The Biting Puppy
Biting is a totally natural behaviour in puppies. Given they do not have opposable thumbs, young dogs spend a lot of time exploring their surroundings through their mouth. There is also the teething period around 4-6 months of age. During this time your puppy will have sensitive gums and show an increase in biting and chewing behaviour.
While it is a natural expression of behaviour, there are some things that will exacerbate biting and encourage the behaviour.
While most puppies are going to nip and bite, some breeds can be predisposed to more severe land shark behaviour. Working breeds like kelpies, border collies, and cattle dogs are some of the worst offenders.
Age of pick up
It is illegal in QLD to home puppies younger than 8 weeks of age. However, this is difficult to police and still happens 𝑎 𝑙𝑜𝑡! Puppies learn bite inhibition through play with their siblings around 6-7 weeks of age. It is not uncommon for those that are removed from their litter mates too early to present with worse biting behaviour than other puppies.
Biting is a biologically fulfilling behaviour for our dogs, and puppies have a real need to express this behaviour. If you fail to provide regular appropriate outlets for this expression, your puppy will find their own ways to meet this need.
How do we address biting?
Acknowledge the factors that are influencing our puppy so we can plan accordingly:
What breed is the puppy and how would you rate it’s predisposition for biting?
If high, you will need to keep track of the outlets you are providing so you can get ahead of bad habits and see what works and what doesn’t for satisfying those needs.
Look at your home environment:
What spaces does the puppy have access to? Do you have a puppy pen or crate?
If they are being a nuisance, following you around the home nipping at clothes, hands and feet, a pen or a crate are going to be instrumental in blocking the puppy’s access to you until they calm down. If they are able to continually rehearse the behaviour it won’t stop. The more of a reaction you give them the worse it can become.
Introduce your puppy to constructive play:
Playing tug is a fantastic outlet for biting puppies, but be mindful of their increased sensitivity during teething. For the real savages, look into longer toys with a handle and clearly defined tug. When you play with the puppy, anytime they move up off the toy and towards your hands, end the game. This means taking the toy away and removing yourself from the equation. The only way the fun continues is if the puppy sticks to the appropriate bite zone.
Include regular enrichment:
Give your puppy plenty of opportunities to express the need to bite and chew appropriately. Not all toys and chews are created equal. Depending on what level of biter you have on your hands you will need to experiment and see what provides the most satisfaction.
- SOFT TOYS – If you don’t mind the clean up, big biters can really enjoy shredding a soft toy down to fluff.
- CARDBOARD BOXES – Same as with soft toys, they can make a mess but are lots of fun.
- PLASTIC BOTTLES – Empty bottles are loud and tough, most puppies love them. Be mindful to remove the cap and any plastic labels first to avoid the choking hazard.
- ICE BLOCKS – Frozen ice blocks are great on hot days and keep the dog busy for a long time as it grinds down to the treats.
- COW HOOVES AND DRY CHEWS – Different types of dehydrated chews will last for varying lengths of time depending on the dog.
- KONGS – There is a huge variety in kong toys and many of them can be stuffed and frozen to add to the difficulty and give power chewers more of a mission.
Set clear boundaries and uphold them:
You cannot expect your puppy to understand if they are allowed to mouth at hands and feet when you find it funny, but then get told off for it when you’re not in the mood. If biting is a problem, do not leave any areas of grey for your puppy to interpret as ok.
Play counter conditioning games with the collar and paws:
The collar grab game can be a good way to change your puppy’s feelings about having hands on them. This is especially useful for those puppies that were removed from their litter mates too soon.
Start with simple quick touches and mark and reward the puppy for each time your hand is on them. As they become more accepting and less nippy you can increase how long your hands are on them or what parts of their body you are touching.
Identify time of increased biting:
Whether it be when your puppy just wakes up from a nap, hits the five o’clock witching hour, or is going through it’s teething period, we need to identify these moments and act accordingly.
Ultimately, a bitey puppy is normal, however it is up to us as pet parents to be clear on what is and what is not acceptable.