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My Puppy Bites Me - Why do puppies bite?

- by Mary Anne

Puppies bite. This is a fact. In the beginning stages of life, the bitch bites at the birth sac; using “bite inhibition,” she will deliver each puppy into the world by tearing the sac open with her teeth.  She bites the sac gently. One wrong move of her powerful jaws and she could destroy the life within the sac.

As the puppies grow, they explore their world. Their exploration is accomplished by their mouth and their nose. They have to sample “everything” including each other. If you have ever watched a litter of puppies, you will have noticed that they are constantly biting at each other or their mom. Biting is their way of communicating. When one puppy gets bit to hard, he yelps sharply and withdraws to lick his wound.  The biter backs off understanding that play-time got a bit rough. Once the discomfort and fear goes away, the bitten puppy is right back in the middle of play.

Puppies should stay with mom for at least 12 weeks. But, many people fail to understand the dynamics of the true pack. They soon tire of sharp puppy teeth biting ankles or fingers and begin to adopt the puppies out quickly.  In the wild, the wolf-pups stay with the parents for one year. Then they become a member of the pack, or the alpha sets off in search of a new pack of his own.

If the puppy leaves the family too quickly, then it is up to the new adopted family to teach the puppy about biting. Unfortunately for some people, their strength and lack of patience makes for a poor substitute for the proper pack.

You cannot stop a puppy from biting. If something moves before him, he will rush at the object and attempt to bite it. If you have adopted a herding dog, you will soon find your pants cuffs are frayed from puppy teeth, or your shoelaces magically become untied. You will also be tripping over your puppy because you are his pack. He will stay close to you, nipping at your heels as you walk in an attempt to “herd” you.

One way to help your puppy understand about biting is to introduce him to other dogs. If your puppy is current on vaccinations, then a dog park is a good place to start. Just be sure that you keep your puppy leashed at all times while at the park.

Your puppy bites for several reasons:

  • He is playing.
  • He is Alpha.
  • He is hungry.
  • He is exploring.
  • He is over-stimulated and excited.
  • He is scared or angry.
  • He has herding tendencies
  • He is teething

You should not stop a puppy from biting. Instead, redirect that biting. Val Volinski a leading pet sitter and author in New York City offers this tip:

When I have a small puppy that is biting me, I take a rawhide chew toy and gently use it as a shield to keep the puppy away from my hands. I quietly give the rawhide to the puppy saying at the time “Yours.”  Eventually, it is a matter of simply saying “Yours” during a bite-fest and the pup will run and fetch the toy. The toy is a good substitute for fingers, hands and arms.”

From Susan Ewing author of Bulldogs for Dummies:

“Well, for starters, there are different kinds of biting. One is just puppy play. It used to be that people were told to tell the puppy ‘ No!’ and even tap the underside of the muzzle as a disciplinary measure.

What is a better way is to teach the puppy "bite inhibition" which is the puppy learning not to apply too much pressure. So, if I have a puppy, and he chomps a bit too hard on my hand, I yelp in a high-pitched, squeaky voice and stop playing.

Now, if a person has a herding breed puppy, the puppy may be nipping at ankles, and this is not the same as those play bites. This is instinct. The dog was bred to chase sheep or cattle and nip the ankles. It can be annoying, but it shouldn't be confused with "biting". It's hard to break. I've had Corgis for over 20 years and if it's a puppy with sharp needle teeth, I tend to do the same as with the play biting...mostly because those sharp teeth make me yelp anyway! Or, I'll just stop moving, or try to distract the puppy, or just give an ‘Ahhh!’!

Both of these (play and instinct) are different from a puppy, or an adult, biting because of fear or anger. You have to first understand the difference between play biting, and a puppy biting out of fear or aggression.”

Ken Araujo author of Know Your Dog Vol. 1, has a good saying for people with puppies. “No jaws and no paws.”  If your puppy is jumping on you, then this puppy is excited. An excited puppy will bite.  To prevent over-stimulation, avoid stroking the face or the cheeks of the puppy and instead concentrate on the chest and the sides.   Remember that in training a puppy you should NEVER hit, slap, kick or push the puppy away. Pushing a puppy stimulates that pup’s play mode. Push to hard, and the puppy may attack.
I watched a breeder once as she was playing with a pile of puppies. She pushed one of the alpha males away from her a bit roughly. He spun around and flew at her head with his jaws snapping.  Only quick thinking on her part prevented her from injury.

Play with our puppy. Don’t buy your puppy every toy that you find at the pet supply store. Your puppy should only have three or four toys at the most. Keep rotating the toys to keep the pup’s interest up.

Puppy Toys

So what toys do you buy a puppy?  The choices can be confusing. Personally, I steer clear of the stuffed toys, and the squeaky toys. Instead, I purchase the Orbee Balls, Romp N Roll and the Flying Squirrel.  Both the Orbee Balls and the Romp and Roll have ropes attached to the balls allowing your puppy a good chew while keeping him away from your fingers.  The Flying Squirrel is aerodynamically sound and can fly great distances. 

The puppy can easily pick up the soft flat sides (unlike a hard Frisbee).  Another favorite trick of mine is to buy a cow knuckle bone and spread peanut butter on it. The pup enjoys the pleasant taste, the good rough chew and it occupies the puppy for quite awhile (also a good remedy for a barking dog). Just be sure to supply the puppy with fresh water because peanut butter sticks to the roof of a mouth whether human or canine.

Enjoy your time and that wonderful puppy breath! But remember to play smart. Instead of punishment, use positive reinforcement and redirection. This way, both of you will then find a time of bonding that will last a lifetime.


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