This is probably one of my favourite subjects! Every puppy I have seen has an entirely unique personality and entirely different lifestyle/routine to every other. So, in my experience, there really is no ‘one size fits all’ with regards to dealing with puppy biting. Considerations such as your lifestyle, family members, crate/no crate, toys, exercise levels/needs, etc must be examined before deciding on an approach to tackle this behaviour that will suit you, your family and your lifestyle. There would be no point in me advising you to get up and remove all attention from your pup and leave the room when he bites, if his primary carer throughout the day lives in an open plan apartment! Or advising you to redirect his attention to an appropriate toy, if it is 9pm and he is merely overtired. So, it’s important to see the puppy, his lifestyle and your routine before deciding on a definite plan of action.
Nipping and biting is normal for puppies, I would hazard a guess that all of your pups displayed this behaviour at some time albeit with varying intensities. It’s normal, natural, and painful! I’ve discussed this topic before, however it is probably THE most commonly asked question I receive, and probably one of THE least understood.
Pups will learn a huge amount from their littermates and mums, they will learn crucial social skills that they will take off out into the world with them, they will also learn a certain degree of bite inhibition. What is bite inhibition? Being aware of the hardness of a bite and controlling it appropriately. There are varying ways to tackle biting in pups, but it’s important to look at WHY pups bite in the first place. There are varying reasons, identifying the reasons for biting behaviours can be hugely helpful in minimising the behaviour.
A few ideas may be:
- over stimulation/over excitement
- attention seeking/learned behaviour
- teething/sore gums
Once you’re getting a pretty good idea as to what causes the nipping behaviour your pup displays, you have a slightly better chance of tackling it. Of course, a puppy may bite for various reasons, including all of the above, so having a good relationship with your pup and understanding his basic needs and wants will help you decipher his behaviour a bit better.
So, what can we do?? How do we curb the puppy biting??
There are various techniques which are appropriate for when your puppy STARTS biting, and we have discussed these before. If you need more advice on this just get in touch. However, it’s really important to try and get in BEFORE the behaviour even begins, and by this I mean we can start NOW encouraging the behaviours we want to see more of, thereby minimising the behaviours we don’t want to see ie. teeth on skin! I’m not suggesting by following the below techniques your pup will never ever bite, he likely will, most do, but it may well be with less intensity and quicker to curb and discourage if you have done some preparatory training before hand.
One of my favourites is a game I call ‘Flying Toys’. Essentially, this means we encourage and teach our pups to leave objects alone which fly by their faces! How often does a pup grab a trouser leg? Or a sleeve? Or our hand? These are fast moving objects and SO so tempting for our pups! However if we train them from early on to get used to and indeed ignore objects moving very quickly, and mark and reward their lack of ‘grabbing’ and interest, we are setting ourselves up with a far better chance of saving our clothes! This will also come in handy further down the line when you start work on your distraction training.
Another of my favourites is encouraging the ‘gentle’ cue. I would much prefer my pup lick my hand rather than bite, paw or mouth my hand. Encouraging our pups to see our hands as something fairly fragile which must be treated ‘softly’ rather than something to be grabbed, pawed and bitten, is hugely beneficial. Encouraging a ‘gentle’ cue early on can really help in the intensity of any biting behaviours further down the line.
Target training! Another favourite of mine, getting pups used to targeting our hand with their nose. Not only is this a useful training exercise for varying reasons, it encourages pups to see/approach our hands in a more controlled and gentle way, with their nose rather than their teeth! Also, overly exuberant pups can really hurt when ‘grabbing’ treats during luring of behaviours, by target training we can minimise this by encouraging them to follow a target, rather than a lure. This will also come in handy when teaching other behaviours, for example recall.
Teaching our pup to ‘leave’ on cue is really useful too. Marking and rewarding the ‘leave’ from an early age can really help our pups learn fairly quickly that backing off from something is incredibly rewarding! Usually we start to teach this using treats in our hand, then build up to other objects, so again we are encouraging some control and appropriate behaviour around our hands/skin!
As with any kind of training we do with our pups at a young age, largely it is based around impulse control. Pups are by their very nature opportunists, they will do what works, if running around grabbing your trouser legs or leaping at your hands to bite works, if they gain satisfaction from this behaviour more than anything else around them, then they will of course repeat the behaviour. So we can think about providing other options for our pups which will be equally if not more reinforcing than our trousers/arms/hands, and encourage from a very early age some basic control around our hands, skin and clothes!
Remember, encouraging our pups to engage in alternative appropriate behaviours from a very early age will minimise the intensity of any undesirable behaviours. Encouraging a ‘gentle’ cue before the biting really takes off, or encouraging a ‘touch’ before the pup becomes a bit ‘grabby’ with your hand, can and will really help when you come to face the dreaded biting phase!!
If you need help with teaching any of the above or would like more information about the services I offer just get in touch!