Natural Puppy Behavior
If you have recently adopted a new puppy into your home, you are sure to notice that they are full of energy and very playful. It is natural for your puppy to spend most of his waking hours investigating his new surroundings with not only his eyes and nose but also his mouth.
You have most likely noticed, while handling and playing with your new little friend, that he is apt to mouth your hands and from time to time even nip or try to chew on your fingers along with any other objects that he can reach. Since a puppy does not have hands to manipulate what they find in their surroundings they use their mouths instead.
This is very normal behavior and is not initially indicative of a difficult or aggressive animal. This kind of behavior tends to lessen some as they mature and grow but it is important to teach them from an early age that it is appropriate to treat people gently.
Many dog behaviorists believe that if a puppy is taught to recognize human skin as sensitive and to be treated gently, then he will not bite so hard as to break skin even when put in a situation where he is reacting from fear or pain.
Teaching your puppy from an early age that rough or aggressive biting is not acceptable can provide a foundation for a wonderful and enjoyable relationship for years to come.
Difference Between Biting/Nipping And Aggression In Your Puppy
When approaching the idea of teaching your puppy which behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable, it is important to remember that ‘mouthing’ (the simple act of putting their mouth onto your skin without bearing down) is natural to a puppy and, at their young, energetic age, is how they play and explore.
If you observe a group of puppies in play you will notice that they mouth each other constantly. You will also likely notice that it is during this time that they begin to learn what is acceptable and what is not.
If one puppy bites down too hard on a sibling, the offended pup will let out a yelp and often stop playing. They may even avoid the offender temporarily.
They also may respond by biting back forcibly enough to let the instigator know they didn’t like what just happened. In this way the pup that did the harm learns that their behavior results in a negative reaction and he will eventually learn to modify their play to avoid offense and the temporary loss of their playmate.
This behavior is quite different from nipping or biting which is more aggressive and can be painful. Signs of worrisome behavior include stiff posture, low continued growling along with fixed eye contact that appears as if your puppy is ‘glaring’ at you angrily.
Depending on your dog breed (and even your individual puppy) you may encounter some or none of these signs. This is one reason why it is important to research dog breeds and their accompanying tendencies and temperaments when deciding on what kind of puppy you will bring into your home.
Methods For Teaching Your Puppy Not To Bite
The act of controlling their mouth and teeth is called mouth inhibition or bite inhibition.
The most ideal situation is for a puppy to stay with it’s mom and litter for the first 10 weeks of its life, during which it will begin to learn from it’s siblings about bite inhibition. Once this time is over and the puppy is taken to its new home, training can be established for continued learning.
For owners who don’t have the time or desire to teach bite inhibition, there are very effective classes that your puppy can attend. However, for the more hands-on owner, there are methods that can be followed to teach a puppy that human skin is sensitive and that even play can be done gently so as to not harm their owners and new playmates.
Above all, consistency is key.
One method for teaching bite inhibition is modeled after the litter scenario described above. While playing with your new puppy, allow them to mouth your hands as long as they don’t inflict pain.
The moment that they bear down too forcibly with their teeth and cause discomfort or pain, let out a loud yelp and instantly pull your hand back letting it go limp. Refrain from play for a few moments to allow what just happened to register in your puppy as negative feedback and then continue play, with added praise, when they stop biting and/ or begin licking your hand.
Your loud reaction should momentarily startle your puppy causing him to stop momentarily and begin learning to control the force with which he mouths. If you prefer, choose a phrase such as “Don’t bite!” and use it consistently and sternly when the need arises for correction.
Once you have reprimanded, continue playing and repeat those steps a maximum of 3 times in any given 15 minute time frame before taking a break and resuming later.
An added method, if you feel that the verbal reprimand is not sufficient or is altogether not working, is to introduce a time-out consequence.
If your puppy bites, reprimand with your chosen yelp or phrase and then stop playing for a 10-20 second period. If your puppy continues to mouth or bite, reprimand again and then get up and move away from him for another 10-20 seconds.
Once the short ‘time out’ is over, move back towards your puppy and initiate play again. This sequence can be repeated any time your puppy decides to bite or mouth too hard. In this way you can help your puppy to learn that gentle play can continue but aggressive or rough play is to be stopped.
As your puppy grows and learns to be more gentle, make your rules a little stricter to achieve even more gentle interaction.
Begin responding to their moderately hard bites once the hardest bites have disappeared and when the moderately hard bites disappear respond to their next hardest bites and so on until they have learned to become as gentle as you desire, even getting rid of mouthing altogether if you so wish.
A substitution method can also be effective in teaching your puppy not to bite. Anytime your puppy decides to bite, withdraw your hand and offer them a toy instead. This way they can learn to distinguish between objects that can be chewed and objects that cannot.
Hand feeding your puppy is another good way to reinforce training. While they eat out of your hand, if they bite you, simply close your hand and/ or withdraw from their reach while giving them your chosen reprimand in a firm tone. After a few seconds, reopen your hand, allow them to continue eating and offer praise for restraint from biting.
Consistency is also key when training your puppy not to chew on furniture. The first step, when approaching this sort of training, is to make sure that your puppy is not suffering from a physical ailment that would cause him to chew excessively.
Examples include gastrointestinal issue which could cause nausea and result in chewing as a coping mechanism as well as nutritional deficiencies and/ or intestinal parasites that can lead to pica and be misinterpreted as inappropriate biting and chewing.
Once you have ascertained and hopefully ruled out medical issues, the next step is to puppy proof your home. Remove dangerous object such as chemicals and cleaners from your puppy’s reach and make sure that objects such as electrical cords are covered and inaccessible to eliminate risk of electrocution.
In addition to these precautions, make sure that things like childrens toys and other appealing objects like shoes and socks are put away.
Once your puppy’s living space is cleared of all off limits items, encourage your puppy to develop appropriate chewing by providing them with chewing toys and chewable treats such as rawhides or beef bones.
When choosing these items be sure to take into account the proper sizes on bones, hides or balls to ensure that they are not easily whittled down to choking size. Other great ideas for chewies include such selections as dental chewsticks or greenies that combat dental decay while encouraging acceptable chewing habits.
Then come the more hands-on steps. Discourage your puppy from inappropriate chewing by taking away forbidden objects and reprimanding him.
Follow up your scolding with directing your puppy’s attention to his chewing toys and praising him for latching on to the appropriate objects. Along with this consistent correction, also be sure to provide your puppy with plenty of playtime and outlets for his energy.
This will not only help to prevent boredom chewing but also will help to develop a deeper bond between you and your new buddy.
A little bit of searching and studying can yield a lot of good information and other methods for training your new puppy. One such resource we have found helpful is Doggy Dan, which provides very helpful material on teaching your new puppy about not biting and also provides more information on additional behavioral training. CLICK HERE FOR THE $1 TRIAL