One of my most frequent training inquiries is about puppy biting.  Of course puppies come with a whole host of other hassles but people just seem to be extra sensitive to torn jeans, punctured skin, and chewed blinds.  In their defense, those puppy teeth are SHARP!  Here are some reasons by puppy biting and mouthing occurs and what you can do about it.

The Motivations Behind Puppy Biting and Mouthing

  1. It’s normal!  Just like a human baby puts everything in it’s mouth, puppies bite and mouth to explore their environment.  It’s is a normal part of neurotypical development.  While some puppies are mouthier than others it’s very important to acknowledge that this behavior is no less normal than a tail wag.  If suddenly your puppy bites and mouths he may need a nap.  It’s also normal for puppies to be drawn to things that move.  Flowing garments or swishing pants legs may be especially enticing!
  2. The puppy’s mouth is a tool.  When is the last time you saw a puppy use a fork and knife?  Exactly, I’ve never seen this either!  Dogs use the tools that they have at their disposal and their primary tools are teeth and nails.  Think of puppy biting and mouthing as problem solving.  The more practice puppies get the better at using their mouths effectively which can have both good and bad consequences.
  3. Puppies are better trainers than their owners.  Puppies are quick to figure out how to get what they want.  Since a lot of people ignore their puppies when they are being good they quickly learn misbehavior gets them more of your attention.  Those little shark teeth are hard to ignore!
  4. Puppy biting may be in self defense.  In some circumstances your puppy may use his tools as a weapon.  Puppies enter a fear imprinting stage right around the time they are homed, usually between 7-12 weeks.   This means that your new puppy could be especially sensitive to new and unusual things and people.  People who surprise, approach directly, or handle rudely may cause a puppy to feel threatened and afraid.
  5. Practice makes perfect.  Puppies are are routinely stressed might learn that biting works to make the scary thing go away.  Puppies that are played roughly with could be learning that biting people is part of the game.  Your puppy will get better at whatever he is practicing.

What You Can Do about Puppy Biting and Mouthing

  1. Limit flowing garments.  Talk about unreasonable expectations.  If it moves, most puppies WILL pounce.  Either wear close fitting garments around your puppy or use a gate or crate to limit his ability to do damage.  Be sure to provide appropriate toys and chews that your puppy can ‘hunt’ and bite.
  2. Hand feed your puppy.  Puppies require routine and consistent experience interacting with our hands and skin in a safe and polite manner.  If your puppy bites too hard say ‘OUCH’ and take his food away for a few second.  He’ll learn pretty quickly that you are very sensitive and if he wants his food quickly he’ll gave to be very gentle.  Contrary to common belief, it is important for puppies to bite and mouth so he masters his tool well.  By 16 weeks and as your puppies adult teeth erupt begin teaching no contact between teeth and skin as a requirement for all things.
  3. Switch the tables.  Instead of waiting for your puppy to be ‘bad’ be sure to reinforce your puppy for lots of sits, downs, spins, or other fun tricks or obedience. He won’t have so much time to bite if he’s doing other things.  Use a toy your puppy likes to bite as a reward for being obedient.    If your puppy becomes over stimulated while playing with you stop moving, tuck your arms, and wait until your puppy loses interest before resuming the game.  You may even have to leave the room for a second or two.  He’ll learn pretty quickly that if he wants to keep the fun going he’s got to control his mouth, even when he’s excited.
  4. Hit the socialization heavy.  Assume that your puppy is under-socialized and get your 8-16 week old puppy out into safe controlled public spaces from day one.  Allow as many polite strangers as possible to give your puppy a treat.  Let your puppy approach people at his own pace and keep his nose and toes on the ground by feeding the puppy at the strangers feet the whole time he is being petted.  Have the stranger toss the treat if the puppy isn’t confident enough to approach on his own.  Before long your puppy will look forward to greeting because he associates them with good things
  5. Teach impulse control.  Even people lash out when they get over-arroused, over-tired, or frustrated. When your puppy tells you he wants something let him earn what he wants with good behavior.  It’s just like teaching a child to say please.  For example, if your puppy jumps and bites at the leash because he’s excited to go for a walk wait a minute or two for him to settle and only put the leash on him until he sits.  Use every opportunity possible to reinforce calm relaxed behavior.  This really shouldn’t be hard if you’re hand feeding your dog… 😉