Puppy Biting - September 2023
Puppies, like all dogs, bite for a reason and, if your puppy is biting, it is important to find the reason and come up with a way to help them so there is no longer a need for them to do it.
Why do puppies bite?
Play biting is normal behaviour for young puppies. They are not being aggressive, but just encouraging you to play in the same way they used to play with their siblings. Wrestling and biting games are natural and educational between puppies. When puppies are separated from their littermates and taken to new homes, they will attempt play with us instead, by biting at our hands, feet or clothing.
Play biting is usually accompanied by a relaxed body, friendly expression and softly waving tail, and there is often plenty of movement. Puppies usually try to play-bite when they are excited, so a common time for them to try it is when they are greeting you after an absence. The puppy may yip in excitement or play bow before they begin to play. The more excited a puppy becomes, the more exaggerated the play and, sometimes, the harder the bites. Squeals of anguish from owners, especially children, and much running around to try to escape their little sharp pointed teeth will make the situation much worse as the puppy tries harder to join in with the new game.
Puppies will often play-bite whatever is nearest to them at the time they feel playful, whether that is hands, arms, clothing, legs or feet. Some puppies can play very vigorously, especially when older, even growling and leaping at their owners to grab chunks of clothing or skin when they get excited. However, if they are coming forward voluntarily rather than running away, it is usually still only puppy play and easy to solve with the right approach.
The solution to play biting lies in teaching your puppy to play with humans with toys, rather than by biting parts of our bodies. Successful toy play will teach your puppy to focus all their biting onto toys instead of people. Having plenty of long fluffy toys available whenever you interact, and playing in a way that is successful for both of you, will soon have your puppy looking for a toy to bite onto instead of you. Plenty of exercise and mental stimulation will also help, as will a satisfying diet.
Will my puppy grow out of play biting?
All dogs like to play and the more working ability your dog has in its genes, the more drive they have to be active and playful. Puppies that learn to play-bite humans for fun never grow out of it unless the owners find a solution. Why should they? They are having lots of fun, and the older they are, the larger they will be and more powerful their jaws become so they can bite harder and hold on longer, causing their human ‘toy’ to squeak and move around more.
Play-biting isn’t a phase your puppy goes through and then grows out of. Unless you teach them how to play in an acceptable way, they will continue to play in the only way they know. Punishment will stop it but it will also cause confusion and upset, and your puppy will be reduced to a life with no play, which will have an adverse effect on your relationship together. It is, therefore, up to the humans in a puppy’s life to teach them how to play successfully with toys instead, and, eventually, to teach them some manners when playing so that the games are fun for everyone.
How to play successfully
Young puppies usually prefer soft things that are similar to their littermates so large fluffy soft toys work particularly well. Long fluffy toys help to put a lot of distance between your hands and any accidental nips as they learn.
When you have a few minutes for a game, or when you interact with your puppy when they are excited (such as when you have just come home after an absence), get down to your puppy’s level, present the toy and wriggle it on the floor. Keep the toy at floor level so your puppy does not have to jump to catch it (they can easily twist or injure themselves in their enthusiasm).
Move it erratically, sometimes slowly, then with little dashes of speed, wriggling it behind objects out of sight and then back into view. How fast you need to keep the toy moving depends on your puppy so experiment and find how fast you have to move the toy to keep their interest.
Frequently put the toy within range of your puppy and pull it away slowly so they can chase and catch it. Tug gently (be careful of their teething mouth). Sometimes let them take it and ‘win’ it from you. When they do so, praise enthusiastically but don’t try to take it. Let them bring it to you and let the excitement subside so they drop it and you can take it and start the game again.
Have fun with your puppy and keep their interest until you are both a little tired. Then remove the toy and put it away for the next session. Always stop play before your puppy gets too excited and begins to lose control and bite you instead of the toy.
Having a toy in every room and in places where you will greet your puppy after being away will mean that you always have one to hand when you want to play or you can see that your puppy is in need of a game. For a calm, relaxed puppy, play in short, frequent sessions throughout the day.
When Biting Is Not Playful
There are also other reasons why puppies bite and, in all cases, it is best to seek professional help fast. Ask your local Puppy School tutor, or try the Animal Behaviour and Training Council to find a professional clinical animal behaviourist www.abtc.org.uk
Click here to find out more about Puppy School puppy classes where tutors will teach and coach you how to play successfully, teach hands come to give not take to avoid possessive aggression and will offer help with shy puppies that may become aggressive at a later date.