Whether you call it nipping, mouthing, or biting, this cute little puppy action can, in time, turn into a very big problem when your pup continues putting its teeth on us! This action then is not cute so what you must do is what someone once said on a classic TV program. You must “Nip it! Nip it in the bud!”
Our Angel Biter
Our dog Angel (now 15) was a terrible nipper and biter as a pup. He’d constantly nip which led to biting and, let me tell you, this cute action eventually led to one big hurt! We tried a number of methods to sway him off of this behavior. Chew toys didn’t help. Sour apple or sour anything were useless as he became accustomed to the various tastes and waited patiently after a nip or bite for a nice sour spray in the mouth. Oh, what to do?
A Puppy Owner’s Dilemma
This is a puppy complication that happens to us all at one time or another. The trouble is we usually don’t realize what’s happening can quickly escalate into a major problem as the rate of biting, nipping, and mouthing becomes more frequent. I can remember many times when those sharp tiny puppy teeth have drawn blood from my hands or arms. We even considered returning Angel to the shelter because of this but we never did carry through on those thoughts. We just attributed his biting to his being abused by his previous owners and soon realized our little guy did not yet trust us, which was an important step because we must first try and understand why this behavior is occurring so we can rightly fulfill our pups needs and not reward any bad behaviors.
Born to Bite
Dogs can’t use their paws to pick up and throw their toys when at play so they play with you and other dogs with their hands and teeth. Furthermore, when born, puppies are deaf and blind. At about two weeks old, they begin to see and hear but they learn to use their mouths just a little time after they’re born! As they learn about their environment and grow, they’re constantly mouthing and biting everything – their littermates, their mother, and us! It’s normal for a pup to explore its environment with its teeth but those teeth should never be put on a human!
Learning From Mum
Puppies should stay with their mother for at least eight weeks after they’re born in order to learn bite inhibition from mum. When a pup bites mum too hard, the mother will usually bite back to teach them this is an inappropriate behavior! Without mum’s sage advice these pups will quickly turn into biting bullies!
Litter & Playmate Actions
When playing, dogs can bare their teeth, nip, or bite. Playtime can even escalate into something that appears violent but in actuality is not. You could witness two dogs throwing each other around and grabbing each other’s necks and never see them break skin because these actions are done in play. Learning dog play is crucial for pups. The older dogs will teach them how rough play can be fun and how to bite appropriately soft.
Angel’s Obedience Training
I remember taking Angel to obedience training and the instructor taking us to the side one day saying, “Angel has his own set of rules.” Indeed he did but he also did graduate from that class and he learned one important take away from those lessons that cured him of biting. He learned other animals bite back and it hurts! He nipped a German Shepherd one day and he got something in return and it wasn’t at all pleasant. On that day Angel learned…he learned well!
Teach Those Pups!
Pups must learn to curb their bites and nips. Your goal is to train pup to stop biting, nipping, and mouthing people altogether. Humans have sensitive skin so when the biting begins you should be resounding a big “No!” to your pup! Bite inhibition is usually learned from mum or other pups (socialization is very important as it helps pups to learn how to behave where biting is concerned). When your pup bites another pup that pup will yelp out and maybe even bite back. This a learning moment for your dog. You can do it the same when your pup bites you. Yelp out loud and say “no biting.” Then ignore your pup for a short time to give him a time out. You don’t have to bite your pup back, though. If he then licks you, praise him or give him a treat. Never reinforce negative behaviors, however, because those negative behaviors will soon increase!
Actions to Avoid
Never wave your fingers, hands, or toes in your puppies face, this is just an invitation to nip and bite. I’m not saying discourage your pup from play but rather teach him to play in a genteel manner. Also, never jerk your hands away from your dog as this encourages your dog to lunge forward. Remember, limp arms, hands, or feet are not much fun for playful pups!
Slapping is another “no-no” action. Slapping will cause a pup to bite harder as they become more aggressive. Physical punishment can make your dog fear you and bring about real aggression so you may even fear your dog! Other actions that should be avoided because you could scare your dog are scruff shaking, nose whacking, or any punishment that may hurt or scare your pup!
When to Seek Help
Puppy temper tantrums are common when your pup doesn’t get its way or you’re making him do something he doesn’t like. Tantrums can even happen when playtime escalates. How do you tell the difference between a tantrum and playful mouthing? A playful pup has a relaxed body and face while a tantrumed pup’s body might look stiff and frozen. It may be time to consult a professional if your pup continues biting in frustration. This action is not one a puppy will outgrow. A trained professional is needed to determine if your puppy’s actions are normal or if an appropriate treatment plan is necessary. A Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) or a Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behavior (Dip ACVB) will be needed if your pup displays aggressive or fearful behavior. You may also seek out a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) if you can’t find a behaviorist in your area but you must be certain the CPDT’s expertise is in the area of treating fear and aggression.
By Tom Matteo
About the Author
Tom Matteo has been a freelance writer since 1992. He has written hardware and software reviews for computers and gaming systems, and now writes about animal behavior and care. Tom resides in Bethlehem, PA with his wife, Tina, and their beloved cockapoo, Angel.