Teething and Nipping
How to survive puppy teething and nipping
Puppies are extremely adorable and probably evolved in this way so we’d overlook the fact their mouths are full of sharp little teeth that they like to frequently use.
Why do puppies bite?
There are many reasons why puppies nip, bite, and chew. This behaviour starts before they even leave their litter — as soon as they begin to develop teeth, they begin receiving feedback on their bite strength from their mother and siblings. Puppies learn that biting hard leads to loneliness or, worse, hunger! If a puppy bites too hard during playtime, then their playmate will likely yelp and stop playing. If they bite mum too hard while eating, then they may end up going hungry as she’ll walk away.
Puppies also nip in order to learn the social protocol within the dog world. Dogs don’t play with videogames or on bikes, they like to chase, tackle, tug, wrestle, etc. This kind of play helps puppies to learn manners with their other canine companions. Dogs don’t communicate with verbal language; they communicate physically. Without words, when the going gets tough, dogs will usually settle things with a physical scrap.
When well-socialised dogs find themselves in conflict, the interaction often looks very scary—teeth flashing and growling. More often than not, these interactions are short-lived, and both puppies walk away without injury. It’s a lot of hot air, but it is a highly ritualized display. If one or more of the dogs is under-socialised, though, the interaction pattern is changed and a player might get hurt.
While bite-inhibition training begins while a puppy is with its littermates, training has to continue throughout the dog’s life, with special emphasis during puppyhood.
Here comes trouble (one more reason!)
Puppies also bite because they are teething and learning to control their bite strength. It can also be an exciting experience for a puppy as nipping or biting can draw attention – even if it’s negative!
Biting for a reaction usually happens after the puppy enters its forever home – at around 10 weeks. A typical scenario is when the family are all relaxing after a busy day. The TV is on, phone and iPads are out, and everyone is ignoring their puppy.
The puppy, now bored, is wondering how he can get some much-needed attention and biting often works. Don’t be surprised if he starts to zoom around the room, knocking things over and nipping on legs that are dangling off the sofa. And then, all of a sudden, the puppy has everyone’s attention. Just what he wanted.
Mouth manners for the long-term
Puppy training should emphasise behaviour problem prevention in the adult dog. While most puppy classes teach basic manners and commands like “sit,” “down,” and “settle on a mat,” it is far more important to offer exercises and lessons that prevent behaviour problems from occurring in the adult dog. Most of my puppy classes have a heavy emphasis on socialisation, prevention of resource guarding, and development of bite inhibition, all training should be carried out using positive re-enforcement.
"Do" the right thing
There are things you can do to ensure that your dog develops appropriate “mouth manners.”
Mouthing manners: helpful hints
Worth the effort
While training your puppy not to nip or bite may sound like a lot of work (and, to be fair, puppy-raising is definitely a lot of work), it is one of the most important things you can teach your dog. Bite-inhibition training saves lives; it helps dogs and people stay safe together and enjoy each other more thoroughly.
Bite-inhibition training saves lives.
Puppy training should focus on preventing behaviour problems in the adult dog—and no behaviour problem is more dangerous for dogs and people than biting. Any dog may bite if it senses danger, feels trapped, or experiences pain, among many other reasons. Early and extensive bite-inhibition training provides the confidence of knowing that if your dog ever finds himself in a provocative situation, it’s significantly less likely he will cause serious damage with his teeth.