How to Stop a Puppy from Biting

Welcoming a new puppy into the home is a time of great excitement for the whole family but we seldom pause to think about just how exciting this is for the puppy. The whole process involves leaving behind all he had come to know and entering completely new surroundings. New relationships need to be forged with his new littermates (human and otherwise) and a whole new set of rules and protocols need to be followed, but, before settling down to a life of peaceful coexistence, everyone needs to know their place in this multi-species extended family.

Why Do Puppies Bite?

Many people claim that dog behaviour stems from the fact that dogs evolved from wolves and carry some vestigial traits from an earlier species. Nothing could be further from the truth. The dog, canis familiaris, is quite simply a wolf sub-species and, despite its altered appearance due to selective breeding, it still has the same 78 chromosomes as its relatives and is 100% wolf. Millions of years of evolution have endowed it with certain characteristics for survival and so, although our dogs can certainly learn and adapt to their environment, there remains a part of the dog’s character which is essentially hard-wired.

A dog’s bite is its main weapon and is used in attack, defence and in establishing social standing in the pack hierarchy so it is important for our pet dogs to learn the rules when co-existing with humans. Puppies in a litter learn from a very early age to control their biting. Their mother and littermates soon put a stop to any painful bites and the pups then usually go on to develop a controlled “play-bite”. In some cases, where a puppy may have been denied early socialisation, the controlled soft bite may never have been learned but in most cases puppies tend to nip their new owners simply to determine their place in the pecking order, just as they did with their previous littermates.

How to Stop Puppies Biting

The first thing to appreciate is that puppies have no concept of right or wrong but will always act in what they regard as being the most appropriate manner for any given situation. What we need to do is to show the pup that biting gets a negative reaction and not biting gets a positive reward. Probably the most violent type of biting seen with very young puppies is aggression relating to food and such behaviour probably stems from earlier experiences in the litter. Such aggression requires quick and decisive action and, although not endorsed by all trainers, pinning the dog down on his side using two hands and holding him motionless for a few seconds has an instant calming effect and can be followed by gentle praise and stroking. This procedure rarely needs to be carried out more than two or three times for the puppy to learn. A more common type of dog biting is the mouthing activity where the puppy constantly tries to feel fingers between his teeth. Such mouthing rarely breaks the skin and is a natural follow-on from the soft bite he learned earlier. Although this may seem appealing in a young puppy, it is much less so in a larger dog and so is a habit which must be discouraged. The simplest way to stop this is to deal with it the way his mother or littermates would and so, although biting him back is definitely not recommended, he will fully understand if any mouthing results in a shriek of pain (it is perfectly okay to overreact!) Such an action should also result in your disapproval. Under no circumstances should you smack the dog or even shout at him as such a reaction is often regarded as positive reinforcement but instead simply turning away and ignoring him is much more effective and he will soon realise that dog biting results in displeasure and sulking.

There is another type of dog bite often seen with puppies and this is when the puppy jumps up to greet people and often gets very excited and may nip. Puppies have a fascination with faces and often try to lick them at every possible opportunity and with human faces this often means leaping up at people. This face obsession probably stems from the fact that wolf cubs lick their mothers’ faces as a signal for food to be regurgitated but in pet dogs, many simply seem to love the taste of a face! All jumping up should be discouraged and never rewarded by stroking. The best course of action is to turn away from the dog and completely ignore him until all four paws are on the ground. He can then be stroked and praised for being calm.  The importance of training a puppy out of biting or mouthing at a young age cannot be over-stated because if the behaviour is left unchecked then you could end up with an adult dog that bites and this could result in personal injury, a dog bite claim or even worse.

So in summary,  stopping puppy biting simply requires calmness, consistency and thinking like a dog!

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