We all know a puppy that is so cute that we just HAVE to pet it, only to pull our hand away in pain from a nip straight to the fingers. What’s the deal? How can something so cute bite so hard?
Puppies typically bite because they are teething, and they are using their mouths as a way to explore the world. It is the mother and litter mates job to teach the puppy what is acceptable and how hard to too hard to bite. When we take a puppy away from it’s family structure, we then must take on the responsibility of teaching the puppy all that it will need to know when living in the human world. One of the things that they will have to learn is that biting is not okay. The problem that many people run into is that they will tolerate a puppy biting for reasons such as “it wants to play”, and then all of a sudden that puppy has grown up into an adult dog and it is biting more than ever. The reality is that you allowed your puppy to bite from a young age, so that behaviour is instilled in it for its whole life. That’s why it’s so important for you to teach your puppy not to bite when it is still small, so that you can avoid behaviour problems in the future.
When a puppy is between 6-14 weeks of age it is in developmental stage called the “sensitive period”. At this time, your puppy will form opinions about the world that will influence it for the rest of its life. In this stage, we can begin by training the puppy what we DO want because it has not developed any bad habits yet. With an adult dog that bites we will need to retrain the behaviour that is instilled in the dog’s physiology, which is much harder to do, so it’s best to nip the nipping in the bud while your pup is young.
How to Stop the Bite
First things first, when playing with your puppy, always keep a toy in each hand. That way, if your puppy grabs the toy away, you will have a back up. Do not give your puppy the opportunity to bite you. Of course we are not always able to carry back up toys with us, so here is what you should do if/when your puppy does happen to bite you:
When your puppy bites, immediately say “ouch” in a high pitched voice, turn your body away from your puppy and ignore it. The “ouch” will startle your pup enough to allow you to move away. Your puppy will likely try to get your attention to play again, but it is important for you to ignore it. By ignoring your puppy you are telling it that the game ends when it bites.This is very similar to what litter mates will teach each other before leaving the nest. Most puppies will do whatever is necessary to keep a game going. After trying to get your attention for some time your puppy will likely sit down and wait. This is when you should praise and reward your dog with your attention. It will quickly learn that if it bites you, the game ends, and if it sits nicely, it will receive nice things.
Be aware that when you ignore your puppy its efforts to get your attention may get worse before they get better. This is because biting is a tactic that has resulted in your attention before, and it will become frustrated that it is not working now, so it will work harder for that attention. If it gets worse, you know that your puppy is learning, and you’re on the right track. Have patience.
What if the biting hurts too much to ignore?
Puppy biting can be particularly nasty, because puppies have very sharp teeth which can easily break human skin with the slightest pressure, so sometimes it is not possible to ignore the puppy. In this case, the best thing to do when your puppy bites you is to distract it. Get the puppy to work for you instead of bite. If you have a toy, or a treat, you can ask for a sit and get their focus on something productive instead of biting. Puppies have short attention spans, and they will likely not remember what it was that they were doing before you distracted them.
What if my puppy is biting my pant legs?
If your puppy is biting your pant legs as you walk by the worst thing that you can possibly do is try to shake them off. Almost definitely the puppy is biting your pant leg in order to get your attention, and it’s not picking about if it is positive or negative attention. If you shake your pup to get it off of your pant leg it will think that you’re playing a game, and it will be more likely to continue to bite. If your puppy bites your pant leg, immediately stop moving and do not say a word. Don’t give your puppy any attention what-so-ever. It will quickly become bored with this, and it will likely sit down at your feet. This is when you should give attention, so that it not only learns what you don’t want, but also what you DO want.