Close Encounters with Bitey Monsters!

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I love scuba diving.  I once did over 80 dives in less than 8 months … warm water diving only though!  The underwater encounters that really get me excited are the up-close encounters with bitey things, especially SHARKS.

If you’re the owner of a young puppy, you’ve probably got your own land-dwelling SHARK; and wow those needle-sharp teeth can be savage on your skin and clothes can’t they!

It can be no fun at all, and it is one of the top 3 complaints I get from concerned puppy owners.  I know when my current dog Meg was a puppy, her biting seemed to go on FOREVER and it really was very upsetting and frustrating.  I used to try hard not to get angry, but I would often get increasingly annoyed with her, storming off to bed to get a bit of respite and often bursting into tears.

So let’s look at WHY puppies bite:

  • The first things to realise is most puppy biting (or “mouthing”) is normal behaviour. Phew!  They just don’t know yet what is acceptable to us humans.  Biting is a puppies only known way to engage with you and get your attention.  Show them how you’d prefer them to get your attention!
  • They might be overtired.  If your puppy has gone wild and over the top, then your puppy is most likely tired and no longer able to make rational decisions.
  • They might be teething. Those first needle-sharp teeth will start to fall out at around four months of age, to be replaced by adult teeth. This is a time when their puppy gums can really be very sore, and biting and chewing helps to relieve the pain.  
  • They might be overexcited.  If you’ve been out at work all day, then your return home is an exciting event!
  • They might be bored.  Often puppies don’t get enough mental stimulation, and instead are given too many energetic activities that simply make them wired.
  • Puppies can bite to stop things from happening.  Puppies can quickly learn that that biting is a useful way to get people to go away or stop doing things to them.

What can YOU do to stop the biting?

  1. Teach your puppy to use his mouth GENTLY (bite inhibition)

While your ultimate goal is to train your puppy to stop mouthing and biting you altogether, you need to start by teaching your puppy to use his mouth GENTLY.

This involves removing your attention when your puppy bites you hard.  If your puppy’s biting gets no reaction from you, he won’t bother to keep doing it because it’s no longer any fun.  Remember for a puppy even shouting “NO!” or pulling your hand away is all very motivating!  So ‘removing your attention’ involves keeping still and keeping quiet.  Then once your puppy is calm, you should re-engage with him.

Dogs soon learn to repeat the things that earn them a reward and not bother with the things that don’t. So if your puppy’s biting gets no reaction from you, he won’t bother to keep doing it because it’s no fun and no longer gets your attention.

Be consistent with this approach. Puppies have a strong need to bite and chew so you will need to accept that this will take time, and you will need to repeat this manytimes before your puppy learns to control his bite pressure himself. 

  • Play with your puppy should always involve using a toy, not your hands

I love this bit, because it gives me a great excuse to buy loads of new toys!!!

Encouraging your puppy to engage with you through the use of toys, rather than wrestling and rough play with your hands, helps him to understand that his teeth don’t belong on your skin. Use soft toys to engage in a game of tug-of-war or fetch. The more you play controlled tug games with your puppy, the better he’ll get at instantly releasing the toy when you ask (to start with, just hold a tasty treat to his nose and wait for him to let go) and waiting patiently for the game to start again. He’ll learn that the opportunity to play is dependent on demonstrating impulse control. Rough and tumble games just gives your puppy permission to bite! 

Toys are also great for redirecting a puppy who is latching onto your dressing gown or trouser leg.  Just keep still and produce a toy … waggle it around to make it exciting.

  • Ensure they are getting enough sleep and that they go take a nap when it’s needed. At around 7pm many puppy owners complain their puppy’s biting gets worse.  This is the time you should put him in his crate for a nap. 
  • Give plenty of safe chew items for your puppy to chomp on to relieve the pain from sore gums.  Something like a nice cold carrot, or a stuffed, frozen Kong.
  • If you’ve just come in from work to be greeted by a loony tunes! Get yourself changed, pour that glass of wine and get your toys ready.  If you have children with friends over, anticipate that it’s probably going to get loud and energetic, and it’s maybe best puppy stays in a different room with some tasty chew item.
  • Give your puppy lots of things to do where he has to use his brain.  I don’t mean getting out the Sudoku! Things like using his nose to sniff out his dinner.  There are loads of interactive food toys on the market.
  • Check out body language, is puppy concerned about something you are trying to do? For example, some puppies don’t like being picked up. While we shouldn’t force any dog to do something they don’t want to do, there may be times when you need to pick your puppy up, so you’ll need to gently show him that picking him up is a pleasant experience.  You should probably consider getting some extra help with this one.

FINALLY:

Puppy biting will not stop immediately. Instead, it should become less and less hard over 3 to 4 weeks (it will usually go on for much longer than this). But you do need to be consistent as it takes many repetitions before your puppy understands that biting results in the loss of fun and a loss of your attention.

Be calm, be patient.

There’s lots of harmful recommendations given to new puppy owners about dealing with puppy biting … usually involving rolling your puppy onto his back, holding his mouth shut, using loud noises to startle, biting his ears!  But please, please, PLEASE, keep in mind that your puppy is just like a human baby.  They explore their new world with their mouths and your puppy is doing this too (except babies have soft gums!).  Your puppy is not being naughty on purpose, or acting out of spite.  We just need to show him how to do things the human way!

My training programmes are here to help you.