by Hannah Blumenfeld of Pup Star Training
CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, and Dog Adventures Northwest Alum
Fact: Puppies bite. They bite hard, and they bite a lot.
Let's start by reviewing the rampant misinformation out there.
Should you yelp when your puppy bites you? I mean, you can, though it may or may not cause your puppy to stop biting you. It's far more likely to ramp up an already over-aroused puppy.
Should you jam your fingers farther down his throat or pinch his lip? Absolutely not. Never. No way, no how. Puppy biting is normal. Punishing a dog for normal canine behavior is simply inhumane.
Should you hold your puppy's mouth closed? No! There are two likely outcomes. One, your puppy will think it's a game. Two, your puppy will learn that hands moving toward his mouth can cause pain or discomfort. Neither is an appropriate outcome.
To all of the tearful, frustrated puppy parents covered in bruises and teeth marks, here's what you need to know.
Puppies and Sleep
Puppies need around 18–20 hours of sleep a day. That's soooo much sleep. Any less than that and you risk ending up with a small alligator. What to do when your puppy doesn't nap? You give him a puppy break!
Give that Puppy a Break
Whenever you need your puppy to settle (witching hour or "tired toddler" or excessive mouthiness), put him into his crate or pen with a frozen Kong. Fill with anything from peanut butter and banana to pumpkin and wet food. Is this a punishment? Nope, it's "okay kiddo, you're done!" It's also not a reward for mouthing. When he's over-aroused to that degree, his rational brain isn't working. You're giving him something appropriate to do, instead.
In general, when your puppy performs an inappropriate behavior, restrict access and redirect attention.
In the context of mouthing and chewing, restricting access means:
- Remove all objects you do not want in your puppy's mouth from the environment.
- Keep your puppy out of rooms full of objects you do not want in your puppy's mouth.
In order to redirect attention, you must provide toys for your puppy to chew on. Soft toys, hard toys, squeaky toys, quiet toys, all the toys. In general, try to replace like with like. Some examples:
- If he's mouthing your clothes or skin, try a squeaky plushie.
- If he's mouthing the leash, try a tug toy.
- If he's chewing furniture, try a hard Nylabone or Benebone.
- If he can't be redirected, give him a puppy break!
Let's look at some other reasons your puppy might be biting.
His baby teeth will be replaced with adult teeth between 4 and 6 months. Expect lots of mouthiness around this time! He feels uncomfortable and can't express it any other way. When your puppy is teething, offer him hard toys and frozen twisted washcloths.
In addition to teething, your puppy might be experiencing other discomfort. If his collar or harness doesn't fit correctly, he may bite when you put on or take off gear. If he hasn't been properly conditioned to wear them, he may also bite.
You might be encouraging your puppy’s mouthiness. Do not engage in rough physical play and do not play with your puppy's mouth, muzzle, or face.
Puppy biting is normal. Make sure your puppy is getting enough sleep. Provide healthy puppy breaks when needed. Redirect attention with toys. Address causes of discomfort. Finally, make sure not to reinforce or encourage biting.
Now get out there and enjoy less alligator and more puppy.