Puppies are known for being soft and cuddly bundles of joy, but when they’re biting and chewing, new puppy owners may be desperately seeking out a solution for these two habits. It’s true that puppies don’t come equipped with instruction manuals, but new puppy owners may feel reassured by learning that puppy biting and chewing are perfectly normal puppy behaviors. All puppies go through the nippy stage, but they’ll need some guidance so they can learn how to gauge the pressure of their jaws. Luckily, with some intervention, the nipping stage will be short-lived and chewing can be reduced by resorting to some effective strategies.
Why do Puppies Bite and Chew?
While puppies may look cute as they chase feet and bite pant legs, this behavior is surely no longer endearing once they start growing larger and larger each day! Understanding why puppies bite and chew can help dog owners get a better “grip” on the problem and “nip” potentially problematic future biting behaviors in the bud. There are several reasons why puppies bite and chew. The following are explanation for puppy biting and chewing behaviors.
Puppy Oral Stage
Just like human babies, puppies go through a stage where they explore the world around them with their mouths. This oral fixation will cause puppies to mouth anything in sight, and that includes shoes, the TV remote control and hands, clothes and limbs. Puppy proofing the home by removing electrical cords, poisonous plants and any small items that can be swallowed, is very important during this stage to prevent accidents.
Puppies also feel compelled to bite and chew because they are teething. As teeth start erupting, the gums feel sore and irritated, and the puppy gets relief by chewing on certain items. Just as in human babies, cold items seem to sooth those irritated gums, which explains why there are more and more puppy toys on the market that can be frozen. However, while chewing is typical of teething puppies, it’s important to note that chewing doesn’t end once the teething phase is over. Adult dogs have a desire to chew as well, and it’s a good idea to provide them with safe chew toys. According to Hanne Grice, a dog expert, author and founder of Walk the Dog, the act of chewing is also reinforcing because it triggers the release of special endorphins known to calm dogs down.
When puppies are removed from the litter and taken into their new homes to share their lives with humans, they bring along a few habits they have picked up from interacting with their playmates. More than habits though, these are natural behaviors. While in the litter, the puppy played with his litter mates and mom for a good part of the day and this involved loads of mouthing. Once in the new home, it’s therefore quite normal for the puppy to feel naturally inclined to want to play in the same matter, biting and chewing his new human friends. Too bad though that the skin of humans is much more delicate than the skin of dogs!
How to Curb Puppy BitingWhen puppies go to a new home, they must learn new rules. A very important rule entails developing more finesse when the puppy interacts with his new human friends. Luckily, a few bite-inhibition basics were already taught in the litter. When the puppy used to play with his litter mates he may have occasionally bitten a bit too hard. When this happened, his litter mates would squeal sharply and immediately withdraw from the game. A little bit later, the pups would start playing again. Squeal after squeal, the rough puppy soon learned that, in order to enjoy interrupted play, he had to be a tad bit gentler with his mouth.
In a similar fashion, new puppy owners can teach their puppy that human skin is much more delicate than canine skin. When the puppy bites hard, the dog owner can mimic the yelp of the litter mates by emitting a high-pitched “ouch!” and then moving away. Ouch after ouch, the puppy should learn that, in order to play with his human friends, he must learn to further inhibit the pressure of his bite. At some point, when the puppy starts delivering softer bites, dog owners can further raise the bar and start asking for even gentler bites. This is a very important life lesson that all puppies should learn. Some puppies though may take a bit longer or may pose more challenges than others.
For instance, singleton puppies or puppies removed from the litter too early may have missed out the important lessons taught in the litter. These fellows may bite harder and may need more guidance than the average puppy raised with his litter mates and moms and sent to a new home at 8 weeks. Some puppies may also get more aroused when they hear their owners yelping in pain, and may consequently bite more and harder. In this case, a different strategy should be taken, possibly removing the vocalization and implementing a time-out procedure. The puppy should soon learn that a soft mouth keeps his owner playing, while rough mouthing makes him stop, and if the nipping continues, the owner may even go away.
Other helpful ideas involve using toys to train the puppy that they’re OK to chew, but hands are not. Hand feeding the puppy works well because it trains the puppy to take treats gently. When the puppy is too rough, the food is removed and fed only once he shows gentler manners. Another great bite inhibition idea comes from the Dog Gone Safe website. Basically, dog owners will spread peanut butter or Cheeze Whiz on their hands so to teach the puppy to lick instead of bite. The behavior can then be put on cue by asking the puppy “to give kisses” right before offering him the opportunity to lick.
Stopping a puppy from biting altogether may turn out being counter-productive. It’s important that the puppy learns show to gauge the pressure of his jaw. If he’s prevented from completely biting, he will never learn this important ability, and 80 pounds later, if he happens to bite, he’ll bite hard and with the potential to cause substantial damage. Puppies should also never be punished for biting. Tapping them on the nose, grabbing their muzzles or lifting them by the scruff may actually intensify the biting; soon, the playful nips will turn into problematic defensive bites with the intent to harm.
How to Curb Puppy ChewingPuppies look like quite defenseless creatures, but nature has provided them with sharp, needle-like teeth. The teeth don’t hurt only humans; indeed, when the pups are in the litter, the nursing mom may feel those nips and may start refusing to nurse. It’s at this point that puppies start the weaning process and start to to look for alternate sources of food. Luckily, they’ll soon become interested in the mush the breeder feeds them.
Once in a new home, the puppy will want to chew anything that is chewable. Asking a puppy to not chew goes against nature. The puppy’s instinct tells him to explore, play and get relief from those sore gums. While dog owners cannot stop chewing altogether, they can help puppies make good choices by offering them chew toys.
It’s important to look for chew toys that are age-appropriate for puppies. Adult chew toys are not suitable for puppies and can even cause fractures to a puppy’s teeth. Dog owners should look for toys that are labeled safe for younger pups. Puppies with sore gums can often be helped with a home-made toy. According to Vet Info, a twisted wash cloth can be simply wet and then placed in the freezer until frozen. Once frozen, it can be given to the puppy that will certainly enjoy some relief from chewing on the cold cloth.
Re-direction is a great way to distract a puppy from chewing on inappropriate items. When the puppy chews on a shoe, he can be distracted by wriggling a chew toy and praising him when he makes the good choice of leaving the shoe alone and picking the chew toy. Puppies should always be praised for making good choices.
Management is also important. If a puppy is surrounded by objects he’s not allowed to chew, he’ll be likely set for failure. It’s much easier for puppy owners to simply pick up shoes and keep the remote away than continuously getting upset with the puppy for chewing on them. Also, puppies are not great in generalizing. This means that if dog owners allow the puppy to chew on an old pair of shoes, he’ll not be able to differentiate them from those expensive pair of stilettos used for many special occasions.
The Bottom Line
Mouthing, nipping and chewing are inevitable, normal puppy behaviors puppy owners should expect from a healthy puppy. While these behaviors can be annoying, the good news is that they can be easily curbed. For more severe cases, it may be helpful to consult with a professional. A professional certified dog trainer well-versed in dog behavior can be helpful, but Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists or board-certified veterinary behaviorists are the real experts in the field.