So, you’ve welcomed a new puppy into the family! While your new dog might be cute beyond belief, you might not have expected the teeth inside that tiny mouth.
While gentle puppy biting is completely normal, some owners are surprised by just how much their new pet likes to use those teeth. This is something that is often overlooked by new owners who’ve never had experience with a puppy before. In this article, we explore why puppies bite and how to stop puppy biting before your dog matures.
Why do puppies bite?
The reason puppies bite and have such sharp teeth can be explained by nature. Puppies use their mouths to explore and investigate the world. But puppy biting also serves another function. When puppies are in the pack, they will play with other dogs, which involves gently biting their family members.
If a puppy bites a sibling or his mother too hard, they will yelp which will startle the youngster and cause them to release their grip. The next time the puppy bites, to avoid being startled, their bite will be softer and, therefore, a useful lesson has been learned. This is called ‘bite inhibition’ and it’s an important part of a puppy’s young life.
If your puppy hasn’t learned ‘bite inhibition’ by the time it reaches its adult life, there is a chance that biting could be more dangerous or troublesome, especially with larger adult teeth. This is not the best approach because they may not learn how to control their biting. Fortunately, Mother Nature has been kind and puppy biting can do no ‘serious’ harm (although a particularly firm bite may draw blood, on occasion!).
Stop puppy biting
- Use your voice – If your puppy chews something they are not supposed to chew, a good idea is to say ‘no’ to your puppy in a low, stern voice. This will establish authority and give them an idea of what is right and what is wrong.
- Mimic the puppy’s natural behaviour – When puppies play in their family unit, they use their mouths to be tactile. But this mouthing can turn into a bite at which point the puppy would hear a yelp from the dog on the receiving end and release their grip. If a human is on the end of the bite instead, the owner can mimic this behaviour. This will teach your puppy when a bite is too hard. If your puppy bites your finger or hand too hard, you should let your hand go limp and mimic the yelping sound that you would hear from another dog. It’s important not to pull away from the bite for two reasons. Firstly, pulling away might initiate your puppy’s chase instinct and instead of releasing they will bite down harder. Secondly, if you pull too hard you might dislodge your puppy’s teeth which will cause your young pet a lot of discomfort.
- Use a toy – If you simply can’t stand your puppy biting you when you teach them bite inhibition, you might want to use a toy instead. Whenever your puppy tries to bite your skin, pull your hand away and replace it with a chew or a chew toy.
- Buy a deterrent – There are a lot of products on the market that are specially formulated or designed to prevent a dog from licking or chewing things that you don’t want them to. As well as putting the deterrent on ‘non-chew’ items so they taste bad, you should also make your puppy associate the scent of the deterrent with the taste. That way, when they smell the deterrent, they are unlikely to even try chewing it. You can do this using a bit of tissue or a cotton ball. First let your dog smell the substance, then let them lick it. Due to the unpleasant taste your puppy should spit it out immediately; they will also know that items that smell of the deterrent taste bad.
- Nipping at feet and ankles – It can be difficult to get things done if your puppy continually bites at your ankles and feet, even if they’re only being playful. To prevent this, you can keep a toy in your pocket and distract them with it when they decide to bite. When your puppy bites the toy, praise your young dog to let him or her know they’ve done well to direct their chewing to the toy. This is essentially the same principle as teaching puppy to sit: only reward behaviour that you want.
When puppies are under six months of age, mouthing and biting are expected behaviours. However, if puppy biting is still occurring by young adulthood it can cause more damage, which is why it should be discouraged early on. By following this guide and training your puppy not too bite too hard when they’re young, you can help prevent adverse biting behaviour in later life.
If you’re finding it difficult to get your puppy to stop biting you can seek the help of a professional trainer, or consult your vet to see if there’s a reason why your puppy is biting so much.