Wednesday, February 3, 2021

My, What Big (Sharp!) Teeth You Have!

 I currently have the pleasure of working with several new puppy owners.  Questions often come up about biting/mouthing/nipping, with these new puppy owners trying to determine if they do indeed own puppies or baby sharks! Puppy teeth are sharp for a reason; if your pup were being raised in the wild as its ancestors were, it would need those needle sharp teeth to tear up the food being brought back by her mother and father, since puppy jaws are not as strong as those of an adult dog.  It is also the case that parent dogs teach pups how to hunt and those sharp teeth being buried in a prey item allow a pup to know if the prey item is still alive or not!  I'm not implying that puppies view their owners as prey or something to eat.  On the contrary, puppies need to be taught that humans aren't for biting!  Bite inhibition is a process that is started by a puppy's mother and siblings if the puppies remain together for those first 18 weeks of life.  Given that most puppy owners acquire their pups sometime between 8 and 12 weeks of age (and some as early as 6 or 7 weeks), however, means that much of the teaching of bite inhibition to a puppy falls on the new owners. So how do you teach this?

First off, it is important that your puppy DOES put her mouth on you and that you don't punish her outright for this behavior.  There is nothing to be learned there!  Instead, when you feel those little razorblades on your skin, let out a yelp (much as another puppy would do) and stop moving.  If you continue moving or try to pull away, you will find that your puppy grabs on harder.  If they don't automatically let go when you yelp, see if they can be redirected to a toy or other appropriate chewing item.  If they can, great!  Play with the toy and your puppy.  Realize too that puppies don't miss.  When they grab your hand instead of the toy, yelp, stop playing, and redirect them back to the toy.  If they miss the toy again, game over.  If your puppy isn't responding to the yelp and won't be redirected to a toy then it's time for a time out.  Either pick up your puppy and put them in their crate, x-pen, or another time out area OR remove yourself from where they are.  Either way, you are socially shunning your dog, demonstrating for them that while biting is okay, not stopping biting is not okay.  Putting your puppy in their crate or x-pen for a time out will not make those areas a negative. The only thing that will make those areas negative is if you physically or verbally punish your dog while putting them there. Simply saying "time out!" or nothing at all as you put them there and walking away will be sufficient to make your point.  A time out of 2-3 minutes is sufficient for a puppy.  What many puppy owners discover, however, is that their puppies nod off during the time out, which brings me to my next point: the importance of regularly scheduled naptimes for the control of biting.

Puppies need to nap a minimum of 4 times daily for about 2 hours per nap.  Your puppy may need 3 three hour naps, while a friend's puppy takes 5 two hour naps, but my point is the same. Without those regularly scheduled, predictable, naps in their crates or x-pens, puppies get over-tired and over-stimulated and completely lacking in self-control as the day wears on.  This is why so many puppies do the majority of their hard biting, not listening, and racing around the house like crazy dogs, in the evenings.  By the time 7 p.m. rolls around, your puppy is sleep deprived, excited to have everyone home, and completely unable to control her excitement (and her biting!).  Coincidentally, this is why so many housetraining accidents occur in the evening hours; those puppies are exhausted!

A lot of new puppy owners also tell me about the 50 toys they've purchased for their new pups and how their puppies don't care about those toys and prefer chewing on their owners, their owners' clothing, and the furniture.  There's an easy solution to this problem.  Pick up all of the toys and put them in a box/basket in a cupboard or closet.  Everyday, bring out 3-4 toys for your puppy, making sure you have made available a hard toy for teething, a softer toy for chewing, a squeaky toy for "killing," and perhaps a rope toy for tug or fetch.  When you put your pup to bed at night, pick up those toys and bring out different options the next day.  This makes the toys last longer, seem novel or new, and thus keep your puppy's interest longer.  Having age appropriate toys is key, as are having toys that are interactive or entertain your puppy on their own.  Toys that you can put their kibble in, or treats, are great as they exercise your puppy's  brain AND body, thus making him tired and want to nap!  And, again, well-rested puppies have better bite inhibition.

One final thought on biting. Sometimes puppies seem to single out one family member or the kids for the majority of their biting behavior.  This isn't simply because your kids are smaller.  It has a lot to do with the way you are having your puppy perceive your children.  If your kids are actively involved in the feeding, training, and care of your puppy, then your puppy is more likely to respect the fact that your kids are a source of good things. If the only thing your kids do with the puppy is play, then of course your puppy will view them simply as a playmate to be chewed on and chased.  Puppies need direction, structure, and rules just like kids do.  It's good for kids to learn about all that goes into the care and keeping of a puppy.  And it's great for a puppy to be able to share their home with kids as well.

If you have done all of these things and your puppy is still biting you or your kids, it's time to give me a call. We need to determine what is going on and if true aggression may actually be occurring. While it is rare to see outright aggression in young puppies, I do see it.  Often it shows up around resources like food bowls, beds, bones, and favorite resting areas.  Resource guarding can occur at any time and if you are caught off guard, a bite could occur that is outside the bounds of normal behavior for a puppy learning bite inhibition.  

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Don't let this sweet little face fool you. Ozzie was a total shark puppy at 8 weeks old and spent a lot of time in time outs when redirection didn't sufficiently stop his relentless mouthing and biting.  Suffice it to say, he got a lot of naps as a puppy, a judicious amount of time outs, tons of love for getting it right, and is a dog with terrific bite inhibition to this day.

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