Updated: Apr 1
Puppies are adorable. They’re cute, silly, mischievous and endless fun, but it’s not long before those little needle-sharp teeth start to really irritate you. It’s the painful side of puppyhood which we often forget about … puppies BITE. Your puppy is not being ‘aggressive’, he does not need to ‘learn who’s boss’ and he is not trying to hurt you, he’s simply doing what puppies do!
It’s important to understand that this is normal puppy behaviour, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. Biting should improve with age, but it will also become worse if you react to it in the wrong way. When puppy biting is dealt with incorrectly, it can quickly escalate into a much more serious or dangerous problem, especially as your puppy grows into a bigger, stronger adult. To appreciate the importance of dealing with this behaviour correctly, you need to understand why it happens.
Why Does My Puppy Bite?
Puppies explore with their mouths, along with their sense of smell, this is how they gain information about their surroundings
They bite during teething to help relieve the discomfort
Biting is used to instigate play and attention. Puppies will have used this with their siblings, and it’s usually an effective way to gain human attention too!
Different breeds are predisposed to nipping or chasing behaviours (e.g. herding breeds) or to using their mouths to carry things (e.g. gundogs). These dogs may have stronger traits for mouthing or biting behaviours
What Not to Do
DON’T REACT – if you scream, yelp, jump up and down or wave your arms when your puppy bites you, he will only want to try it again. You become FUN when you react. He has successfully got the response he wanted and guess what… biting works!
Do not use physical punishment. People will suggest all manner of methods to stop a puppy biting, but things like smacking his nose or clamping his mouth shut are more likely to create further issues than resolve the biting
It is NOT a dominance or pack issue. Your puppy is not trying to take over your household, he is simply acting how puppies act, so don’t panic and don’t punish him
Physical punishment, or anything aimed to shock, startle or scare a puppy will only cause fear and risk creating further issues. These methods may appear to stop the biting, but they can also have unwanted consequences, like making your puppy scared of physical contact, or fearful of people, hands or certain situations
What Should You Do?
RESPOND not react – stay calm and disengage when your puppy bites you. Fold your arms, stand quietly and wait for him to stop. When he stops, reward him calmly with treats scattered on the floor or gentle praise, or offer a toy for him to bite instead
Biting means play stops, your attention is gone and nothing exciting happens. Don’t create a scene by yelping, squealing or pushing him away
If he doesn’t stop quickly or you’re not able to ignore him, remove yourself from the room with minimal drama or step behind a baby gate where the puppy can’t reach you
When you return, be armed with treats to scatter on the floor or a toy to put in his mouth so he doesn’t continue to bite you
If the biting happens again, remove yourself again
Reward the good and ignore the bad … when he makes good choices REWARD HIM! We so often focus on the bad behaviour and forget to tell our puppy when they’re doing the right thing. Have treats on you at all times so if he interacts calmly or makes a choice not to bite, always reinforce this
Everyone in contact with the puppy must follow the same rules, don’t tolerate people playing inappropriate games which encourage or reinforce biting behaviours. Being clear and consistent is essential.
Will This Really Work?
When a behaviour isn’t reinforced, it will stop
When biting no longer creates a reaction from you and it no longer gets any attention, your puppy should offer alternative, preferable behaviours in order to gain your attention
‘Reward the Good, Ignore the Bad’, is absolutely key to resolving puppy problem behaviours
With consistency, he will learn to redirect his biting in appropriate ways (e.g. onto his own toys) and keep his tee