Stop Puppy Biting

So you brought home this tiny, sweet and fluffy little lamb and now he is really closer to a piranha that you swear is trying to decapitate every Barbie in your house and potentially remove the tips of all your fingers as well.

I told you before why your puppy is biting (in my Puppy Aggression chapter) and here I’m going to tell you how to get your little chomper to be less like a mini dinosaur and more like that lamb you love so much.

 

Step One: Exercise

You need to exercise your puppy. If you feel like your puppy is the worst puppy biter in the entire world, then you are not exercising your puppy nearly enough. How much is “enough”? That depends on your puppy. But if he is begging you to play with him by biting the heck out of you it means that you are not exercising him enough.

Walking is an excellent way to exercise your puppy and so is playing games and also training him and so forth. Put the puppy in a pool. You can always burn off that energy with swimming, jogging, walking, whatever you can do.

 

Step Two: Play with Him

If you expect your puppy to sit with a pile of toys and entertain himself, you’re expecting something that you aren’t going to get. Social dogs are social. They want to play with you. Not next to you.

And perhaps you’re sitting here thinking “well I am interacting with him, Annette. That is when he won’t stop biting me!”

Touché

Play the right games. Get a long stuffed dog toy. Stand up and it should touch the floor. You may need to bend over. Find a toy that suits your comfort level with hunching or bending over. Then drag the toy along the floor. The puppy will chase the toy. It’s fun, like a little hunting game. Remember that your carnivore wants to practice killing things when he is playing with toys. Which is why anything that moves quickly or wiggles around like prey or darts from place to place is going to get his attention.

Get a rope toy and play tug-o-war. I know you read somewhere from some uneducated “trainer” guru that you can’t play tug-o-war with your dog because he will learn to dominate you. Ignore that guy and play tug-o-war with your puppy. He is going to love it and it is going to help him get all that rough-biting kind of play that he needs without costing you a drop of blood. Show him that its ok for him to play and use his mouth to bite, pull and chew… if he is doing so on the appropriate, designated items. Trying to get him to stop the behavior altogether is a task foredoomed to failure. So teach him now what to bite on and how to wrestle with you without actually biting your body or clothing.

 

Get a ball and a bag of bacon and teach your puppy to play fetch. Carrying the toy in his mouth is going to alleviate some of those needs to mouth and running back and forth is going to burn off some serious energy.

 

Step Three: Communicate

Sometimes the puppy won’t quit. He bites the rope for a few minutes then attacks your toe again. He won’t stop hanging on the hem of your pants while you’re trying to get him his breakfast. Well if you stick with the “exercise your puppy way more” step this problem really will go way down in magnitude after a couple of days. But it still may be an issue. So we are going to communicate to our puppy that we don’t like the biting.

We can’t appeal to his sense of empathy. So please don’t bite your dog (and yes, people really do that). It isn’t going to teach him that it hurts or get him to stop biting you. It is just going to frighten him and upset him and think that you’re vicious and untrustworthy. Don’t bite your human biting toddlers either. Seriously… just don’t.

Some trainers will tell you that you should yelp like a littermate would do. Well a littermate that is being bitten too hard would absolutely start shouting his face off. No doubt about that. The problem is that the offending puppy doesn’t stop biting just because his sibling begins to yelp. In fact, the yelping, fleeing puppy increases the biter’s excitement level and causes him to go more crazy at biting and chasing. And worse it makes the rest of the puppies in the litter feel all revved up and they start leaping in the fray.

Sometimes mom intervenes at this point and many times that is when I intervene to try to teach the one “who started it” to knock off the excessive rough housing. But Mr. Roughhouse doesn’t learn to bite more softly just because his brother shrieked at him and tried to run away from him. If his brother gets away without any outside intervention from mom or myself he will simply chase him down or turn and start playing with one of his other siblings (who are typically all revved up, remember?). The idea that play temporarily stops and teaches Mr. Roughhouse to inhibit the intensity of his bite to avoid cessation of play is complete rubbish.

I’m not sure what specific dog trainers came up with this nonsensical yelp-to-end-biting theory but I’ve raised a whole lot of litters of puppies in the past decade and puppies never learn bite inhibition from their littermates and I have a sneaking suspicion that they’ve never raised a litter themselves.

Bite inhibition (or biting gently) is something a dog is born with. They either have a “soft-mouth” or they do not. It is not something you can teach. Ask any hunter with dogs and they’ll agree. (It is no fun when your retrieving dog destroys your duck). Dogs do not ever learn bite-inhibition from anyone. That theory is just not sound. And soft-mouthed dogs come in family groups (so there is a genetic component to it) so some breeds are going to bite hard and aggressively and some are more likely to bite more delicately. It is a trait I’m working on in my own lines, actually. As a soft-mouthed gentle dog is a better playmate to children.

 

What puppies do learn is to invite play and not demand it. Ever go to a dog park and see two dogs meet each other and start playing together? A well-socialized dog will not just run and smash into another dog and start chomping away at him. It would likely cause him to get a pretty nasty response from his intended playmate. Properly socialized dogs invite other dogs to play with them. Usually you’ll see that play-bow they do which is so cute. They lay their head down and put their backend in the air and try to get the other dog to play. They might bark and jump from side to side and play bow over and over. They are saying “come on!!! Let’s play!”

Like humans, dogs learn proper social rules as they grow up and are not born with these kinds of manners. If you want your puppy to learn manners, then you have to socialize your puppy with other dogs right away and often. This does not mean that you should socialize your puppy with other unmannerly puppies. It is fun and I’m all for it if you have the chance to have a puppy play-date. But your puppy needs to socialize with lots of different age groups. Your puppy hung out with his siblings who were generally forced to tolerate one-another’s obnoxious antics and your puppy hung out with his mama who probably tolerated just about anything he threw her way. Or she stayed away from him and he was unable to get to her to pester the daylights out of her.

So if you were to socialize your puppy with an adult dog and your puppy bites the other dog too hard you’re going to probably have an upset puppy in a few minutes. Eventually the older dog will snarl and snap at the puppy, maybe even nip the puppy. This will usually be a huge exaggeration of show and the puppy will holler and run away and will be just fine. But the puppy definitely is going to learn not to play with random dogs without asking politely first. Especially if that happens a few times. ****

NOTE: Don’t Punish the Grown-up

If you own an older dog or you’re visiting with a friend or relative’s older dog, make sure that no one reprimands the adult dog for putting the puppy “in his place”. A puppy can not only be obnoxious but he can also actually really, genuinely be hurting the older dog. You are going to need to protect the older dog from the puppy and not the other way around. Older dogs often seriously dislike puppies because they bite so hard and want to play non-stop. They find it tiresome. Other adults think it is amazing. 98% of adult dogs are completely aware that this tiny, biting thing is just a baby. They are not going to genuinely harm this baby unless 1) the adult dog isn’t a reliable, safe dog around humans and other dogs normally and/or 2) the puppy has been gently corrected about a billion times, isn’t learning and isn’t being stopped by a human.

Adult dogs have limits to patience too. Some adults are limitless in their patience with baby dogs. They barely growl when they’ve truly had enough. Others will quickly give a firm correction.

DO NOT yell at your adult for growling, snapping, snarling or sending the puppy in a screaming run-for-his-life. The adult is doing you a huge favor. He is teaching the puppy not to get himself killed by a less trustworthy adult by acting in such an improper doggy way.

Furthermore, it would be totally unfair to bring in a new puppy, allow it to terrorize your older dog, and then yell at your older dog for defending himself. This could potentially build some resentment and negative feelings on the part of the adult dog and no one wants their adult to feel replaced, displaced or unloved. So let your adult dog defend himself within reason and do what you need to do to separate them when necessary until the puppy learns to have manners and the adult dog grows accustomed to the intrusion of his space. New puppies usually need about 2 weeks to “grow on” an older dog. Even a dog that is normally crazy-playful with other people’s puppies on play dates could behave like he “hates” your new puppy for the first week or two. It goes away. Soon they’ll be inseparable. Just give them time and your adult lots of space.

*****

Teach your dog manners by socializing him with as many healthy adult dogs as you can. Avoid dog parks though until your puppy is fully vaccinated. But puppy kindergartens are a great place to meet puppies of all ages and many at those kinds of places have already learned the polite way to greet other dogs and may be a good source of “information” for your puppy.

This may not fully fix your problem at home, however. Your puppy may learn not to mess with strangers without permission but he may not take that to mean that his human mom, dad or siblings are at all the same. Could you “teach” your dog, then, by yelling and swinging at him and looking big and scary and mean? Yes. You could. And it would be effective. That is why the “domination” methods work with puppy biting. Essentially you’re just scaring your dog into listening to you when you tell them you don’t like something. They are learning by punishment.

But I’m one of those moms that doesn’t like to teach by punishment. I like to teach my children and dogs by natural consequences instead. For example, biting a strange dog that does not want to play will absolutely have a natural consequence of a nipped and yelled-at puppy. Same thing if you have an older dog at home. She’ll probably tolerate the puppy but may think the puppy is seriously annoying and will correct the puppy from time-to-time depending on her patience level.

But you would not naturally hit your puppy and you don’t naturally dislike playing with him either. And you’re not a dog. You’re a human being and we are capable of communicating without violence. It is one of those things that make us “civilized” so there is really no reason to take a swing at your dog unless your genuine goal is to punish the puppy by teaching him that he will receive physical pain from you if he does something you don’t like. Hopefully the connection is clear to the puppy (what he is receiving pain for) because otherwise he will think you’re randomly violent and unsafe. And many times they think a swat is their human’s idea of playing and all they do is learn that “its ok to play really rough” and guess what? Now your puppy bites a whole lot harder than before. In my experience using pain and punishment for teaching is just riddled with pitfalls and misery for everyone. So skip it.

If your puppy won’t stop biting you say some command word nice and loudly. You can be firm. “No bite!” and move away from your puppy. Don’t reward your puppy with attention. Your puppy wants your attention and he wants you to wrestle with him. Do not allow him to get the reward of interaction from you. Look away, turn your body away. If you were playing with him before cease all playing.

When your puppy runs around and starts biting some other part of you in an attempt to repeat the process you will simply repeat the command. Say it nice and loudly because you want the puppy to focus on what you are communicating to him. If he is too wrapped up in what he is doing, then he will not even hear you or pay attention to your body language. The more energy a puppy has the more he is likely to be this way. Sort of like getting a toddler to look you in the eyes when you’re giving a correction because otherwise they are not engaged and they are not going to hear you. Puppies need to look you in the face and know that you’re talking to them and that you’re communicating with them.

Then they need to learn that your communication means “stop freakin’ biting me, puppy!”.

So you follow it up with complete cessation of play.

If your puppy is biting your feet or your hands you can use them to gently push the puppy back away from you. Try to teach the puppy that play biting will not get the puppy closer to you in a wrestling match but will get the puppy pushed away from you and then ignored by you.

When your puppy still doesn’t stop biting (and he won’t in all likelihood) you’re going to repeat “No mouth!” (or whatever word you’re trying to teach the dog for this behavior) and you’re going to crate your puppy.

The crate is sort of like a time-out. Or sending a kid to his bedroom. Unlike humans your puppy is not going to think about what he has done wrong. He is just going to be suddenly in his bedroom. Cover up the crate a little and give your puppy a bully stick.

Your puppy is going to settle down a little and chew on that bully stick and hopefully get out of his mindset. Set a timer for about ten minutes or so and let your puppy out after that goes off and he exhibits interest in getting out of the crate. If he cries, then wait to set the timer until after he is done crying and carrying on. Then set the timer for only five minutes.

The message here is that biting ends playtime with humans and will eventually result in quiet time with a bully stick. If he really seeks bonding playtime then he will knock it off and start playing with you in the other ways you’re enticing him with (tug of war, fetch, etc). If your puppy just really needs to bite something the bully stick will give him relief. So either way you’re going to have a win for everyone. Your puppy isn’t going to see this as a “punishment” and he won’t dislike his crate for it, either. He doesn’t understand the concept of a punishment. He just knows that one minute he was playing with you and now he is in his cozy bedroom. He may not feel like being in his bedroom at this particular moment but he isn’t going to resent his bedroom. Hopefully he catches on after a couple times that this happens. Hopefully he makes the connection that biting will equal cessation of human interaction and he will stop biting.

 

Step Four: Stop and Evaluate

Puppies bite for several reasons. Stop and think about why your puppy is biting you. Obviously the major reasons for biting include teething (sore mouth and gums) and a desire to interactively wrestle and play with you. If you think your puppy has pain in her gums offer her some ice on the floor or outside to play or chew with or give her some cold things to teethe on. If you think it is play then follow the steps outlined above. But what else might it be? A hungry puppy? A cranky puppy? An overtired puppy? An overstimulated puppy?

Pay attention to your puppy’s schedule. Make sure you’re proving your puppy with lots of food (hungry puppies mouth more) and plenty of desirable chew treats and toys. Make sure he is getting lots of interactive play time and interactive exercise with a human or another dog.

And finally make sure your puppy is getting enough sleep. Puppies that don’t sleep enough can get over-tired and that can actually wind them up. Ever see a little kid like that? All kinds of hyper at bedtime because they’re a bit overtired that day? If your puppy is getting wild and sort of out-of-hand look at the time and consider your puppy’s particular day and normal routine and schedule. He could be really tired. Or even maybe hungry. But sleepy is a pretty big culprit of hyper puppy biting.

Pay attention to your puppy’s sleep and nap schedule. This is when a New Puppy Journal would come in handy. Look to see if maybe your puppy needs to be put to bed for the night or down for a nap.

Too much stimulation can also get your puppy all kinds of wound up. So slipping in a little quiet time resting on the couch or snuggling or chewing a bully in the crate would go a long way. Definitely the crate here is your best friend so I suggest making sure you’ve got that crate-training thing nailed. And that takes a good 5-7 days easy. Hopefully that has fully wound down before the biting fully wound up!

 

Step Five: Persevere

Don’t give up! This is one of those things that takes a while to get into your puppy’s little head. They really want to chew on you. It is a natural instinct for them and we are trying to change a very ingrained, inborn doggy trait and desire. It is do-able absolutely. But it takes repetition, repetition, repetition and oodles of love and patience. And when you think you’ve done enough of it you’ll probably be about half-way there! Ha! Just remember that they don’t teethe forever and this problem should be fully kicked before your baby is 6 months old. Your puppy’s need to chew will slow way down by one year of age and will be only a desire to chew because it is fun and not a need by about 15 months of age. So stick with not allowing mouthing and not allowing chewing of non-toy items (hey… that is my flip-flop) and you’ll have a reliable cockapoo in your home in a year and a half. Seems like a long time but remember we are here for the long haul. Your puppy will hopefully be a member of your family for the next 10-15 years. I hope for the longest, healthiest, happiest relationship for you as possible!

 

 

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