Careless teeth – puppy biting


My puppy kindergarten class members want to know what to do about biting.

Such sweet young faces filled with sharp using teeth.

Cookie Monster aiming for a hand touch, after which she gets a reward.
Cookie Monster aiming for a hand touch, after which she gets a reward.

He bites, she bites, puppies all bite. Some bite harder, some not as much and some seem to go into an upset growling biting frenzy (mostly when they are over-tired or over-excited or scared/anxious if someone has punished them for biting).

Blood letting often happens because those puppy teeth are really sharp and they are careless where they put their teeth. And they put everything in their mouth. It’s normal and usually fades nicely if handled reasonably well.

So first off let’s get the No’s!, the slaps, pinches, tongue pressing, face grabbing, and whatever else that’s nasty off the agenda. These mostly make things worse in one way or another. The shy/escaping puppies quit biting you but haven’t learned bite control – and may bite hard out of fear, and the assertive puppies just get faster, may move on to bite much harder and also don’t trust your hands.

It is usually OK to yelp, yip, or squeak if your pup bites you – most pups will stop, some seem to think it is interesting or funny and will retry to see if you do it again.  Repeat the yip, if they stop – good, but then if the pup seems energized you know this strategy isn’t a good main one for your puppy.

To pet come from the side instead of above or from the front. Reach below their chin or below their ear on neck or chest.
To pet come from the side instead of above or from the front. Reach below their chin or below their ear on neck or chest.

Think of your ultimate goals. You want a pup who understands how to use his/her mouth around you and others. You want a pup who trusts you to handle his muzzle, mouth, teeth, and face. You want a pup who takes food gently when offered, who carries and gets things for you, who will play games and be aware of what to bite/grab and what not to. You want a pup who interacts with other puppies and dogs well. And if your pup got hurt, you want him to let you help him without biting you. Whatever you do now for this temporary problem shouldn’t interfere or prevent your ultimate goals.

But he’s biting. For the record if your puppy has a piece of your body in his mouth and is not letting go, stop moving whatever he has hold of (this is usually enough to get him to let go), but if he’s in tug mode take a hold of his collar so he can’t tug backwards – so you are holding him in place (this usually is enough to get them to let you go), and if all else has failed or it hurts too much, you may pry his mouth open. Then turn him away from you so he doesn’t re-latch on… and then think about what part of your training needs building up.

Is someone rewarding biting clothing/hands in play? Is someone dodging and weaving with their hands and encouraging ‘shark mouth?’ Is there someone in the family who needs coaching because they are afraid? People who are afraid of animals usually react in all the ways that get them into more trouble. Is someone doing those punishing things I said above – to ‘get off the agenda,’ if so they are likely making the puppy more upset, and faster to get to growl-ly frantic biting (which makes them think they have an aggressive dog in the making), and that they need to be more ‘dominant’ – aka mean. Bummer.

So what to do, my puppy is biting everyone – help!

Puppy play dates with nice playing pups can help. Puppies won't play with pups who bite too hard.
Puppy play dates with nice playing pups can help. Puppies won’t play with pups who bite too hard.

* Be Ready. Have toys, chews, food, to put in his mouth instead of you. Only play with those, and stop playing, get up, leave if he is focused on biting you or your clothes and won’t change over to the toy or chews or food.

* Practice nice mouth. Hand feed and have your puppy do things for the food. This will give him better things to do with you than try to bite you.

*Prevention. Turn his face away from you as you pet him. Make the petting shorter if he can’t tolerate more than one or two seconds without trying to bite you, and quit before he starts biting. Conversely if he starts biting and you have him up in your arms, block him from getting you (by keeping him turned away) and wait for him to settle before you put him down … you don’t want him to learn that biting at you gets you to release him. You want him to learn that kissing you gets him down.

*Practice games. Play tug games, focus him on the moving toy, rope, stick … pups like movement and will grab movement. Stop the game if he bites you, you need to become still. When he settles try again, if he goes for you again, end the game, get up, stand still.

*Over tired means cranky. Many pups don’t get enough sleep and so are over-tired. Give them regular quiet times in their own space. They need to sleep, and if noise or kids or you are often bothering/waking them they will be more likely to get easily over-wrought.

*Bad puppy set-ups. For kids or people who keep pulling their hands up and away because the ‘puppy bites’ – have them feed by pushing the food into the pups muzzle from below the pups chin (usually they go at it from above and the pup tries to reach up or jump up to get to their hands which ends up involving teeth) or if they can’t seem to do that have them toss treats on the ground. Puppies don’t really know how to take things from your hands, they have trouble knowing where the treat is and keeping it in their mouths.

*For petting – pet below the pup’s ear on their neck, not the top of their head (petting from above encourages grabbing).

*Quiet hands. Make your hands still, slow everything down, stop moving and that will stop biting. Running children are perfect biting targets, either teach the kids to stop if puppy is grabbing or remove the puppy from their games (and you can work on short bursts of faster legs, then slow or stop before puppy gets to biting or tackling).

*Tools. Head halters, like the Gentle Leader are good things to train early. Teach the pup to put his nose through the nose loop, teach him to leave the nose loop on his nose and give him treats as long as he lets it hang there. Teach the pup to push into the nose loop to get a treat (so there’s tension on his nose) and finally put the whole thing on – give treat, repeat, repeat, repeat. The handling of his muzzle, the clarity of this game of him putting it on, balancing it on his nose, pushing into it, wearing it … all helps to get him to trust that having his face handled is OK. Then, of course, use it to turn his face from things he needn’t bark at, mouth, be aggressive towards and it works as a go for a walk tool too.

Start from here and get your pup to tolerate more and more movement without trying to put it into their mouths. Keep clarifying what they should mouth, keep increasing the excitement, increasing the touching and rewarding them when they tolerate it well … remember each time they make mistakes it is a lesson for you about your training and what needs practice in the next days and weeks to get your pup to understand how be civilized and bite inhibited.

Do you have particular questions about your pup’s biting? Want to attend a puppy kindergarten? Contact me.

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