The first months you spend with your puppy set the tone for the next 10 to 15 years (or more, if you’re really, really lucky), so teaching good behavior now is key to having the dog of your dreams for life. By far, the most common concern new puppy parents raise at their puppy wellness visits is the issue of biting – here’s why puppies bite and how you can stop your puppy from biting.
Why do puppies bite?
Puppy biting is a completely normal behavior. However, it doesn’t mean that the behavior is desirable. After all, those tiny puppy teeth hurt! Puppies bite as part of their play behavior and as a way to communicate. Much like human infants use their mouths to explore their worlds, pups bite and mouth things to see the bigger picture, too.
Puppy biting is (in general) innocent. They are not trying to hurt you, and they are not acting out of aggression. But if the behavior is allowed to continue, you may find yourself with a big dog who bites, and even if it’s a playful bite, it can do serious damage to you, your family or any other person your dog encounters. Puppy biting must be addressed at a young age.
How to stop a puppy from biting you
It’s possible for your puppy to play with you and others without biting, but it’s very common for play biting to emerge when play gets a little too rowdy and your pup gets overly excited. Because puppy biting is a form of communication, it makes perfect sense to try to communicate back to the pup that biting is not acceptable. Unfortunately, puppies don’t understand English, so we big-brained animals must find a work-around.
One of my very favorite tricks is to do what his litter mate would do: I do a little high pitched “yelp” and then I turn away from the pup. This tells the pup in his own language, “What you did just now hurt, and I don’t want to play in that way.” You may find that you need to take a break from the play session for 10 or 15 minutes.
I know this sounds crazy, but it works. Time after time, owners look at me like I have lobsters growing out of my head when I suggest they yelp at their puppy, but they always come back to tell me that it worked like a charm. This trick is especially helpful for children who are being nipped by puppies during play.
Also be sure to give your puppy plenty of appropriate things to mouth and chew. Make sure they are durable and appropriately sized, so there’s no chance of accidental ingestion or choking.
Using physical correction to stop play biting is a really bad idea. Physical correction (tapping the muzzle, holding the muzzle, etc.) can elicit a fear response, which can turn into aggression. Focus on encouraging and rewarding good behaviors and do not physically punish the undesired behaviors.
Because play biting often occurs when a puppy is wound up, it’s important to teach basic social skills at an early age, too. Teaching your puppy to sit calmly (even when he is excited) will inhibit his urge to bite, and will serve you throughout his life. Look into puppy socialization classes in your area, as well as basic obedience training to ensure a good start for your pup. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations for trainers in your area who use positive reinforcement techniques.
You know that saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? It applies to so many things in life, and puppies are no exception. Raising a puppy is hard work, but well worth the rewards you get from a lifetime of good behavior and love.