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How to Stop a Puppy from Biting


Puppies do many adorable things as they begin to grow and explore the world around them, from letting out their first bark to navigating stairs for the first time.  Young pups are able to get away with many bad habits when they small, mostly because they are not yet strong, big, or loud enough to cause any harm.  One common behavior of puppies is biting and nipping.  Although many owners may find this action cute in the beginning, if left unchecked there can be significant – and even dangerous – consequences.  Listed here is a guide intended to help you stop a puppy from biting.

Why is my puppy biting?

Many pet owners mistakenly believe that a puppy that is biting is destined to grow up to be an aggressive dog.  In reality, it is extremely rare for a puppy to be truly aggressive.  Instead, puppies use their mouths for a number of reasons.  It is up to the pet owner to best determine why a puppy may be biting or nipping, and to fix the problem appropriately.

One of the top reasons that a puppy bites is because he or she is trying to explore the world.  Puppies have three main ways to interact with their environment:  sight, sound, and taste.  When dogs are young, their most developed sense is taste, and the ability to latch onto an object is imporant because this is how they nourish themselves by nursing from their mothers.  Since puppies learn that from a very early age that using their mouth equals the reward of milk, they tend to explore what other “rewards” they can find by biting arms, fingers, and ankles.  To discourage this behavior, it is important to sternly tell your puppy “no” whenever it becomes mouthy, and to provide an appropriate exploration outlet instead, such as a bone or chew toy.

Another top tendency of puppies is to clamp down on an arm or hand when playing with a human.  This style of play is common among canine siblings, and puppies are not aware that it is inappropriate to play aggressively with humans.  Instead of punishing your dog for behaving in a way that it does not realize is wrong, simply let out an audible yelp the next time your puppy inappropriately uses its teeth and walk away.  Your dog will quickly realize that playing too aggressively leads to having no playmates at all.

Just like human children, puppies that are teething are more likely to find things to bite and chew on – including arms, legs, and hands – in order to reduce the pain of incoming teeth.  If you think your puppy’s biting problem may be due to teething, simply provide your puppy with an appropriate teething toy instead.

Fear Aggression
While fear aggression is not common in puppies who have been with one owner since birth, it can arise in any animal that has a history of abuse or a genetic predisposition to timidity.  Like many animals, a dog’s response to fear is fight or flight.  If the animal feels it is unable to safely get away from something scary (i.e. a person who resembles a past abuser, a loud noise, a new object, a strange animal, etc.), the dog may lash out instead.  An owner should look for other body language signs to determine if the dog is fear aggressive, such as crouching, growling, tucking its tail between its legs, or snarling.  To remedy fear aggression, the dog should be patiently and properly socialized, preferably with the help of a knowledgeable trainer.

Improper Socialization
A puppy should be socialized from as early an age as possible, preferably as soon as it is weaned from the mother.  Socialization involves introducing the dog to many new sights, sounds, people, animals, and experiences.  The goal of socialization is to ensure your dog turns into a well-rounded and well-behaved dog, by helping him or her develop coping mechanisms when new (and potentially scary) situations arise.  An improperly socialized dog or puppy will be more likely to bite new humans and animals because it will have never learned how to properly behave in these situations, or will have developed the bad habit of being territorial.  To fix this problem, excessive socialization is necessary.

Improper Introduction
Does your puppy only bite other dogs when introduced to a new animal?  This common problem is often due to the way that two dogs are introduced.  It is important to first introduce two dogs in neutral territory, such as a nearby sidewalk or park.  Both dogs should either be on-leash or off-leash, and you should never expect two dogs to get along if one is leashed and one is free.  Dogs should also never be allowed to immediately sniff face-to-face, as this situation can easily lead to a dog bite.  Instead, walk the dogs together and take turns allowing them to sniff one another’s rear ends.  If the dogs pass this initial test, then they can be introduced in the house or yard, but be aware that all the previous steps should still be followed, as territory fights may still arise.

“Teenager Syndrome”
If your dog never had a problem with being mouthy but suddenly developed the bad habit as a 2 – 3 year old, rest assured your dog is likely going through “a phase.”  While this can be both frustrating and annoying, your dog is simply testing your limits.  The best course of action is to be stern and firm with your dog by saying “no” and not giving your pet any attention.  However, if the problem does not clear up on its own, help from a dog trainer may be required.

Dominance Aggression
If none of the above mentioned reasons seem to apply to your dog, then it is possible you are dealing with true dominance aggression.  The best way to determine if your dog is behaving aggressively is to watch body language.  Before biting, does your dog stand stiffly with tail and fur raised, lips curled, and ears pointed forward?  Does your dog bark, growl, or lunge before biting?  Other signs of dominance include humping and resource guarding.  If you believe your dog may be biting as a display of dominance, help from a certified dog trainer is required.

Resources: http://pets.webmd.com, http://www.aspca.org, http://www.cdc.gov


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