Puppy Mouthing and Biting

August 20, 2021
Puppy biting is a very normal part of puppy behaviour but some puppies are more bitey than others. Biting is your puppy giving you information. All puppies mouth & bite as they explore their environment, and it is an important part of sensory development.  Puppies investigate the world and communicate using their mouths, and learn about objects and texture etc partly through using their mouth.

By 8 weeks of age, puppies will have all their baby teeth through, and by 12-20 weeks they will start to lose their baby teeth and this is a time when the biting will get worse.

Puppies interact and play with other puppies and dogs by chewing and biting each other – one of the ways they learn the rules of play is through play biting.  They will learn about bite inhibition by interacting with other dogs and will learn how to use their mouth in a more appropriate manner. Bite inhibition is thought to be learned by about 16 weeks of age. Puppies also relieve the pain of teething by chewing and biting on hard objects – in the same way that human babies do. It is so important that we provide sufficient opportunities for chewing on suitable chew toys.

Puppy chewing a rope toy

Meeting puppies needs

It is really important that  we meet our puppies needs, and identify when the biting may tend to get worse. Biting/mouthing will get worse at certain times, such as:-

  • When puppy is excited
  • When puppy is over-tired (so make sure puppy gets enough down time)
  • When puppy is hungry
  • When puppy is bored (very important! Make sure puppy has sufficient mental stimulation and opportunities to chew, lick, forage and sniff).
  • When puppy needs the toilet

Chewing, shredding, foraging, sniffing are all natural behaviours that we need to provide our puppies an outlet for.

Give your puppy alternatives to chew

Ensure your puppy has enough opportunities to chew throughout the day. Puppies need at least 1 hour of chewing a day, but very often they need much more – 2 or 3 hours a day.  Toys that may be lying around will not be sufficient – you will need to provide them with long lasting chews that they can consume. Examples of these are pizzles, ostrich tendons, rabbit ears, as well as longer lasting chews that you can leave around such as Yak milk chews and coffeewood chews.

For puppies who are teething, frozen carrots or apple pieces can be cooling and ease the pain.

Puppy chewing to relieve teething

When your puppy is excited, or looks as if they are going to become a land shark, offer them something more appropriate BEFORE they grab onto you. Offer  a long rope type toy as an alternative, with the aim that they put their teeth on that rather than your leg. Also, often waving a toy around on the floor can redirect a puppy who has already clamped onto your leg or your trousers.

Provide enough mental stimulation

If your dog’s mental stimulation requirements are not met then you will get more biting and mouthing. Mental stimulation is just as important, if not more so, than physical exercise. 5 minutes of mental stimulation is equivalent to 10 minutes of physical exercise.

There are so many ways of providing mental stimulation, some are as follows:

  • Feed some of their meal allowance from a food dispensing toy (Toppl, Kong Wobbler, lickimat, K9 Connectables) so your puppy has to use their brain to work out how to get the food out, and at the same time has to lick and chews, both of which help lower arousal and have a calming effect.

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  • Scatter food around the garden or in the house to encourage your dog to use their sense of smell, which will be mentally tiring for them.
  • Scrunch up pieces of newspaper in a shallow cardboard box, and scatter treats in the box, so your dog has to forage around to find the treats. You can also use a snuffle mat.
  • Hide a treat under one of 3 upturned plant pots of yogurt pots and let your dog sniff out which one the treat is under….when he indicates where it is, lift the pot and let him have the treat. Or hide various treats under various objects and just let him sniff them out.
  • Put pieces of kibble in an empty plastic drinks bottle (with the lid off!) and let your dog work out how to get the food out (be watchful to ensure your puppy does not get frustrated with this however).
  • Place empty cardboard inners of toilet rolls lengthwise inside a shallow cardboard box, so that they fill the floor of it, and then scatter treats or kibble amongst them, then let your dog work out how to get the food out.
  • Place some pieces of kibble or treats in sections of a muffin tin, then cover each compartment with a tennis ball – let your dog sniff out the food and work out how to remove the tennis balls to reveal the food!

Make sure your puppy has enough sleep

Puppies need around 18-21 hours of sleep a day. Is your puppy getting enough sleep? If puppies are tired they often don’t recognised they are tired…they wont necessarily go to sleep, but instead will get grumpy, fractious and bitey. If your puppy has a mad bitey moment it may well be because they need a sleep. So if your puppy isn’t getting enough sleep you may have to help them out. Settle them in their bed with a chew, as this will help reduce arousal levels and have a calming effect and enable pup to fall asleep. Without that they will most likely not be able to go to sleep.

Puppy sleeping

Remove attention – briefly!

If your puppy is excited and wont redirect onto a more appropriate object, then correctly applied “time outs” can work well.  Calmly leave the room for a very short period of time (no more than 10 seconds), then come back in and calmly go back to what you were doing or calmly interact with your puppy. If puppy bites again, simply calmly leave the room again and repeat.  Its really important to only leave for that short period of time so that your puppy builds an understanding as to exactly what is causing you to leave the room. If you leave for 5 minutes then return, your puppy wont make the connection between biting your leg and you leaving.

Puppy biting human hand

What NOT to do

It is really important that everyone refrains from playing “rough housing” type games with puppies, or interacting with the puppy in a manner that encourages them to use their teeth on hands, even in play. This makes it very hard for puppies to learn that we do not want them to use their teeth on us, and this inconsistency means it is unfair for us to expect them to learn different rules at different times according to what we want.  Always use a toy for playing with your puppy so that teeth go on the toy.

Puppy pug playing with tug toy

 

Sometimes people suggest yelping loudly when a puppy bites on us too hard, with the idea being it mimics how another dog would react. However, dogs know we are not other dogs, therefore us reacting in the way we think another dog will react isn’t going to con them 😉 I have hardly ever known this to work anyway – yelping can either cause increased excitement, which will increase the biting, or with some puppies the sound of us yelping can be unpleasant and aversive. In the latter case, the puppy may stop biting, but the reason why that biting has stopped in that situation is going to be because they are worried by the sound. It wont stop the biting longer term, and it could well affect the relationship between you and your puppy by inadvertently becoming confrontational, when we really want your puppy to trust you.

It is also important that we do not physically manipulate or force our puppies. If we push them they will push back with their mouth as their mouth is their hands. Its vital puppies learn human hands are good. Don’t expect your puppy to automatically be comfortable with all forms of handling – we need to teach them handling is safe, and them mouthing is their way of saying “no thank you”.

Remember – think what your puppy is trying to tell you so you can redirect accordingly

If you need any help with your puppy’s biting, please get in touch – angela@politepaws.co.uk

By Angela Doyle

I am a highly experienced and qualified reward based dog trainer and behaviour consultant based in Surrey, UK. I am a fully qualified CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer) and specialise in helping dogs overcome Separation Anxiety.

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