June 17, 2020
Ouch! It hurts.
What's the most asked puppy question on the internet? How to stop them from biting! Puppies look so cute and cuddly but those needle sharp teeth soon start chomping on things they shouldn't, people included. We get it, we've been there; it hurts, it's exhausting and you are desperate to stop it. Read on to find out how....
How To Stop Your Puppy From Biting In Just 5 Achievable Steps
(without fear or intimidation!).
Behind that adorable, cuddly bundle of fur lies a being capable of bringing most adult humans to their knees in a matter of days. Exhaustion from disrupted sleep soon kicks in, the claustrophobia from having a permanently attached puppy starts to escalate and then on top of that the little darlings start to bite and chew seemingly everything they shouldn't, including human flesh.
Has yours drawn blood yet?
Blood?! You mean that beautiful, playful angel that you lovingly hand picked to join your family can actually physically harm you? Well, yes!
In between the trips to the garden every half hour and yet what still seems like constant mopping up of wee inside, you reach for one of your new dog toys and offer that instead. In the hope that your puppy will chomp down on something, literally anything, that belongs to them, instead of piercing your skin with their gnashers, you even go out and buy a stuffed pheasant, just in case the pig, teddy, monkey or dinosaur aren't up to the job.
And then it happens, one bite or scratch too many and you're done!
To add insult to injury, despite spending an extortionate amount of money on dog toys, the once apple of your eye is more interested in biting your shoes, or worse, causing you physical pain. You particularly start to dread that hour in the evening, where instead of having a relaxing cuddle, you feel like a character in Jumanji and are constantly fending off flying teeth, protecting your ankles and wondering where it all went wrong. The puppy lunges at your face, grabs your hands and seems hell bent on mass destruction. You start to think this puppy thing was a really bad idea, that your puppy has no respect or that your puppy doesn't like you.
But wait, what if this isn't true? What if there was a perfectly logical explanation for your puppy's evil behaviour? The good news is, there is!
Biting Is Perfectly Normal, Natural Behaviour!
Your puppy isn't a devil in disguise, nor is it different to any other puppy, they all bite things, it's perfectly normal. So now I hear you asking-
"So if it's natural, how can it be stopped?"
Here are my top 5 tips for stopping unwanted biting-
1) Teach 'Drop' and 'leave'
Not only will teaching these cues now save your prized handbag from losing a handle but there will be a multitude of situations your dog will get into later in life where these two cues are worth their weight in gold. Think chocolate bar on the table, dead fish on the beach and cat poo in the garden for a start.
If the object happens to be a human, they should keep as still as possible and the second the dog releases their grip, say 'drop' and give the dog some food or their favourite toy. This is particularly important for children, who in their nature are more excitable, which can make them quite appealing to your new puppy. Children need training just as much as the dog!
Repeat. Repeat again.
Keep repeating and fairly soon your dog will be letting go on cue, it is important to reward your dog every time. What is rewarding to the dog varies between individuals, some are more motivated by food, others toys, so utilise whatever your dog enjoys the most. When teaching the cue it is also important to introduce the cue word as your dog is releasing their jaw, not beforehand. That way once the dog has learnt that the word 'drop' is associated with letting go and immediately followed by a reward, they will readily drop when you say it.
If the dog has hold of an unsuitable object, you could hold the object very still and follow the same principles as above. Do not be tempted to pull on the item, as this will turn it into a game and the dog will hold on to it even more. Do not attempt to forcibly open the jaws either, this isn't a sustainable method and often causes further problems. If holding the item is not appropriate, or leads to (for example) the dog growling, don't hold it. Offer your reward away from the dog a short distance, as soon as they let go say the cue and then immediately add more rewards. It is better to move the dog away from the object with, for example, scatter feeding or a game with a favourite toy, than trying to snatch the object away.
Make dropping something better than holding it!
Teaching 'Leave' is done in a similar way- offer a reward for not moving towards the object of desire. This may be a split second of hesitation initially, then build duration from there. Make sure you add the cue word when the dog is not moving towards the object, they should be still or moving away from it. The reward needs to be of at least equal, or often higher, value to the dog than the object they are being asked to leave. It is also the dog's opinion of value that matters here, not ours! Just as many of us don't fancy swapping a chocolate pudding for a stick of celery, dogs need a decent replacement if they are going to give up something they enjoy. Don't expect your dog to leave something completely straight off, it takes a while to train but be consistent and reward every try and you will get a dog happy to leave something when asked.
Make leaving something more rewarding than staying with it!
2) Redirect the behaviour
It may be normal for dogs to bite and chew but they are not born with the knowledge of what they are allowed to chew, nor what is safe. That's part of the problem, they pick things up with their mouths to investigate them, so whilst some people think it's some nasty puppy plot to chew through a tv cable, eat half a shoe or modify the table leg, it's often just the puppy exploring its environment.
Each time your puppy picks up something that isn't theirs, whether it's dangerous or not, offer them something else that they can bite or chew. When our Collie was a puppy we couldn't live without Yak Milk Chews, we constantly redirected any mouthing, biting or chewing onto a Yaker and he still loves them now. We always have one freely available and to date he has never chewed anything he shouldn't!
3) Provide access to suitable chews
As explained earlier, dogs have a natural need to chew, particularly teething puppies. So it is important to offer your dog plenty of supervised opportunities to fulfil their innate desire with something appropriate. As always, remember that dogs are individuals, so not every chew will suit every dog, however here are some suggestions you can consider-
4) Ensure Your Puppy is getting enough sleep
Puppies need a lot of sleep, be thinking around 20 hours a day. If they don't get it, just like children, it will show in their behaviour. Tired puppies get over excited and restless and are far more likely to bite and chew, so it is important to schedule regular naps and set your puppy up for sleeping success. Evenings are the most likely time for tiredness and they are also the most likely time for you to feel like your puppy has turned into a crazy monster and forget everything you've tried to teach them!
Dogs are social sleepers and having just come from sleeping in a snuggly puppy pile with their siblings and mum, puppies are more likely to sleep well if they have company. Isolation can prevent them from long, sound sleep.
Dogs are also polyphasic sleepers, which means they sleep at several different times throughout the day and night. They therefore need to be given multiple opportunities to sleep, not just at night time. Naturally, dogs are early risers and given time they adjust to the human routine and will sleep in later. So don't be surprised if at first your puppy gets you up at 5am, this is normal and it will change as the puppy gets older and learns that you don't get up until 7.
5) Never train through fear, intimidation, with the use of aversive tools or by following The Pack leader myth
Spraying water, rattling a can, making a loud noise or jerking the lead may temporarily stop your dog from biting or chewing. However all these methods have something in common- they create negative emotions and don't show your dog what you do want. It has been proven that learning is impaired when animals are in a negative emotional state, so these methods may give you a quick fix but you will also have a dog in conflict that is not being set up for long term success. This can commonly cause more undesirable behaviour, even aggression and resource guarding problems, and the dog is still none the wiser as to what they should bite or chew instead. Remember, biting and chewing is normal puppy behaviour, they aren't doing it to be horrible, they just need to be shown what is appropriate.
"NO!" Doesn't tell your dog what you do want
Try avoiding using the word 'No' too- it is too generic and is often over used for a variety of situations. It's really useful when training dogs to focus on what you do want, rather than what you don't. This helps set your dog up for success and creates a great mindset for you, enabling your training to progress.
The decades old dominance myth....
The theory of aiming to be the Alpha, Top Dog or Pack Leader has been debunked many times, in fact the very researchers who came up with the wolf pack alpha idea have themselves stated that their findings were flawed. This method of training has many shortcomings which can create bigger problems for you and your dog. Yes, we need to provide guidance for our dogs but this does not mean that we need to dominate them or force them to submit. They are not trying to dominate us or show disrespect when they chew or bite, they are merely following a natural instinct and it is inappropriate to try and stop it by methods that threaten or invoke stress.
So, can YOU stop your puppy from biting?
Utilising good management, consistent rules and positive reinforcement, with the aid of some long lasting chews and a variety of toys, you can sustainably and ethically teach your dog not to bite or chew anything that you don't want it to.
And if you need some extra advice or support with your puppy challenges, find a local positive reinforcement trainer to guide you through.
Natalie Bucklar, BSc (Hons), MSc is the owner of Pawsitive Thinking. We supply products to help with the training, care and enrichment of your pets. We have a range of tools to help you stop your puppy from biting, you can shop online here-
You can find some helpful tips on puppy socialisation HERE from Nikki at Unleashed Pawtential.
You can also get some great advice on creating a calm, happy puppy HERE from Niki at Twickenham Dog Services.
There is a thought provoking blog about setting your dog up for success HERE by Laura at Constructive Canines.
If you'd like some help with recall training, take a look at this informative article HERE by Lisa at Quibbells n Bits.
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