One of the most common concerns I address with new puppy families is biting! Puppies may look all cute and cuddly but sometimes they feel like little menaces with those super sharp puppy teeth! This can be especially trying if you have children who want to be able to interact with the puppy.
Most puppies chew on everything – they don’t have hands so they use their mouths. If you watch a puppy with adult dogs they play with their teeth and adult dogs tend to tolerate quite a lot of biting on themselves by puppies. When we’re asking a puppy not to bite or mouth us we are asking them to do something that is against their natural instinct therefore making it difficult.
This doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to puppy mouthing – and in fact you shouldn’t! One of the most important lessons to teach your new pup is what they can and can’t do with humans.
Let’s first examine the potential causes behind puppy mouthing:
- Puppies tend to bite more when they are over tired. Ensure your puppy is getting scheduled naps/breaks during the day. Most puppies need to sleep around 18hrs/day. If your pup is over tired or over excited then mouthing will be worse.
- Puppies are teething and need something to chew on – we see this in human babies too! Great chews are extremely important part of puppy raising.
- Puppies need to learn from other dogs – mature, calm, adult dogs ideally. Make sure your puppy gets play time with a good mentor dog on a daily basis.
Now what to do about puppy biting?
- Teach your puppy what you want them to chew on. This means having an assortment of safe chews and toys available. If your pup easily gets bored try rotating the toys/chews, use interactive toys that you can put some food in and even do a toy exchange with friends.
- Teach your puppy to leave it on cue. This will allow you to ask your puppy to stop chewing on items that you don’t want them to have or can be used if the puppy bites you too hard!
- For adults only (not kids) I suggest allowing the puppy to softly chew on hands/fingers and as soon as they chew too hard you would yelp or say ouch. Immediately praise your puppy if they stop or switch to a more gentle approach. If your pup is unresponsive then get up and walk away for a moment. This will teach your pup that hard bites make you go away.
- Teach your kids to be a “tree” when your puppy gets too bitey or excited. Have them freeze in place and call you to come intervene. Remember kids should be closely supervised with all dogs all the time.
Avoid physically discipling your puppy for mouthing. This will scare your pup and potentially damage your relationship with them. Puppies need to bite and it’s natural.
If your puppy is biting you in a threat display – like to guard a toy or food – please contact a positive reinforcement trainer immediately to assist you with a resource guarding protocol. While puppies do chew/mouth/bite they shouldn’t be aggressively guarding or attacking anyone – other pets or humans. Most puppy aggression cases can be resolved with the early intervention of a professional.