You’re probably familiar with the consequences of puppy biting. You get home from work and find your couch pillows in disarray, bits of cotton strewn everywhere. Toilet paper rolls lay in tatters all over the hallway. You’re crossing a busy road on the way home from the park, and that’s when your puppy nips at your heels or leaps into the air and bite your elbow. Let’s face it, raising a puppy often requires having to deal with the behavior problem of puppy biting.
There comes a moment when we must all face an uncomfortable and irrefutable truth: Puppies do not have opposable digits on their paws. From the moment their mother bites away the umbilical cord and licks them into life, puppies learn that their mouth is a primary means by which they engage with world around them. A puppy’s teeth are tools, ones that require use and training from an early age, particularly if they belong to a puppy who will live in the home and around humans.
It’s cute when you have precious baby puppy teeth nibbling on your nose or finger, but puppy’s bodies mature quickly, and puppy teeth right along with them. It’s not long before that once-ticklish nibble draws blood, raises a welt, or ruins your home furnishings. Chewed-up furniture or bandaged fingers may be the result of a puppy who has not properly been conditioned or trained in the use of his teeth. Fortunately, as a dog owner, you can influence and direct puppy biting into gentler and less destructive channels through training.
Puppies are unlikely to have a finely developed moral sense, and to them, puppy biting is how they gain life experience. Puppies generally do not bite out of spite or with the intent to harm. Given the opportunity to mature with their mother and litter mates, puppies learn valuable lessons in their first couple of months. Natural, formative play with siblings and parents teaches puppies the consequences and impact of puppy biting.
Since puppies are often adopted early in life, they miss out on valuable socialization, which it is up to you to provide, particularly when it comes to puppy biting. In households where they are the only pet, listlessness and inactivity can strongly affect puppies. Boredom is a major cause of a number of puppy behavioral issues, including biting, barking, and howling. Puppies who are active, engaged, and provided with varied sources of amusement and instruction are less likely to persist in disruptive pastimes like puppy biting.
By far, the most frequently mentioned strategy for getting puppy teeth under control is bite-sensitivity training. From the yips and yelps of those they bite, as well as their own cries when they are bitten, baby puppies quickly learn the power of their jaws. Bite sensitivity training is one way to mimic that experience. Tensing the hand and jerking it away provides resistance that a puppy may take as encouragement. Instead, when your puppy bites you, try to yelp yourself, allow the bitten appendage to go limp, and calmly turn away from your dog for a short period.
A second common strategy to stop puppy biting is the taste deterrent. This is similar to folk methods for curtailing fingernails chewing in humans, and reminds us that we’re all animals from a certain point of view. The taste should be something repellent to a dog, but not poisonous or harmful. Spray or spritz the areas of skin or clothing that your dog tends to bite before you play with her. Pavlovian response will rapidly teach your dog to associate biting people with a foul taste sensation.
My own puppy is a biter, and the most useful and practical advice I’ve received has been the simplest. I was advised by a fellow dog owner that puppy biting, met with a spritz of water to the face, would startle my puppy out of biting. I got a TSA-approved three-ounce spray bottle, which is small enough to carry and wield at a moment’s notice on our daily walks. When I see her gearing up to bite my hand or ankles, I spritz her a tiny amount in the face (avoiding her eyes, of course). After several weeks, I notice that she now hesitates at the sight of the bottle.
If you are out of the house for extended periods of time, you can also stop puppy biting by providing a variety of toys and activities to keep your puppy engaged. Depending on your puppy’s personality, a knotted rope, long-lasting chew bone, or squeak toy can go a long way toward sapping some of that excess energy. Regular exercise and socialization also help you stop puppy biting. Whether this entails walking your dog, enrolling her in obedience classes, or taking her to the dog park, interactive play is a necessary part of raising a puppy.
Raising a puppy is a life-choice. By adopting a dog of any age, you are initiating a new relationship, and any relationship worth having is worth working on together. Violence — striking at, yelling at, or cruelty in any form — should never be your primary, secondary, or even tertiary response to puppy biting.
Every puppy is different, and there is no universal, foolproof strategy to stop puppy biting. A review of the available literature on puppy biting, as well as my own personal experience, shows that there are a number of training techniques that can be effective, either alone or in combination.
Familiarizing yourself as much as possible with the needs and tendencies of the breed or mix prior to adoption can be a useful step. Since every puppy is unique, you’ll also need to be attentive to your puppy as he grows and develops a healthy relationship with you.
Is your puppy or dog a biter? Share your training and disciplinary techniques for puppy biting in the comments!
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