Chewing and Puppy Biting

Chewing is a very typical puppy behavior (the way they learn about their world, much like a human baby, is through their mouths) but it can be problematic in adult dogs who haven’t seemed to master what is theirs to chew on and what’s yours!

Your dog can’t chew what she can’t reach!

Management is the place to start to keep your possessions safe. Your dog can’t chew on what he can’t reach. Keep your shoes, children’s toys, and other delicious items out of your pup’s reach. Keep your pup in an area that you’ve doggy-proofed. This can be something like a crate or exercise pen, or a room like a kitchen, bathroom or laundry room, or if you can’t do this, then closely supervise her at all times.

Catch her being good!

Teach her what you do want her to do. Litter her play area with toys (garage sales and dollar stores are great places to stock up!) and appropriate chews like bully sticks and Nylabone. When she makes a great choice to play with and chew on her own toys all by herself, reward that! And for those times when she starts to chew on something she shouldn’t, resist the urge to punish her. Punishing her will only ensure she makes sure you don’t catch her next time. Instead, make a little noise to get her attention (“Ah ah” is a favorite), give her an approved toy, and make a little game out of it. When she engages on the toy, praise her lavishly and then pick up whatever she was chewing on.

Exercise – Mental and Physical!

A tired dog is a good dog! But that can be very tough to do with a growing puppy so make sure you’re not just trying to walk or run her to exhaustion, or all you’ll do is create an athlete who requires a marathon before each nap. Make sure you’re providing lots of mentally enriching things for her to do. Click for a list of fun food puzzles your dog will love eating from even more than her food bowl!

Location, location, location

Give your dog a safe place to avoid mistakes when you’re away or too distracted to train your dog. If your dog loves her crate, that crate can be your greatest tool for those times when you cannot directly supervise her. Teach your dog how to be alone (in a weekend) and you’ll never regret it.

Ouch, That Hurts!

Believe it or not, puppy biting is actually a good thing. Now is the time when you want a pup to learn about bite inhibition. It’s the puppies who don’t bite and explore with their mouths when they are young who get in trouble when they are older. They never learn how hard to bite something, or simply to not bite at all.

Every time your pup does something you don’t want, it’s a learning opportunity. The worst thing you can do when your puppy mouths and bites you is punish her. She’s learning about her world through her mouth, and punishing her for this behavior can lead to your puppy becoming shy, fearful, worried, and at the very least, wary about you. Instead, use this a chance to teach your pup what you do what her to do. Early on, you’ll actually allow your puppy to do some nibbling so you can establish a baseline of how hard of a bite is acceptable, and then you’ll gradually scale back until no biting is tolerated. And keep toys around to redirect her with a toy or game. You want to teach the puppy what you do want her to do. When that doesn’t work or when she gets too rough with you, playtime ends.

Litter her play area with toys, and keep a few toys in several rooms of your residence. This way, no matter where you are, if the pup starts biting you can grab a toy and put it in her mouth. Make it enticing, play a game with her and praise her for biting the toy. If she simply won’t redirect, try these steps we learned from fostering many litters of puppies:

Up to 4 weeks

If you are playing with a tiny puppy, don’t immediately stop her from biting you. She’s exploring you with her mouth, which is how she learns. Wait for a big bite, and then say “Ouch” (don’t scream or scare her), and gently pick her up off of you and set her about a foot away facing away from you. Allow her to immediately turn around and come back to you and resume play. This little bit of social isolation teaches her that if she bites you really hard, you “disappear” for second. Redirect the little alligator with a toy like nothing happened.

4-8 weeks

Start reacting to softer and softer bites. You want to start easing back from allowing her mouth to touch you at all. Now if she tags you, say “Ouch!” and you move away. Ignore her entirely for at least a minute. Then resume play like nothing ever happened, redirecting with a toy.

Older than 2 months

Keep reacting to lighter and lighter pressure. You want to get to no teeth on skin ever. Now whenever her teeth touch you, walk away from her promptly and ignore her for a couple minutes. When you return, resume play as if nothing ever happened. Redirect with toys. Begin obedience training if you haven’t already so you have some fun but calm activities where the pup can earn things tastier than your arm.

Teach your puppy an incompatible behavior to do; puppies can begin learning cues and tricks as young as 4 weeks old! In addition to Sit and Down, teach your puppy to “Touch” or “Target”. This is an excellent cue you can use to redirect and calm your puppy, is fun and easy to teach, and is very useful in many situations (and as a starting point for many other behaviors).

Don’t get discouraged if this plan does not work immediately. Be patient with your puppy! Using her mouth is just how she learns about her world right now, just like a human baby chewing on your car keys. Simply react the same way each time. Every time she bites, she loses her playmate. She soon will learn to be more gentle next time!