One of the most frequent aspects of owning a puppy I get asked on is the biting and nipping, and how can that stop.
Puppies use their mouths to explore, see if something is edible, and to also perform the natural behaviour of chewing – which releases happy hormones.
Their very first tiny needle front teeth start showing from about 2 weeks old, and the rest of their baby teeth up to about 8 weeks, just in time for us to take them home. Teething is painful and often they also want to chew as pain relief. Then their adult teeth start coming through, replacing the needles and new additional teeth appear, 42 in total. Ouch! This mainly happens from 3 months old, but can be up to 6 months old.
Around the time of the adult teeth appearing, they are getting more confident with the world around them, settling into their new homes and can often be misread by owners as ‘taking over the home’. Dogs just don’t think that way. They are not attacking us out of spite, in fact they rarely attack. They are just performing what is a totally natural thing to do.
What we need to find out is WHY they are biting. What are they trying to communicate to us?
A parallel would be a baby that cries. We don’t tell them off but instead check if they need a nappy changing, need a cuddle or hungry.
So for puppies, we need to ask first –
- Have they had enough exercise?
- Are they over tired?
- Are they over excited?
- Have they had some calm, settled time?
- Have you provided some mental stimulation such as puzzle feeders, Toppls, Kongs?
- What were you doing just before the biting?
- Are they biting you out of frustration, fear or not wanting to be touched/carried?
- Are they keeping you away from something special to them?
There is no one guaranteed method to curb the nipping, but there are many things we can put in place to encourage chewing on the correct things, not us or the furniture.
Have lots of different toys and chews around. Use frozen damp tea towels for teething pups, hard toys, soft toys, food toys, lickimats – anything suitable and safe.
Management is key to helping, so confining the dog to a pen or crate, or keep access to the rest of the house restricted by stair gates. If your pup has less access to the whole house, it is easier to supervise them and restrict access to your precious furniture. Use the high value food toys for crates/pens. Sometimes chewing and licking can calm a puppy.
If they are chewing something they shouldn’t, then interrupt quickly. Use a treat lure away from the item, but don’t touch the dog. If they are highly aroused (think zoomies mode!), then ask for a sit before the treat so you are not rewarding the biting, but the action of moving away and sitting.
But what if it’s you that is being bitten? Are you holding the dog, hugging them, in their face? Yelping or saying no/ouch etc doesn’t work as it just makes the pup more excited. You cannot replicate all the nuances of dog body language, you are a human! And you don’t want to inadvertently reward your dog for biting by your response. Intimidating them just makes them scared and both could be causing your dog to bite more…
So gently remove your body part that is being chewed, lure your dog using a treat to their quiet area, give them some appropriate chews and toys, and watch from the safety of the other side of pen or stairgate. Use a calm voice to reward their calmer behaviour.
It does get better…..promise!