Puppy Biting

A number of years ago friends of ours rescued a 4 month old puppy from an abusive situation. Although her heritage was unknown,  the puppy appeared to be a pit-bull type mix of some sort. She was a sweet and friendly pup, both with people and other dogs, but like any 4 month old puppy she had her moments of craziness.

When we and our dogs spent a holiday weekend with our friends and their puppy, Pai, after a full day of walks in the snow and play with our dogs, while playing one evening, Pai seemed to turn into all teeth. She was chasing and snapping at the other dogs and bit at her owner’s hand as he gently held her and tried to calm her down. Given her questionable genetic and environmental background, her owners were understandably worried that Pai’s outburst might be a sign of aggressive problems to come.

Over the years, many new puppy owners have contacted us with similar concerns. We still remember  the power of puppy teeth from when our Irish setter Coral was a baby.  Coral’s crazy antics as a puppy earned her the nickname “Bacchanal Lady”, after one of Suzanne’s favorite songs.

Having spent several days with Pai, we were fairly certain that even her whirling dervish episode that one evening was not something out of the ordinary. When puppies become overly stimulated and overly tired but still want to keep going and going they seem to lose what little self-control their young minds and bodies have been able to develop.

As soon as we put Pai in the car, she immediately fell asleep, evidence of how tired she was. New puppy parents need to learn to recognize when their puppies are overwhelmed, and need some private, quiet time to nap and rest. This is especially important when puppies are growing up in families with children.

With regard to puppy nipping and biting in general, we agree with a comment our friend and colleague Dr. Amy Marder made years ago – most of this normal puppy behavior just goes away, regardless of how much or how little puppy parents do to stop it. Puppies are teething, and also using their mouths to explore their world so their “orally focused” behavior is to be expected.

In our experience, the two best techniques for reacting to puppy nipping are:

1. When petting a puppy, make it a point to give the puppy something to chew on other than your hand. As you pet with one hand, offer a chewie in the other.

2. When puppy does bite, make a high pitched “Yipping” sound, just like another puppy would, walk away and ignore your puppy for a few minutes. Return, and try petting or playing with her again. She must learn that not biting causes you to stay and play with her, biting makes you go away.

Avoid physical, confrontational techniques such as scruff shakes, pinning the puppy, slapping its nose, or putting fingers down the puppy’s throat. These reactions are ill-advised and often cause much more serious problems. Puppy nipping has nothing to do with “dominance” which is the justification for most of these harsh techniques.

Because puppies’ teeth are so sharp, it’s understandable why we puppy parents can’t wait for puppies to outgrow this stage, but patience is the order of the day. Getting frustrated and then getting physical will backfire. Our three “do’s” are all most puppy owners need – recognize when puppy is tired and give her a quiet place to rest, give puppy a chewie whenever she’s touched, and walk away if she bites.

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    Animal Behavior Associates, Inc.
    7900 W. Layton Ave. #905 Denver, CO 80123