Puppies have sweet, adorable faces, soft fur, tiny paws and all the characteristics of a good cuddle-mate. They also have sharp, needle-like teeth and a penchant for nipping and chewing everything of interest to them – including us!
We get asked a lot about how to stop a puppy from biting… I’d say it’s one of the questions that unite all puppy parents.
Those who think they have all the answers still struggle with this -penetrating- question.
Why do these cute little razors always seem to be attached to my fingers and toes?
The unfortunate answer is, it’s just a part of their development. Puppies primarily experience the world with their mouth and nose, and chances are you’re their favourite part of that world.
The purpose of this impulse is to teach what is ok to bite, what is good to eat… and what isn’t. It’s essential to make sure all your body parts end up on the “not for eating” list!
No, they’re not trying to eat you, and yes, it’s a normal part of how they play. Mama typically teaches young pups “bite inhibition” from a young age as they rough-house with littermates, so a puppy removed from their litter before 8-10 weeks may be especially mouthy. It can also be their way of communicating interest, arousal, stress, or fear. So what do we do?
It would be unhealthy to try to stop this behaviour entirely. Providing a more suitable outlet such as a naturally shed antler or soft textured toys is a great place to start. Try cooling a soft, rubbery toy in the freezer – this will be especially enjoyable for a teething pup. Try experimenting with anything safe & reasonable to make that toy more attractive than your flesh!
Next is a term we trainers call “impulse control,” far more abstract than simply switching what the target of the chewing is. The great thing about teaching a puppy to control their urges is that it doesn’t just apply to the bite.
We do this with games such as “The waiting game,” where we simply walk around the house with our pup on a leash, saying “wait” and requiring them to wait for our release word “ok” before proceeding through any doorway or threshold. We can also do this through “delayed gratification;” things as simple as expecting doggo to maintain a sit for a second or two longer before getting a treat or waiting for a cue before getting their dinner dish are great places to start.
Don’t use punishment or anything harsh, painful or scary. Coercion creates fear-based issues (sometimes including aggression) later and doesn’t work well in the short term. It’s the obvious answer to humans, but if the apparent answer were right, do you think so many people would still be asking us this question?
There’s no secret here, only a smarter way to do the necessary hard work. A wise trainer once said, “the more ways you can teach a dog to do (or not to do) a behaviour, the more likely he is to actually get it.” Don’t expect to teach your pup to stop doing something perfectly natural. Just manage the behaviour in a healthy, mutually beneficial way and teach them the skills they need to overcome it just as naturally as it started.
Do you have a tip or trick that has worked for you? Let us know below, we’d love to hear about it!