Puppies are learning about the world, how to deal with their feelings and emotions and how to communicate – all of which can result in biting or nipping with their needle-like teeth to express themselves!
Puppy biting is a form of communication.
Understanding why a puppy is biting is essential in order to prevent them from doing it.
If owners respond in the wrong way (like shouting) it can make the puppy even more excited and biting might increase.
Children can easily become a target for puppy biting behaviour – management and supervision are vital to prevent children getting hurt.
It’s no secret that puppy’s teeth are like needles. What can start off as play can escalate quickly into something that genuinely hurts and as they get older becomes a very dangerous behaviour.
Why does my puppy turn into a land shark?
There are lots of different reasons puppies will use their mouths or teeth in a way that owners do not deem appropriate. It is important to recognise that this behaviour is a form of communication and can actually be useful information to us!
Some reasons puppies bite include:
When puppies are tired (if they have been awake for longer than 1.5-2 hours without a nap) they may start to use their mouths more.
When puppies are over-stimulated by noise or visual activity they may resort to grabby behaviour.
Over-arousal or excitement (e.g. during playtime) can lead to biting and grabbing at skin or clothes.
A common reason is when a puppy does not want to be touched – they start to mouth or bite wishing to be left alone.
Being told off or physically controlled will often lead to a puppy grabbing.
Attempting to keep possession of a toy or item can lead to them biting.
Anxiety or fear may cause puppies to start redirecting that feeling onto you by grabbing at you (effectively asking you for help!)
It is fun! Puppies like to grab at moving things. They quickly learn biting gets a reaction which makes them want to do it more.
Pain and illness can cause biting behaviour - always speak to a vet if it is persistent and unpredictable.
Recognising a pattern to the biting behaviour can be very useful – observing what is going on around the puppy, their body language and what happened just before any biting started can help identify the cause. If the behaviour is predictable, it can pre-empted and, if necessary, the changes can be made to prevent it happening.
How can I stop my puppy biting me?
Although puppy nipping maybe normal it’s something that needs to be stopped and dealt with through and understanding of what is prompting the behaviour:
What should you be doing?
Puppies need a lot of sleep – up to 20 hours in a 24 hour period, now we know why they say it’s a dog’s life! Ensure they have somewhere quiet and comfortable to rest.
Provide appropriate toys and items to chew on as this will aid relaxation and give them an outlet for their teeth!
Keep play sessions short and avoid extremely exciting games to prevent puppies from getting carried away with their teeth.
Use a ‘consent test’ to ensure your puppy is happy to be touched – call your puppy to you, offer your hand and gently stroke for just 3 seconds and then stop. If they politely request more, you can continue. If they move away or start mouthing, stop the interaction.
Puppies that are fearful or anxious need to be removed from the situation and advice sought from a qualified professional such as from the Animal Behaviour and Training council
What you should not be doing:
Avoid any rough hands-on play – keep all play toy-orientated.
Humans squealing or shouting when bitten can increase the puppy’s excitement levels (which can make the problem worse) and startle puppies (which can make them worried about you).
Telling puppies off for biting can be detrimental to your relationship and increase your pup’s frustration.
How can I stop my puppy biting at children?
Children often become the target of biting behaviour because they tend to be less predictable and more erratic in their movement and behaviour, and they like to run around! This can cause the puppy to start chasing which in turn leads to excitement and biting.
Being nervous and twitchy can also incite a puppy to start jumping up and grabbing.
Children need to be encouraged to move slowly around the puppy and to stand very still with their arms folded when the puppy first approaches so the greeting takes place in a calm manner.
Understandably, children are keen to stroke and play even when the puppy is tired or not in the mood. Teaching children the ‘consent test’ mentioned above is vital so children learn to recognise when a puppy does not want the fuss.
Encouraging sniffing games by using food or toys is great for kids to play with the puppy because it keeps arousal levels low and the puppy’s attention is focused elsewhere, not on the child themselves. The child can hide the toy or food and then calmly encourage the puppy to search for it.
Good management is essential for any home with children. Baby-gates and pens allow the puppy and children to be separated. This separation helps the puppy to learn to be calm around the children. Active adult supervision should be provided at all times when the children and puppy are playing together.