting. I need them to know the difference and what a soft mouth is. If there is firm contact, stop interacting for a second and slowly move your hand or any other part of you that’s in the mix. Teaching them pain means that play stops briefly. As soon as they stop divert to a toy and play with that toy, moving it away from them, getting them to chase it. Do not try and force it into their mouths as this will make them more likely to just latch back onto you. If the puppy is biting continues and the toy is not satisfying them, remove yourself for a few seconds, making sure you take a different toy on your way out and then go back and offer the toy to play with.
If they are overstimulated or tired, they cannot learn anything. So at this stage, you need to calm them down by giving them an activity in their crate, pen or bed to bring them down, remember sniffing, licking and chewing are things that will calm our puppies.
If you need further support take a look at my puppy training page for the services I provide or book a free 15 minute call with me.
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