Part II: Solutions for Puppy Biting
If you’re looking for ways to make your puppy STOP biting and mouthing, then take a look at Part I of Our Puppy Bites.
Once you’ve addressed excessive puppy biting by asking the 7 questions mentioned in the blog above, it is very likely you are dealing with a normal range of puppy mouthing. There are several gentle and effective strategies for guiding and teaching your puppy acceptable ways to use their mouth. Here are a few suggestions for helping puppies learn that teeth aren’t for touching people.
Puppies begin learning how to control their bite strength (the pressure of their mouth when biting) as soon as they begin to develop teeth and interact with their mother and littermates. When possible, allow puppies to stay with their litter until at least 8 weeks old. Once home, set up play dates with healthy, appropriately matched puppies and well socialized, tolerant, adult mentor dogs. Puppies that are similar in age, size and play style often make the safest play partners while mentor dogs gently teach suitable social behaviors. Enroll in a reputable puppy socialization class like Smartypaws Smart Start where puppy play is directed and monitored by a professional positive reinforcement dog trainer. Not only does this provide opportunity for dogs to learn their bite strength, but also gives puppy a proper outlet for bitey play. Well run classes should incorporate purposeful and positive socialization for all participants. Read more about puppy socialization here.
Since we know that puppies need to bite and chew, we should do our best to be equipped with things that are appropriate for them to chomp on. Have squeaky toys, rubber chews, bully sticks, and favorite toys readily available. When you see puppy coming to rumble, prevent him from biting on you by providing a toy or bone instead. Even if you’re just planning to give pets, your pup may try to return the affection, or even resist it, with nibbles; present the toy and let the teeth chew on the item presented. If puppy isn’t interested in a toy, then try more enticing items like Himalayan Yak Chews, Smartbones™ or lamb and buffalo horns. Our puppy seemed to be mouthier with kids than adults (no surprise there!). So, we never purposefully allowed interaction with children when they weren’t armed with a dog toy first. We also ALWAYS had doggo on a leash attached to us when kids wanted to be with him. In order that we could guide their interactions, and children could offer the toy if puppy wanted to play or explore with his mouth. If piranha puppy arose rejecting the toys, then the kids could easily escape and move away from puppy’s reach.
Family Paws Parent Education defines a success station as “any designated spot that a dog is limited to so that they have no option but to succeed”. Gates, crates, x-pens, and tethers are a few common ways to create success stations. These special spots should not isolate your puppy but provide a safe place off to the side of the action. Having safe, enjoyable areas where puppies and adult dogs can be separated from the hustle is a sanity saver for people and pups. You can move mouthy, biting puppies to a puppy proof success station stocked with appropriate chew items.
Some dogs are just mouthier than others and need more specific direction on how to play with people. Herding breeds, for instance, can be especially challenging for families because of their natural instinct to guide the movement of larger animals with barking, circling, bumping and nipping. Train your dog to bring a toy to you for petting or play, this ensures their mouth is occupied and busy. It took about 6 months for our retriever puppy to be reliable with his cue to “get a toy” or approach with something already in his mouth. You can also teach an alternate, more acceptable way to engage with their mouth such as licking or kissing. This is a handy trick when you don’t mind soft mouthing but want to prevent it from escalating. Of course, these “tricks” must be trained before you can expect your dog to exercise them reliably.
Finally, teaching your puppy that teeth do not belong on humans should be done positively without force or intimidation. Scaring or hurting them can cause normal puppy nipping to turn into a fear of people or aggression. Never hit or flick your dog, hold their mouth closed, shove them away, or curl their lip into their teeth. Also, there is no need to intentionally yelp or scream. Many dogs become excited by these noises and respond with even more persistent biting! Don’t worry if you reflexively cry an, “Ouch!” because it hurt so darn much, it happens when something painful occurs. Yet, purposefully startling or scaring your pooch isn’t necessary. The goal is for puppy to realize that when their teeth touches a human, all interaction with them stops.
First, always try to redirect your puppy to a toy or chew item. If he cannot be redirected and nips at you more, then immediately withdraw your attention. Every time your puppy’s teeth touch you or something attached to you (hair, clothes, laces, etc.), remove yourself from puppy or vice versa. We accomplished this by either putting puppy in a nearby xpen, puppy proofed kitchen, or just stepping over a baby gate into another room. Wait for a minute or two then rejoin your puppy. If play resumes and puppy again refuses a toy in pursuit of your body, then repeat removal.