Why is my puppy biting me? Many of us understand that mouthing and chewing are part of the package when you bring home a puppy. But what do you do about it? And how do you know if the biting is aggression? To understand each puppy, we must look at naturally occurring puppy behavior:
- Mouthing vs. Biting
- Bite Inhibition
- Play behavior
Puppy Mouthing vs. Biting:
Whether a puppy is “mouthing” you or “biting” you is largely determined by control and intent. A pup with excellent bite inhibition, gently placing his mouth on you can be said to be mouthing. A vigorous pup who grabs you painfully is typically considered to be biting. A dog bred specifically to use his mouth for a task, such as herding cattle, tends to be much harder with the mouth and it is important for us to fulfill a role as teacher for our growing pets. Biting can also be a mechanism of creating distance from a source of fear. If your pup is consistently hurting others or showing fear behavior (cowering, backing away, lifting lips, eyes wide with whites showing), it is important to address this as soon as possible with a qualified professional.
Puppy teeth come in at about 4 weeks of age and will not be replaced until about 4 months for the front incisors, 6 months for the canines. These needle sharp teeth can easily result in a multitude of pokes and scratches without any ill will from the pup. They will have a strong drive to chew as well as soothe potentially aching gums. This is a developmental stage that requires some patience from the humans in the home. Puppies should have a wide variety of appropriate items to occupy their natural behaviors while off limits items must be kept out of harm’s way.
- Wet wash rags or special puppy teething toys can be frozen to providing numbing relief for teethers.
- Pay attention to textures that your pup finds appealing and provide appropriate toys of similar material.
- Use baby gates to prevent access to anything hazardous.
- Supervise your pup or keep her in a pen to prevent trouble!
Bite inhibition is the ability of the dog to moderate the strength of their bite. This behavior is often taught by the mother and siblings, who can react appropriately with this as it occurs. The mother may gently correct her pup, while siblings will squeal and make it clear when the game stops being fun. Some dogs may not have learned these skills as very young pups or may be genetically predisposed to be nippier (Cattle Dogs). What do you do with a new puppy who is less than gentle?
- Consistency is key! React the same way every time the behavior occurs.
- The game ends when it stops being fun for you. Decide what your limits are. You can say “ouch” and walk away if the puppy is too rough.
- Keep play sessions short. Like human children, puppies can become over stimulated and lose their self-control. Avoid exciting your puppy to this level.
- Set up a routine that helps the new dog learn what to expect.
Lacking hands, our puppies explore and play with what they do have: mouths. Their sensitive noses and mouths are the optimal way for them to learn about their environment. This can include mouthing, biting, licking, and snuffling. Is this edible? Is this fun to play with? It’s easy to understand why this sometimes gets pups in trouble with their human counterparts when their normal behavior can be at odds with our own. It’s important to provide appropriate outlets for their behavior so that everyone involved is safe and content.
- Learn to bring a toy to you rather than playing tug with your laces.
- Rotate the toys your dog has access to so an older toy can reappear and feel interesting all over again.
- Provide routine interactive play with your pup to meet his social needs and build a bond.
- Provide opportunities for pups to learn to entertain themselves. Food based toys such as the Kong Wobbler can be a great outlet.
- If a puppy is biting an inappropriate target such as shoes, present a toy and offer to play with the pup. Make the toy more exciting than the forbidden object, and your pup can learn to bring a toy to you rather than playing tug with your laces.
For more helpful tips on puppy biting, Karen Pryor Academy is always a great resource!