Updated: Aug 31, 2018
Imagine the scene:
You have been wanting a puppy for a long time and finally found the right one for you! You bring your puppy home and for the first few days all is magical! You are snuggling with your puppy, thinking about all you want to teach her and how great your life will be together!
And then it happens! Your puppy has turned into a shark!
This is a very common behavior that all puppies do. . .. well, almost all. There are the Toys R Us dogs out there, but no one really knows where those puppies are! Puppies come into this world with many instinctive behaviors and no obedience whatsoever. They learn by exploring and trying new things out. What happens when I do this or that? It is up to us to teach them the behaviors we want, reward those behaviors and not allow the behaviors we don’t want.
Biting is a natural thing for puppies to do. Of course, at first, it may cute, but it quickly becomes painful and frustrating if we don’t find ways of letting the puppy know that biting is not okay. This is one of the first things you want to teach your puppy, especially if you have young children in the home or seniors with delicate skin.
Although puppies generally learn quickly, being consistent and continuing with the training is necessary for the puppy to learn and retain the information taught to them.
Bite inhibition is an important concept to teach your puppy. They actually begin learning this when they are playing with the other puppies in the litter as well as from mom. When one puppy bites too hard when playing with a litter-mate, the puppy who got hurt will yelp causing the biting puppy to let go. When a puppy bites too hard during feeding time, mom will get up and walk away. So, puppies begin learning this concept very early on.
But now that your puppy has come home, it is up to you to continue with teaching that biting hurts and is not okay. As with any training, this can take time. Being consistent in what you’re teaching and how often you work on things will determine how fast your puppy learns and how well they retain the information.
Here are five ways you can stop your puppy from biting and keep your puppy from turning into a shark!
1. BE CONSISTENT
Many times, when we bring a puppy home, there is one member of the family that wants to play wrestle with the puppy, play with the puppy’s face or muzzle while the rest of the family is not doing any of those things.
This sends mixed messages to the puppy and she doesn’t understand why it’s okay to be mouthy and biting with one person but not others. Everyone in the family needs to be on the same page as far as what the rules are.
2. TRADE YOU!
When you are interacting with your puppy, expect that he will put his mouth and teeth on you. It’s natural – it’s one way that puppies learn. But, be prepared. Always have a toy or 2 (or 3) with you when you are engaging with your puppy. That way when your puppy puts his teeth on you – and he will – you can trade your hand for the toy.
Now just presenting the toy to the puppy likely won’t do it. That’s a “dead” toy. Making the toy come alive a bit by squeaking it, moving it around on the floor, any kind of movement that causes the puppy to want to redirect his attention (and teeth) onto the toy. Once your puppy is engaging with the toy, continue to play with your puppy. Let them to the tugging or pulling but you can help keep it moving gently from side to side. The idea is to keep the toy “alive”. No one likes to play with dead toys. Hence one of the reasons why puppies like moving ankles, legs and pants – they are alive!
Another version of the Trade You game is making a yelping sound causing the puppy to stop biting and pull her head away from your skin and look at you. At that point, give her an appropriate toy to put her mouth on, again keeping the toy alive.
You don’t want to sound angry nor say it too loud but a high-pitched yelp (think what another puppy might sound like) is usually enough to cause the biting puppy to let go and look at you wondering what happened. Teaching your puppy what is appropriate to chew on and bite and what isn’t, will be very important as your puppy moves further into the teething phases.
4. PATIENCE - IMPULSE CONTROL
Teaching your puppy patience is not only beneficial with regards to mouthing and biting but will carry over to a number of desired behaviors you will be teaching as your puppy grows up.
First, cut up some high value, soft, easy to swallow food/treats, or, play this game during feeding time and use your puppy’s food.
Sit down on the floor with your puppy or on a chair and have the food either in a treat pouch or a container you have quick and easy access to out of reach of your puppy. Put some food in one hand and present the other hand to your puppy. In the beginning, as soon as you present your non-food hand and the puppy doesn’t try to mouth or bite, mark the good behavior with a “YES!” or use a clicker and then reward with the other hand. Don’t put food in the non-food hand to reward as that may cause the puppy to want to mouth it on the next round. Set your puppy up to succeed. Move your food hand away and present your non-food hand to your puppy close to his mouth. The second your puppy makes a good decision not to mouth or bite, mark the good behavior and reward. Repeat this 4-5 times and take a break. Playing this game 3-5 times a day for 30 seconds or so each time will help your puppy learn impulse control and that good choices pay well.
If your puppy does put his mouth on your hand, ignore them, keep your hand very still. Remember the dead toy scenario. Puppies don’t like things that are “dead”. As soon as your puppy lets go, mark and reward him.
As your puppy gets better you can start moving your hand slowly one direction and then another to add to the challenge. However, be sure you have taught a good foundation and the puppy really understands and is consistently making good choices every time you play the game before increasing criteria.
5. A TIRED PUPPY IS A GOOD PUPPY!
Many times, puppies get overly mouthy and bite because they are over stimulated and need to burn some mental and physical energy. Playing fun games of hide and seek (make sure your puppy can see where you disappeared to so as not to create anxiety), shaping a tuck sit or paws up on a low profile bowl, setting up a play date with other puppies, walking through a ladder that’s laying on the ground, working on a fun focus game walking over PVC pipes that are laying on the ground, or climbing on items that are low to the ground. By keeping the brain engaged your puppy will be focused on other things and learning so much – but won’t be mouthing or biting you!
There are some puppies that get over stimulated when they are too tired so be careful not to overdo it. 5-10 minutes of playtime can be very tiring for a young puppy and he will be ready for a nap!
Having a puppy can be a lot of fun but, they are a lot of work. Just like children, they need to be taught what is okay, which behaviors do you want repeated and which do you not.
Have a plan, keep things consistent, remember their brains are falling out and to have patience. They are learning each day and whenever our puppies do something we don’t like, run to the nearest mirror to find out why. Chances are they need more supervision, more repetitions with making good choices and positive reinforcement when they make the good choices. They will still make mistakes, but that’s how they learn.
Enjoy your puppy and remember, they are only puppies once!
In the blink of an eye you will turn around and wonder what happened to your little puppy!