Puppy-biting is a very common issue experienced by dog-parents the world over, and the number one aspect of training that we’re asked to cover in our puppy 1-2-1 sessions. In this article, we’ll delve into a little bit more detail to demystify the subject.
As human beings, we generally have a shared dream of puppy-parenthood filtering through from the collective unconscious. The dream looks a little like this:
Our newest family member is a lovely ball of fluff who settles easily into family life, picks up training like a duck to water, and becomes a wonderful playmate for our kids. Before you know it we’re taking our young dog on picturesque walks and family picnics and enjoying being dog parents.
The reality may be a little different. After a calm and quiet first week, you suddenly blink and somehow miss the exact moment your lovely ball of fluff turned into a whirling dervish of needle-sharp teeth that are capable of piercing Kevlar.
Your puppy is biting everything in sight, your kids are in tears, no shoe is safe, and forget about those long cuddles on the sofa as you settle down for the night. Little did you know that what you actually brought home from the breeder is a baby land-shark.
So, how do we turn your new baby land-shark into a more approachable member of the family?
First, we look at the three C’s: Context, Cause and Control
- WHEN is your puppy biting? Are there specific times of day where the biting is more prominent?
- WHERE is your puppy biting? Is there a particular location/place where the biting occurs more frequently?
- WHO is your puppy biting? Is your pup more prone to biting the kids, or is anyone fair game?
- ACTIVITY – what is happening to/around the puppy when the biting begins? Is it during play? When you try to pick the puppy up from his bed? When you try to clip her lead on for a walk? When you reach down to pick up the empty food bowl?
There are other elements we look at in Context too, but these are situation-specific and covered during our initial 1-2-1 consultation.
Looking at the CONTEXT for the biting will help us to identify the CAUSE.
Puppy-biting can have one or even multiple causes, which may include:
- Pain/physical discomfort
- Resource guarding
- Exuberant play
- Proximity of another dog
- Undeveloped bite inhibition
- Startle response
- Predatory Motor Pattern
Why is it important to identify the CAUSE of the biting?
In dog training, there is no “one size fits all” approach, and we need to ensure your situation is treated holistically.
A puppy that bites due to over-tiredness needs a different training plan than one that is biting because it’s teething. A puppy that bites due to being in pain or discomfort needs a different approach to one that is over-stimulated.
Once we’ve looked at the CONTEXT and identified the CAUSE, we can put a training plan in place. The first step of this plan is our final C.
Control and management is all about preventing the unwanted behaviours from occurring, and putting an immediate stop to unwanted habits that have already been formed so that we can begin an effective training plan. It is infinitely easier to prevent unwanted biting from starting, than it is to teach the puppy not to bite when it has already become habit.
Once we have our control & management in place, we look at implementing a training plan which is tailored to your specific situation, taking Context and Cause into account.
It’s important to note that puppies explore the world through their mouths, so they will generally try to taste/bite/eat everything they come across to find out what happens when they do it.
Equally importantly, biting is a NATURAL behaviour exhibited by dogs, and over thousands of years we have selectively bred some dog breeds to want to bite more than others. Got a Malinois? Staffy? Any kind of terrier bred for rodent control/hunting? You’ll know what we mean.
Control & management, coupled with your personalised training plan, is not about stopping the biting altogether, but rather, to teach your puppy when and what is appropriate to bite. So, it’s not appropriate to bite our children, but it is appropriate to bite the toy in their hand when invited to play.
Sometimes control & management is also about educating a puppy’s family about appropriate handling to reduce the likelihood of biting occurring. For example, many puppies don’t enjoy being picked up, and enjoy even less being picked up by children, as they don’t feel secure in small and uncertain hands. This insecurity can lead to anxiety/fear-nipping, so we teach about respecting a puppy’s personal space and desire to not be put into situations in which your puppy may feel he or she has no choice but to bite in warning.
If your puppy’s biting is worrying you, take a look at our Puppy School Private Tuition page.
And to end with a small ray of hope: by the time your pup is six months old, most or all of those tiny death-needles will have fallen out and be replaced by adult teeth.
You’ve got this!