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Chewing and investigating the world around comes side by side. So don’t be surprised to see your puppy biting and chewing everything and…everyone around. For the first time, you may think that puppy is curious about everything going around him, but you should know that there be a sheer trouble with his biting that turns from an innocent game into a deliberate harm. Beginning with mouthing and accidental biting, your puppy when being already an adult dog turns into a spoilt dog that can’t be a minute without bite marks left on something or someone. The idea of bite becomes so obsessive that you have to take serious countermeasures while everything could have been eradicated right at the very birth of this bad habit. This big article will concentrate solely on biting habit, its causes, and ways how to stop puppy from biting.
Why Do Puppies Bite
Biting is a normal, natural thing happening to all predators/carnivorous in the wild. Even we – humans, have the same habit when being very little. Luckily for us, we have hands and the most developed brain in the world that helps us to investigate the environment. But speaking of young dogs they have only teeth that serve them as an evaluation tool dividing all objects met into two categories – stuff that can be eaten and stuff that can be chewed only.
There are several reasons why puppies usually bite everything and everyone they see. This behavior starts long before the habit becomes a trouble. Before puppies leave their litter, they begin developing teeth and receiving feedback on their skin bites: their littermates as well as a mother may approve or disapprove the use of teeth, and thus, the puppy makes his picture of what is right and what is wrong regarding teething and biting. The bite is also some communicative skill that shows the canines their place in their hierarchical system: the biggest jaw, the best teeth, the strongest bite are the alphas. Too bad this image goes applicable to the environment where no one and nothing beside the puppy himself has teeth. Yeah, we speak about bitten ankles and hands.
Chasing, racing, tackling are a norm for dogs. Such activities develop skills necessary for puppy’s survival in the canine society. But should some misunderstanding between dogs happen, what do they do? Yes, they show teeth and even bite each other. Growling and teeth flashing happen and end almost immediately – it appears to be just a quick display of power. But how is it applicable to you – the owner who is always bitten? There is no altercation; there is only constant play, right? It means that you can do or want do nothing to show that it is you who has got bigger teeth and the most powerful growl around.
Another reason for biting is…boredom. While everybody is on his own and the puppy is the only one left unoccupied, he thinks that something must be done. It is why he comes by, lays down and bites your trousers/shoes/bare legs just to draw your attention. Should take him on the lap, as your puppy will quit biting immediately. Another possible outcome – he’ll be biting even more with a happy look on his face, and this is precisely when the biting becomes a problem. A small but constant problem that needs to be dealt with. If you solve this situation apart from the biting itself, trying as if to find roots not common for his boredom and biting habit, you are destroying an anchor that starts biting automatically. We’ll approach the problem of improper biting force and bite as it is in a more scientific, behavioristic way later.
When Do Puppies Stop Biting
By default, puppies stop biting when they reach the age of 9 months. By this time, they elaborate proper habits of using their teeth in the human company, but there is a big chance that your puppy remains rowdy and can bite out of fear or frustration. There is no exact way of telling when the puppy is about to stop biting. There is only a way to ensure that he stops doing it as soon as possible, but not without your assistance, of course.
To understand when your puppy will stop biting, you should go in the opposite direction of such term as the “puppy tantrum.” Tantrums happen when a puppy is upset: you handle him too much or uncomfortable; the play is escalating; something is bothering him. This tantrum thing can lead to mouthing becoming an aggression. But what does the tantrum have to do with this passage’s name? Well, the math here works simply: once your puppy grows out his constant tantrum mood he’ll quit biting and mouthing everything he sees. When it is likely to happen – no one can tell for sure.
Statistically, the nipping-biting habit remains active until the age of 9 months, and it’s not an issue that may be fixed in a single session. It is a complicated process that requires two different approaches – the one on biting inhibition and the one on biting habit itself.
It is important to teach your puppy proper mouth behavior. Not everyone and everything can be bitten: someone may react unfriendly, and the puppy will get hurt or something chewed may be poisonous. Consider these both figures of speech as ultimate examples of how the evolution must work. If this defensive mechanism jams the puppy will keep on biting and chewing without even thinking about that something may go wrong.
There is such thing called “bite inhibition.” It is another name for a complicated way of how to teach your puppy that you have very sensitive skin. You should also let him know that some people are likely to react to even the slightest bite.
Bite inhibition tells about dog’s ability to control the force of mouthing.
When this habit is properly trained, the dog at the moment of pure joy and happiness may accidentally slightly pinch his owner, and that’s it. But unless that all fun for a puppy will be concentrated around biting only. The bite inhibition is a learned habit; bot inherited. When playing with his littermates, by trial and error the puppy learns to control his bite. But when he is taken from his litter at an early age and stays with humans, there is nobody to teach him how to bite correctly. In the canine family, the accidental bite can cause harm and subsequent yelling that will tell the offender that he is too harsh. Usually, the offender falls back and waits for the moment to continue the game. It is how puppies learn how to be gentle with each other. But what about humans? Luckily for your ankles, you can also teach your puppy this bite inhibition science.
When playing with your puppy, let him mouth you. At first bite he’ll be gentle – he’ll just land his teeth and see what happens. Continue playing with him until he bites hard. When he bites you especially hard, make a high-pitched “ouch” or yelp as if you are hurt and let the hand go limp. This act will startle the puppy and give you both a hard break from mouthing you for some time. If yelping did not work the problem is a bit bigger for you and you should make a stern voice instead saying “Bad!” If your puppy stops playing and starts licking the hand, praise him for it. The first lesson is through but not learned completely yet. Resume playing and continue his body signals and wait until he does the same again. Such bite-yelp-bite routing should be done every day at least for several times to teach a habit for your puppy.
Another technique is the “time-out”. Time-out is also very effective but approaches the bite inhibition from another point. When the puppy bites you, yelp loudly as if it was not a tiny dog but a big wild predator. He’ll be startled and will release his grip immediately. Remove your hand and ignore him for half a minute. If he doesn’t cease mouthing, retrieve the hand and let him be alone for a minute. After this short time-out, encourage the puppy to play with you again. When he bites you again, do the sequence above. When the puppy’s bites are not as hard as they used to be, you may tighten the rule: now require the puppy to be even gentler and should he bite you even moderately react the same way. Thus, step by step, he’ll learn not to bite at all.
Bite Inhibition Tactics
Now let’s review the tactics. No more beating around the bush – just the working tips!
- Gnawing on ankles must be substituted by gnawing on a toy or a chew bone.
- Being touched without mouthing is the ultimate victory. The shortcut to success is to distract the puppy with a small treat given by another hand. Albeit this technique is helpful, it may not work with your puppy.
- Play without a touch (a fetch or a tug-of-war) instead of rough play with hands can gradually change puppy’s interest from mouthing to something more energetic. Once the puppy learns non-contact games, you may have an ace of spade kept for accidental biting: keep a tug toy near and should he put his teeth on you, reveal the toy and he’ll instantly switch to it.
- When the puppy is biting, never encourage his actions by waving your limbs, as he’ll reckon it an invitation to play. If you don’t have a toy near, stop waving and wait till the puppy stops mouthing. If you happen to have a toy around, wait till puppy stops mouthing and praise his good behavior by giving him his favorite toy.
- The toy must be by your hand every time the puppy aims at playing with you using his teeth. If he chases you, if he ambushes you and target the ankles, show him the toy immediately. It will baffle him and make turn his priority into playing with a toy.
- Another way to encourage proper bite inhibition is to replace the usual toy with another one. Do it once a month and one day he will be carried away with the toy only.
- Keeping your puppy occupied with someone else – better someone be another pet, is also a great way to teaching proper biting habit. Dog buddies motivate playing less roughly as they are at the same level of hierarchy and agility. If he expends his energy when playing with other dogs, he’ll have no motivation to play with you, because games with humans are not so versatile.
- Puppy training classes are very helpful as they establish a set of vital habits and good behavior in general. Find the closest training facility offering classes for beginners and they will help you a lot.
- Try the time-out mentioned above trick. Another version of the trick involves using a leash: keep it attached to your puppy’s collar. Instead of leaving the room when the puppy is mouthing you, lead him by the leash to a quiet area, tether him there for some time apart, turn back on him and let him be alone. Then untie him and resume playing. Such version is better used with puppies who can’t learn the gentleness the easy way.
- A taste deterrent. Another ace of spade that works when any other means is helpless. Spray clothing and areas that are constantly mouthed with a bitter solution let it be an old cologne or an expired toilet water. All fragrances are bitter by the default. If the puppy mouths you, let him do so until he tastes the bitterness. When he lets you go, praise him. Do so during two weeks at the end of which he is likely to quit the habit of biting forever.
The last thing worth mentioning is that there is a slight difference between the biting inhibition and the training for eradicating biting completely. Some dogs when reaching adult age forget the habit while others keep it but in a more tender way – they pinch you instead of biting.
Do not follow the rules blindly – apply own imagination trying to understand your dog. This is why we feel important to tell you about precautions concerning the biting inhibition:
- Do not wave toes or finger in front of puppy – it entices him to play using his teeth.
- Do not quit playing at all. Playing is necessary for building a strong bond this is why you should teach him to play gently than not to play at all.
- Do not pull out hands or legs away from the puppy abruptly. It will encourage him to jump and grab. Let your hands or feet go limp instead – they won’t be much fun to play with.
- If you slap puppy when he is mouthing you, it will cause him to bite hard. Physical punishment is not allowed! First of all, the puppy is tiny and feeble; it is also the way to make him afraid of you and he’ll be avoiding you. Never hurt or scare you puppy.
How to Train a Puppy Not to Bite
Inhibition of biting can be best described as the way of teaching your puppy how to control his biting force, but training a puppy not to bite is a bit another thing. We agree on that many inhibitions and non-biting training techniques are similar, but there is still a difference between them. Let’s discuss the training against biting and after that we’ll try to figure out the difference, deal?
There are several things that you should DO to ensure appropriate mouth manners for your dogs. Now here comes the DO list of things:
- DO wait until the puppy is eight weeks old before taking him away from his littermates. As you know, puppies learn a lot about mouthing and biting gently interacting using their teeth properly when being around their mates and mother. You should also be aware of adopting singletons – those pups born/raised without littermates. They miss a lot during stages of their development and if you don’t inculcate proper habits; it may take serious effort when dealing with an adult dog.
- DO reserve a spot in a puppy class before bringing him home. While many veterinarians recommend starting classes at the age of 6 months, the majority of these vets already suggests beginning at the age of 8-12 weeks. An experienced instructor will notice improper behavior and will cut it right at its beginning. Moreover, the interacting happening between fellow canines can be a turning point. A puppy interacting with people learns differently than when speaking with other dogs the same language.
- DO have a lot of chew toys by hand. Do not allow chewing toys that contain small parts that can be swallowed. A chew toy is a firm, rigid and long-lasting one. Consult with your vet or local pet store staff to find the best. Let it cost you much but you’ll save more eventually, knowing that you bought a decent thing instead of several “temporary” ones.
- DO hand-feed the puppy. It’s the best practice for rewarding your puppy’s good behavior as well as an opportunity for teaching him to mouth gently. Sometimes dogs grab the food viciously with half of your hand while taught dogs open their mouths for the food to land in or take the piece by its very edge as if trying not to hurt you. That’s what proper training is capable of doing!
- DO redirect their attempt at bite into a nap, for instance. Do not associate the crate with punishment. When the puppy is trying to use his teeth on you, put him in the crate and praise. Offer at the same time his favorite toy and let him be. Upon returning, he may already be asleep still squeezing his toy with his teeth.
- DO provide your puppy with adequate physical activity. Do not play with him all the time – you are just indulging his playful nature. Instead, try walking outdoors or let him be on his own in the back yard. However, any physical activity won’t eliminate the nipping/biting completely, but it may help to reduce the frequency of unwanted mouth behavior.
- DO pretend to be a tree! Trees don’t move, nor do scream or push the puppy away. Making a tree means no reaction to whatever the puppy does. When he sees that you do not waive your fingers or shoes, he is likely to quit doing so as he turns out to be the only one interested in gaming right now.
- DO give the puppy a feedback on every bite. Acceptable use of teeth is rewarded, and any unacceptable is redirected (biting makes you go away and let him be alone or be put in the crate with his you alone).
- DO use a tether/a leash when the puppy can’t stop following you. Walk out the tether area, stay in the vision of your puppy for a minute and then return. It must be done completely unemotionally as a response to unacceptable biting force.
The Soft-Mouth Opportunity
World-renowned dog behaviorist Ian Dunbar has a ranking system for the severity of dog bites. Here is the sample 5-category scale for evaluation of the bite severity:
- The puppy licks or sniffs the hand.
- The puppy gently mouths the skin. You feel teeth but without any pressure.
- Moderate force applied. You feel the teeth, but they are not strong enough to puncture the skin.
- The puppy bites hard enough to cause pain. The skin is still intact.
- The puppy bites hard enough to break the skin.
Depending on the severity of the mouthing, you may stick to one of the techniques that ensure polite use of mouth.
The shaping of soft mouth is done with the help of the treat. Put it in your hand and present it to your puppy. Any reaction at level 1-3 is rewarded – the puppy is fed from a flat palm. The level 4 reaction provokes a 5-second removal of the hand and ignoring the puppy. The level 5 reaction results in walking away from the puppy for 10-20 seconds and re-engaging in training. As the puppy learns to control his mouthing better, make levels 1 and 2 rewarding. In the end, your puppy should be just sniffing and licking the hand.
Doctor Ian Dunbar in this strategy uses the biting inhibition technique based on retreat and a penalty (ignoring). This strategy is based on the canine behavior best showed in the canine mother-child subordination (more about Ted.com/talks).
Now let’s be precise and take a look at several helpful hints:
- Movement matters. Any moving object is the subject to mouthing. It is harder for a puppy to ignore something moving that may be chased. When practicing exercises aimed at bite inhibition, try not to make limbs limp completely – add some steady movement. You must feel natural when being around the puppy and not be playing a walking tree out of yourself. Initially, slow movement may be fastened to such an extent that your puppy gets aroused. At this moment stop waving your hand, then fasten slowly again. See that puppy is aiming at biting again? Reduce the level of movement by 50% and perform such waving-arouse-slowing routine until the puppy is settled.
- Some puppies like ankles more than hands. There is no special way of bite inhibition for ankle-loving puppy – do the same drill with a toy that we mentioned before. Also, it is possible to spray something bitter right on the shoes/trousers.
- Impulse control exercise is a bit more sophisticated technique that involves tether. Secure your puppy to the tether, asks him to sit. Now shift your weight from leg to leg and see what the puppy does. If the puppy remains sitting while you move, begin introducing larger movements slowly. Thus, you should increase the criteria for your dog to such an extent that you may freely go, jump and shake your legs with him and he doesn’t get aroused. If the contrary happens, reduce your criteria to the last successful step and increase it gradually.
- Low-value treats are helpful to build the value gradation for your puppy. What it means in practice: once you complete simple training with low-value treats, you may sophisticate the training (i.e. the drills mentioned above) and add treats and toys of higher value subsequently. You may notice that at the time of introduction of a new toy, the puppy gets nippier but it’s just a temporary thing. When introducing a new more exciting treat/toy (the term here is “reinforcer”), you’ll have to reduce your criteria and go back to the beginning step. Such setback is temporarily but aims at making the puppy proceed from bite to polite quicker than he did with the previous reinforcer.
- The new toy/treat introduction may not work forever. It is why you should alter your approach with the open palm technique. Your puppy will not bite the free arm but should you place a piece of food between the indexes and thumb as he’ll bite it for sure. When you train the bite inhibition, you should begin with the open-palm approach and end all mouthing exercises with a treat held between fingers.
- When giving the treat to your puppy, do not draw the hand away promptly as he may consider it an invitation to chase. Move the treat toward dog’s mouth instead.
- All bites and attempts at biting must have feedback, your reaction regarding feelings that you experienced when being bitten or threatened to be bitten. It is natural for the canines in own societies to show teeth and growl so should you do. “No,” said in a firm voice is all it takes. A puppy being a pack animal will be baffled even more if you retreat after it.
- Keeping hands closed and close to the body is another particularity of all bite-prevention/inhibition training.
- Taste deterrents are helpful when some popular techniques don’t work with your puppy or it takes too much time to proceed to the next level. Such solutions like “Bitter Apple”, “Vick’s Vapor Rub” or the tea tree oil and white vinegar sprayed before the play at most vulnerable parts of the body do their job.
- The tug-of-war play with the puppy doesn’t involve using your hands in constant contact with the puppy. All games that you did with bare hands must be ceased when the training is on. Don’t tempt your puppy to return to something that he already knows.
- Play gently at all times. Never play roughly with the biting puppy, as it will only encourage his biting.
- A water spray bottle may be used in severe cases. When biting is exceptionally strong and persistent, say a firm “No!” with a squirt of water right in the puppy’s face. It will interrupt any unwanted behavior. Set the nozzle to spray and keep it in your hand at all times if the biting inhibition is far from success.
- Any good behavior must be praised no matter how big or small efforts the puppy applied to do so. Verbal rewards and treats are the best signs that puppy enjoys and understand when reading them.
- If you have no success with your puppy, it’s never late to sign him for special training classes that he’s going to attend with other dogs. Being around with the own kind is sometimes the best start that a puppy needs.
All these hints, as well as techniques mentioned, prevent serious behavior problems that the adult dog may develop. There is not any other problem more serious than biting, especially if the dog is an adult. Extensive and proper bite inhibition and bite prevention training help the puppy understand that there is another way of showing its sense of danger, pain puppies experiencing right now or his discontent. And don’t forget that you are the parent of no one, and it’s your duty to teach the puppy, your child proper behavior – whether it be biting or treating other humans and animals. Never punish your puppy for any reason and evaluate his behavior to find the best tool that will prevent him from doing something bad but which won’t harm or terrify him so that he won’t trust you ever again. Don’t forget that dogs can feel that they are mistreated so if he is already afraid, pain accidentally caused will elevate his mistrust.
Puppies and dogs depend more on us than we do for them!
We hope this big article on biting countermeasures and training will help you a lot ( see also Puppy training). Feel free to share it with other dog fanciers!