Image above: Butter wouldn’t melt
Guest blog by Jennifer Billot
Jennifer Billot, MSc CPDT-KA is a professional dog trainer and the founder and owner of Bone Ball Bark, a force-free dog training company based in Chiswick. Over a series of blogs she explores the most common problems she encounters when clients first get in touch.
Whether you have had your dog for many years, acquired a lockdown puppy within the last two, or just picked up a new bundle of fluff, complete with a set of sharp teeth, hopefully this series will provide some helpful tips.
‘My puppy is biting and chewing EVERYTHING’
Puppies bite. There is no changing that. They are exploring their environment with their teeth, much like a human baby does when they want to put every object in their mouth. The difference being that puppies have needle sharp teeth, and babies thankfully do not!
What also can ramp up the biting and chewing is the fact that puppies will start to go through the teething process at around 16 weeks old. They will lose all of their 28 baby teeth (watch out under foot as while they mostly swallow them, you don’t want to step on one of these) to make room for the 42 adult teeth that are coming in. Their gums will be sore and chewing and biting helps alleviate the pain.
As humans, our usual response to a puppy biting us is to say “no!”, “stop”, push them away with our hands, or try to hold them back. These tactics rarely do anything helpful, and in fact add to the experience for the puppy and they are more likely to see it as a game. This is the same with the old tip of yelping or saying “OW” in a high pitch tone to mimic the sound of a yelping litter mate, however in my experience this high pitch sound from a human tends to spur them on even more.
While you cannot stop 100% of puppy biting and chewing, I have listed the following methods and tips on how to greatly reduce it and get you and your home through the puppy stage in one piece!
Prevention and management is the best course of action to minimise the damage to your belongings, clothes, and skin.
Try to remember that this stage in your pup’s life is short lived. For a few months, you may have to change habits and ensure that your shoes are always put away, the TV remote put into a drawer, not wear your favourite clothes, and don’t make any new furniture purchases for a while.
Use pens, crates and barriers to block access to things like wires by the TV. Pens don’t have to only be used to keep your puppy in one space, they can be used to keep him out of places too!
Resist the urge to let your puppy nibble or mouth your hands at any time. Also try not to roughhouse or tease your puppy with your hands during play. You do not want to confuse your puppy that in some instances teeth on skin is okay, but at other times it isn’t. I think it is easier, especially if the puppy has joined a busy family, to set some suitable rules around interactions with the puppy for everyone that limits how often the behaviour you aren’t wanting gets to be practised.
Most puppy owners are very familiar with the witching hour during the evening where your puppy becomes full of crazy energy and extremely bitey. Preparing for this beforehand by having a licki-mat or Kong ready to go to direct that energy on to. Repetitive licking is also relaxing so can help get them to sleep too. A lot of the overzealous puppy biting is from being overtired and overstimulated. Helping them calm down with licking or sniffing in a snuffle mat, stops them from biting, and then they can nap in their pen or crate.
It is easy to shout and get angry when your puppy is biting something they shouldn’t be, but your puppy doesn’t understand the word “no”. “No” is a concept, not a specific behaviour we want performed.
Keep a few toys of different textures on the floor that are in easy reach for him, but also ensure you have plenty of other toys up high or in a cupboard that he doesn’t have access to. Novelty is key here. Think of a child with all the toys in the world in a playroom, but they choose to draw on the walls. Take away a toy for a few days and reintroduce it, and suddenly it is engaging again! When your puppy is on his way to bite something you don’t want him to, like a table leg, get his attention and grab a toy he hasn’t seen for a while to give him.
Tug type toys are a great option as they are long and can keep him at arm’s length. The closer to our bodies that we play with a puppy, the more likely we are that they will decide your clothing, hair or arms are things to latch on to.
Play around with different puppy safe textures of toys, ones that crinkle, or squeak, soft and cuddly, rubber, and everything in between.
When your puppy is biting or chewing on something that is appropriate and allowed, praise! Praise a lot!
There are plenty of things that your puppy can bite and chew! For those older than 12 weeks, buffalo or pigs ears can be a wonderful natural chew to get their teeth into.
If your puppy starts to get interested in biting your trousers or ankles when you are walking, try to distract from that behaviour and teach something different by using a treat by your side, or dog-safe peanut butter on a long spoon, and work on walking nicely by your side. By teaching them that there is another far rewardable behaviour they can do around your legs, this will help prevent the biting.
A favourite cue of mine to help teach puppies to interact with your hands with their mouths closed, is “Touch”. Rewarding them for coming to you and touching your hand with their nose, is a great example of ‘behaviour that is rewarded will be repeated’, a main principle in dog training, and also makes for a fantastic recall cue. There is a free download on how to train this cue on my website.
Image above: Jennifer Billot with Griffin
Jennifer Billot has a Masters Degree in Canine Sciences from Bergin University in California. She is a certified professional dog trainer, CPDT-KA qualified, and spent five years as an Assistance Dog trainer for an organization specializing in mobility assistance dogs in both Seattle and Hawaii. She offers in-person training sessions in London and virtual consultations worldwide.
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