Puppy biting is the source of frustration for many new puppy owners. So why is your puppy biting, and how do you help them to stop? To change a behaviour, we must first understand the motivation or the cause.
So we put our detective hats on, and we look at three things; what happens before the behaviour, the behaviour itself, and the consequence of the behaviour.
8 common reasons why puppy is biting
Is your puppy overtired?
Is your puppy getting enough sleep? Many people are surprised to learn that puppies actually need between 18-20 hours of sleep a day when they're small. Much like humans, once they're overtired, it can be a vicious cycle as it's much harder to wind down into a deep and restful sleep.
A tired puppy is a bitey puppy. So, helping your puppy to get enough sleep is a significant factor to reduce puppy biting.
Some breeds find it really difficult. For example, spaniels, malinois, and collies are very energetic working dogs, and they can find it hard to switch off. Genetically they are bred to work, so they have an innate need or desire for stimulation.
Most pet owners don't want a high energy dog. So how do you elicit sleep? You can set routines and create sleep associations to help encourage a smooth and predictable transition to sleep.
What is a sleep association?
Introducing music or scent when your puppy is naturally sleepy or asleep helps to make an association between the two. Choose music that you can happily tolerate, which is calm; that could be classical music, ocean waves, or a meditation soundtrack.
You can use a calming spray like pet remedy or a natural lavender room spray.
It's important to introduce these sounds and smells when your puppy is in a calm and relaxed state, and then the association will be a nice sleepy one!
Also, consider the room temperature. Your puppy is more likely to feel sleepy in a warm environment.
A crate or puppy pen can be handy as a space your pup associates with sleep, but for it to work well, your puppy needs to have a positive association with being in there. That means not leaving your puppy to cry to sleep or forcing them in if they're not comfortable.
When a puppy cries themselves to sleep, they are not relaxed, it's a stressful sleep. Taking the time to crate train your puppy will help them to relax and feel calm when they drift off to sleep in there.
Licking and chewing are calming activities for dogs; they release endorphins, which will help your puppy relax. Lickimats, Kongs, and tasty natural chews are all incredibly helpful tools to aid with puppy's crate training, calming, and teething pain.
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Is your puppy teething?
Teething causes discomfort and your puppy will be looking for some relief. Give your puppy something cool or cold to chew on to help them cope with their sore teeth and gums.
Cold carrots are an excellent and cheap way to offer relief. Have some washed carrots in the freezer for a quick go-to for puppy teething. Stuffed Kongs are another brilliant way to provide comfort. You can fill them with your puppy's food or healthy treats like fruits and natural yoghurt or xylitol free peanut butter and banana. Kongs last even longer when frozen and offer that cold soothing feeling against your puppy's teeth and gums.
Puppies start teething at around 16 weeks, and they should usually have all their adult teeth in by about 7 or 8 months of age.
Is your puppy overexcited?
Is your puppy too excited or overstimulated? If you have kids, this can be a particularly common cause for biting due to excitement levels. Puppies bite in play, and it hurts!
If you live in a busy household, then separating your puppy regularly with a physical barrier such as a gate, pen, or crate is the best way to manage this. Your puppy must be comfortable and relaxed in this space, so you need to take some time to help your puppy settle in their area.
Accepting physical barriers has to be trained carefully, gradually, and considerately. It is such a worthwhile investment of time. Use those Kongs and chews to slowly build up to shutting the door when your puppy is comfortable. If you need to separate your puppy, give them something nice to make it a positive experience. And don't forget, chewing and licking will help your puppy to calm down.
Is your puppy frustrated?
Puppies can get frustrated, and until they learn impulse control, this can result in biting.
When training your puppy, keep your training sessions short to avoid frustration. Training for 30 seconds to a minute per training session is plenty for a puppy. A few short training sessions each day is much better than one long training stint, and you will find your puppy finds learning easier and more enjoyable this way.
If your puppy is snapping at your hand while you're training or suddenly can no longer perform the cue that they seemed to have nailed, this is a sign that the training session is too long.
Consider your puppy's breed. If you have a dog triggered by movements like a collie or sighthound, stand still and calm. If the puppy is coming towards you, and you want to walk away, roll the treat away from you. The movement of the treat will encourage them to go after that, rather than your trouser leg!
Incorporate teaching some impulse control into your training. This will help your puppy to develop the ability to resist the urge to leap, bite, or snatch as his first resort!
It's beneficial for your puppy if you teach her a cue to signal when a game or training session is finished; otherwise, she may find it difficult to find her off switch! A signal of empty hands and a verbal 'all done' will let your puppy know when the game is over, and it's time to settle. If your puppy struggles with this, then a chew or Lickimat can be given to help her wind down.
Does your puppy need the toilet?
If your puppy suddenly gets a case of the zoomies and becomes nippy, then this can be a sign that they need a toilet break. Especially when puppies are very young, it's important to take them out for very frequent toilet breaks. Typically I'd recommend taking your puppy outside as soon as they wake, after meals or snacks, and after playtime. Yep, that's a lot of toilet breaks, I know, but until your puppy can control his bladder and bowels, it's the way it is.
Is your puppy stressed?
If a puppy is stressed or scared, then they may bite in an attempt to ward off the thing that is worrying them. Fear in dogs is often misinterpreted as aggression, when in fact, you have a dog that is frightened and needs some help.
Forget trying to dominate your puppy or scold them into behaving the way you want. A nervous or fearful puppy will struggle, which can lead to problem behaviours. Instead, try to exercise patience and remain calm with your puppy. If you're frustrated and you need some time out to calm down, then there is nothing wrong with popping your puppy into their crate or pen with a nice treat while you take some time to regroup.
Does your puppy want to play?
It's probably quite unrealistic to expect your puppy not to bite at all; they are puppies, after all! Your puppy needs to have some fun, and they will want to engage in play with you. Use a nice long tug toy to get some distance between your puppy's mouth and your hands, and enjoy some playtime with your pup.
Try not to get your puppy too overexcited. You can use play to help your puppy practise his impulse control. Sporadically slow down your game of tug and let your puppy calm a little before re-engaging in the game. This will help to teach your puppy that when he gets too overexcited, the fun stops until he takes it down a notch or two.
Will yelping teach my puppy to stop biting?
It's pretty common advice to yelp if your puppy bites you, but this is really unhelpful. Yelping will do one of two things; it will either excite your puppy further or make your puppy slightly wary of you.
Instead, if your puppy nips you a little too hard, move your hand away slowly and calmly. Sudden movements or high pitched noises will make it more difficult for your puppy to disengage.
It won't last forever, and it's perfectly normal for puppies to bite. They explore the world with their mouths, and it's part of their natural development. Hopefully, now you're armed with the reasons why your puppy may be biting, you will be able to help your puppy reduce the urge or redirect onto a more appropriate item to relieve their biting desires!
Good luck, and if you need any further help with puppy biting or anything else, please don't hesitate to get in touch.
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