Guest blog written by Clare Brewin of CB Dogs Training and Behaviour.
Over the years of being a dog trainer, there is one particular issue that more times than I can count, has seen me comforting crying puppy parents as I reassure them that it really will all be ok in the end and their puppy has not in fact been possessed by a crazed crocodile.
Hello dog dads and mums, I'm Clare and I own CB Dogs. After having worked in Dog Rescue for some years, I decided that I wanted to use all I had learned to help others better understand and bond with their own dogs. I have a degree in Animal Behaviour and am a full member of the APDT (association of Pet Dog Trainers). I have two dogs myself, Alfie, a dopey 11 year old Black Lab and Harley-Quinn, a crazy 6 year old Lab Staffie Mix. Alf and Harles give me constant opportunities to practice my training and regularly adapt it for new situations. They can be hard work at times but so very worth it!
Puppy biting is arguably one of the hardest parts of raising a puppy. Puppies naturally explore and play using their mouths, however the intensity and enthusiasm can often lead to a very strained relationship between a puppy and their new family.
That adorable bundle of fluff they brought home has somehow morphed in to a tiny land shark, ready to launch themselves at their unsuspecting and adoring family at any moment with their mouth full to the brim of sword-sharp shiny white weapons; welcome to the joy that is puppy biting!
Puppy biting is related to teething, excitement and over tiredness - so expect it to go through phases of being better, and phases of being worse. If dealt with calmly and consistently however, puppies do grow out of this frustrating and often painful behaviour eventually and most puppies have begun to wave the white flag on the puppy biting attacks by around 5-6 months.
1.A few things to know about Puppy Biting:
- It really is normal puppy behaviour
- It takes time and immense patience to get through this stage
- It will not completely go away overnight no matter what you do
- It DOES sometimes hurt and break the skin
- It WILL test your sanity - I challenge any new puppy parent to not be in tears at least once over this phase.
- It is however extremely rare that a young puppy is biting you ‘aggressively’
- If your puppy is over tired, biting is generally more intense and relentless
- You don’t want them to learn that biting people gets a reaction from you
- You DO want to heavily reinforce behaviours that don’t involve biting you
2. How to react to the biting when it does occur
- If you squeal, shout or get angry when they bite - this is likely to reinforce to them that biting is a fun game to play that gets your attention.
- Getting cross, tapping their nose or squirting them with water may lead to them becoming fearful of having your hands near their face (or even more frustrating - they often just think it’s another fun game and bite more!)
- When your puppy bites you, remove your attention as calmly as you can. If they are relentless and just keep coming back for more - pop them in a safe area with something to do to help them calm themselves down - more often than not they’re actually over tired and need a rest.
3. How to reduce the frequency and intensity of the biting
Pre-empt and set up a calmer alternative
- If you know the situation/time of day that your puppy becomes a crazed land shark - try to pre-empt it and provide a calm but enjoyable alternative - this could mean at 6pm BEFORE they start their mad hour each day, they get a stuffed kong or a new chew. It could mean when you get home from work, you have a toy at the front door to hand to them during your greeting and gently play with it with them, whilst you greet them.
Make the ‘good’ behaviour more accessible and more rewarding than the ‘bad’
- You will need to set them up to succeed over the coming months - plenty of enjoyable and appropriate things to get their mouths around - easily accessible and heavily reinforced with attention from you or with the process of them really being able to get their teeth in to it (think animal based puppy chews such as tendons, rabbit ears etc).
- If you have a particular item of clothing that sends them into crocodile mode, try to avoid wearing it around them for now if at all possible or give them other fun things to do when it’s out - don’t let them rehearse the dressing gown rope swing!
Sleep and rest is essential!
- Finally remember that puppies need to sleep for around 18 hours a day. If your puppy is not getting this sleep then biting will be much, much worse. Encourage regular rest time throughout the day in a calm area with chews and sniffs to help them settle themselves. An over tired puppy will struggle to settle - don’t over-do stimulating activities such as long walks (especially to busy areas) at this young age, keep walks calm and sniffy and try to stick to one shortish walk per day to avoid overwhelm.
Try not to get angry or frustrated with your puppy for biting, just make it a rewardlessbehaviour and actively encourage good alternativessuch as tuggy games with a puppy toy.
A trained professional can help you determine whether or not your puppy’s mouthing is normal, and she or he can guide you through an effective treatment plan. If you suspect that your puppy’s biting fits the description of aggressive or fearful behaviour, please attend one of CB Dogs Puppy Foundations classes in East Didsbury, South Manchester.
Keep your cool as best you can and maybe stock up on some Kevlar based clothing in the mean time - it will get better! Below, you'll find benefits-driven puppy food, treats and toys for small breeds, large breeds, and for any size breed from Betty & Butch: