How to Stop Puppy Biting, Mouthing and Jumping up
For new owners it sometimes comes as a shock to find out that your adorable new puppy does some things you would rather they didn’t – like play-bite, jump up and chew things.
This isn’t them being naughty, bad or aggressive in any way – in fact, these are all totally natural behaviours for a puppy but if they are not handled properly they can turn into more serious problems as your dog gets older that could have easily been avoided.
So far in their life, your puppy has only had their littermates and their mum to play and interact with – so they will see you and your family as their new playmates. This is great, as it helps with the bonding process but it is important that you encourage good habits from the beginning.
Without this, your puppy will continue all the behaviours that they have grown up thinking are acceptable, and even desirable, into adulthood – and being bigger, stronger and with adult teeth, your dog can cause injury without meaning to or else just frighten someone with their boisterous behaviour.
So when your pup comes home with you, start to teach good manners straight away but again, remember that they are not being ‘naughty’, they are just behaving the natural way that they have learned in their early weeks of life.
To teach your puppy to behave appropriately needs gentle, positive reinforcement. This means that you encourage your puppy to do the things you want them to do – and reward them when they do so, usually with a tasty, healthy treat, so it becomes their new default behaviour. Always reward the 'good' - when your puppy is displaying the behaviour you want to see - and where possible, ignore the behaviours you don’t want to encourage so that they decrease.
Never punish your puppy verbally or physically. You will just make them fearful of you, it will damage your relationship, and it will ultimately not have the effect you desire.
Puppies in a litter play together and this play will involve lots of rough and tumble and play-biting. This is how puppies learn to interact with each other – and also how to limit their biting. If they bite too hard or the play gets too rough, the other puppies or their mother will stop playing with them, and so in this way, they are learning a valuable lesson about appropriate interactions with others.
Puppy teeth are sharp and their jaws are weak. This means that while bites hurt they don’t cause injury – and this helps them learn bite-inhibition from their littermates and their mum. As a result however the occasional painful nip might happen while you and your puppy are playing.
When your puppy comes home with you and is living in a human family, they need to be taught that games with humans don’t include teeth! You don't want puppy biting to be a continued behaviour into adulthood but you do want to teach them appropriate ways for you to play and have fun together:
- Don’t play rough games with your puppy or push them around with your hands – this is just encouraging them to use their teeth to grab at you.
- All interactions with your hands should be gentle and soothing – stroking, ear rubs, bottom scratching etc. Your puppy should learn that your hands are good things and not tug toys or dog chews!
- For gentle games of tuggy, use toys and not your hands! Your puppy needs to chew (and when they are teething, this is ever more important) but you should be encouraging them that toys are for chewing, hands aren’t.
- Give your puppy safe toys to chew on – stuffed Puppy Kongs are great and you can even make your own toys using treats inside old cardboard toilet rolls that will let them bite and chew safely.
Even with your best intentions, your puppy will occasionally nip you – and sometimes may even seem to turn into a canine crocodile! First of all, don’t over-react. Yes, it may have hurt but if you tell your puppy off, get annoyed, shout at them or hit them, you will make them scared of you, lead them to mistrust your hands (and possibly bite more), and it will break down the relationship you have. It may even lead them to behaving aggressively in the future or just not trusting you which will lead to other behaviour or training problems.
Instead, you have several options – and it will depend on your puppy’s personality, breed and a bit of trial and error, which one will work the best:
- If it was a one-off accident, ignore it and carry on playing – everyone makes mistakes.
- If it wasn’t – or if it happens again, think about what your puppy’s littermates would do. Make a yelp or an ‘ow’ sound – even if they didn’t really hurt you - and then immediately stop playing and turn away from your puppy for 10 seconds so they know that if they use their teeth, the fun stops. This way they learn that if they want to play with you, they can’t use teeth – and for sensitive puppies, this is a lesson they learn very quickly.
- When you return to play, introduce a toy into the game that your puppy can bite instead.
- If the play biting continues, or if your yelp makes your puppy more excited, remove yourself totally from the game for a minute so your puppy knows that if they bite, you really will stop the game and also take away your presence.
- Don’t go for any longer than a minute, and then when you come back to your puppy, carry on as before. Dogs don’t hold grudges and neither should you.
- Sometimes play-biting happens because the puppy is frustrated, has too much energy – or conversely isn’t getting enough sleep (or is over-tired) and so is fractious. Make sure they are getting enough positive interactions, problem-solving brain games, lots of chances to succeed and lots of opportunities for good quality undisturbed sleep.
- Make sure everyone in the household does the same thing. The puppy will just get confused if one person lets them bite and the others don’t.
- Supervise all interactions between your puppy and children to ensure that play doesn’t get too boisterous and to prevent play-biting mistakes.
- Puppies will teethe the same way as babies from around 12 weeks old up to about six months of age. Gradually their baby teeth will fall out to be replaced by their adult teeth. At this time they may have some discomfort from sore gums and teeth and may need to chew more than usual. Make sure you have safe toys that they can gnaw on, both to distract them from chewing furniture or hands, and to help relieve them from any discomfort they may be feeling. There are even some puppy teething toys you can buy that can be put in the fridge to help cool sore gums.
With some consistence and reward-based training, your puppy will soon learn that games with people need to be gentle and tooth-free.
Puppy jumping up
Most puppies jump up as it is a natural canine greeting behaviour – and it is how they would naturally greet their mother and other dogs they know so they can get close to their faces for interactions. Puppies want our attention and up until now they only know one way to get it so you can’t blame them for doing what comes naturally.
Teaching your puppy not to jump up is simple as you need to show them that the best way to get your attention is by keeping all four paws on the ground.
- Discourage your puppy from feeling they need to jump to get your attention. Recognise that they are going to want to do this as a greeting behaviour, and so pre-empt that by coming down to their level to greet them so jumping doesn’t become a habit.
- If they do jump up, don’t give them any attention until they put their paws back on the ground again. As soon as they do, lavish them with praise – and the thing they want – your attention. Soon they will realise that you will happily pay attention to them – when their paws are on the ground.
- Be aware of what your puppy is doing. If they choose not to jump up, make sure you notice that and reward it – otherwise they will try something else, which is… you guessed it… jumping up!
- Make sure everyone in the family does the same thing –if one person is encouraging the puppy to jump up, your training will be unsuccessful!
- Teach your puppy to sit. Once they know how to do that when you ask, you can ask them to do that instead and reward them. If your puppy is sitting, they are not jumping!
Why do puppies chew?
Chewing is a natural puppy behaviour that helps develop teeth and jaws – as well as keeps dogs content - and every puppy does it. Owners shouldn’t try and stop their puppy chewing as all dogs need to do it but instead should make sure they give their puppy things to chew that are appropriate and safe.
- Give your puppy lots of safe chew toys to give them an outlet for their need to gnaw. If you can redirect their chewing to these toys, they won’t focus so much on the items you do not want them to chew.
- Make these toys far more interesting than anything else they may consider chewing. You can do this by buying toys that you can put treats or food inside, or that have a texture or make a noise that your puppy enjoys. Use some trial and error to find out what your puppy really enjoys – as long as it is safe and healthy.
- Tidy up! If you have things lying around on the floor or within puppy reach, you can’t expect them not to have a nibble on them. Puppies don’t know what is theirs and what isn’t! They also don't know what is dangerous…
- When you see your puppy chewing something off-limits, quietly swap it for a safe chew toy that they can chew to their heart’s content. Don’t over-react or punish them – as this is unfair on your puppy, will make them scared of you – and is likely to encourage them to guard things from you!
- Praise your puppy when you see them chewing a safe and appropriate toy.
- Consider putting your puppy in a playpen when you’re at home but can’t watch them all the time. Make sure they have some safe chew-toys in there to keep them happy and so they can play safely.
- Chewing can also occur when your puppy is bored. Make sure you are spending lots of quality time with them, giving them plenty of enrichment and interactive toys and games, and that they are not being left on their own for long periods of time.
If you are concerned that your puppy is chewing excessively, take them for a check-up with your vet. They can help if your puppy is teething and has a sore mouth or gums. If you are still worried, a qualified and experienced behaviourist will be able to help you understand the root of non-clinical chewing issues.