I get asked a lot, how do I train my puppy to stop biting, especially from owners who have brought a new puppy home recently. The meme below sums up many new puppy owners frustration:
There are two aspects to puppy biting and I’m going to look at them separately. One is about teaching your dog to be soft mouthed, so they do not inflict pain on you or other people. The other is about teething and chewing in general, which is often linked to the biting issue.
Why do puppies bite?
Firstly let’s take a look at what is happening with their teeth. They will have a full set of puppy teeth (28) by the time they are 6 – 8 weeks old, but these will slowly be replaced by their adult teeth (48) from around 12 weeks until they are 8 months old. During this time they will experience sore gums (much lake a human baby teething) and chewing relieves some of the pain and encourages the baby teeth to fall out.
Just like humans, puppies first set of teeth are replaced when they wean from milk to solid food, and that is why they are so sharp, though at this stage their jaws are not so strong to inflict as much damage as an adult dog. It is important that we teach them what is and what is not acceptable in terms of how they use their mouths with humans (and other dogs) and what they can and cannot chew.
To be clear, we are not going to try to stop them from biting, but we are going to encourage chewing the things that are good for them and discourage them from chewing our favourite shoes, for example. We are also going to teach them to be soft mouthed, so that they learn what is OK when playing with us, and what is not.
I have written an article about crate training your puppy in general, as well as using a crate for toilet training. This is one of the best ways of making sure that they are not chewing things that they should not be when you cannot give them your full attention, take a look here. By crating your pup when you are busy or absent you can avoid them getting a habit of chewing things that they should not, you can then focus on encouraging the good behaviour when you are with them.
Encouraging chewing the right things
To begin with we are going to introduce three commands.
A note on commands – the word doesn’t matter, it can be carrots, socks or spaceships, so long as you use the same word (and ensure that anyone else who is responsible for the dog also uses the same command) consistently your dog will learn what it means.
Good word – This can be anything, but should be one word that is consistently used to praise your pet. Good, clever, yes, OK are all popular choices. I use ‘clever boy’. Everytime your dog is doing something that you want to encourage use the good word and use it in an upbeat, lively, happy way. Once your dog learns that this word is a good thing you can use it widely – remember, behaviour that is rewarded will be repeated!
Bad word – This is something that you and others in the household are going to use to reprimand your pet when you want to discourage its behaviour. No, bad, oh-oh, are all good choices, again, the word itself doesn’t matter, so long as it is used consistently, I use ‘that’s bad’ in a mildly stern voice and it generally stops my dogs in their tracks.
Generally speaking I work on the basis that I will ignore the behaviour that I don’t want and reward that which I want to be repeated, though occasionally the ‘bad’ word is necessary, eg stopping a puppy chewing a live electrical cable.
Leave Command – I personally use the command ‘leave it’, with an emphasis on the ‘t’ sound at the end. To teach this command simply find a toy that your pup is interested in and play with him. After a minute or so say ‘leave it’ and withdraw the toy from your pup, praise him using the ‘good’ command above. Wait a second and start playing again, repeat a few times before finally removing the toy and ending the game.
Repeat this a few times and a clever pup will soon associate the ‘leave it’ command with letting go of the toy. Once this command is well understood by your dog you can transfer it to telling to leave other items that he is not supposed to be chewing.
What are the right things?
Well, there are a whole range of puppy and adult dog products on the market, soft toys, rope toys, stuffable toys, natural chews like hooves and tracheas, rubber stuffables like Kongs and so on, it really is a matter of trying different things and introducing some variety to keep your pup’s interest.
I wrote a post a couple of days ago comparing some of the strongest dog toys around at the minute, and also one about stuffable toys. Stuffable toys can be particularly helpful for the teething pup, as you can freeze them, which will help soothe sore gums as well as providing mental stimulation.
So, as I said earlier, we are not going to try to stop our pups from biting, as this is an important and essential part of puppy development. However, we do need to teach them at an early age what is acceptable and what is not. I have heard this called soft mouthing and bite inhibition, it doesn’t really matter what you call it, it matters that your dog learns that biting people is not acceptable.
When puppies play with their siblings in the litter they are learning how to use their mouths and they will yelp if the bite is too strong. Similarly, if they bite their mother too hard they will be reprimanded with a sharp yelp if they overstep the mark. We are going to replicate this to teach them what we expect in terms of mouthing.
Puppies will generally want to mouth you, partly because they are teething, but also as part of how they explore the world. Allow them to put your hands in their mouths, but the moment there is any pressure you should emit a sharp yelp and withdraw your hand for an instant. This makes it clear that the pressure was too much and also removes the reward of them being able to interact with your hand.
Repeating this over frequent, but very short, sessions should have the nipping and biting under control in a few days.
Give it a try
I hope that this article is of interest, it really is a combination of providing a good range of things to chew, as well as working with the crate and combining a few basic commands and techniques to make those first few weeks of puppy ownership easier and less stressful for all involved. If you have any questions about the suggestions, or any ideas that have worked for you please use the comments box below and I will get back to you as soon as I possibly can.