Ouch! Puppy Biting Hurts!

Published: February 01, 2012
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When I was in veterinary school, a good friend of mine got a new Ibizan Hound puppy that she named Noah. I remember some days when she would just sit down and cry because he was so unruly.

He turned out to be the most wonderful dog, and my own dog’s best friend, but when he was a puppy it seemed like the mouthing, jumping and just plain troublemaking would never end. You can see a picture of Noah all grown up here. He is the one with the "Will Work for Food" sign in his mouth.

If you have a new puppy, you are very likely dealing with puppy mouthing, too. This is a normal part of your pup’s behavioral development. If the puppy had stayed with the dam and the litter until she was older, they most likely would have taught her bite inhibition. However, as we have discussed previously, most of us get our pups at eight weeks so that we can get right to socializing them.

Bite inhibition is a non-scientific term that describes the dog’s ability to regulate how hard she bites. Unfortunately, there are no studies showing the value of measuring a dog’s bite inhibition and how that translates into the likelihood of biting in adulthood. However, we want to make sure to teach puppies how and when it is OK to use their mouths.

There are lots of ways to teach your puppy not to bite. Some recommend teaching the dog how hard she can bite. This method has worked for many people, I am sure, but for me, I recommend that people teach their puppies that putting their mouth on someone is never acceptable. We draw a line in the sand at this point. Dog teeth are never allowed on the human body part.

By making it black and white to the puppy, you will be able to stop mouthing fairly easily (even unruly Noah learned not to mouth). There are some puppies who for other reasons do not respond to typical methods. These puppies may be particularly tenacious or persistent. They may also be anxious or fearful. Sometimes they are mouthing in self-defense or as a displacement behavior.

As we discussed in last week’s blog, a displacement behavior is generally performed when the animal is very excited or anxious and they don’t know how to act, so they do what they know how to do. In the case of some puppies, this is mouthing. Finally, invoking learning theory, a pup will continue to puppy mouth as long as the behavior gets attention.

Depending on your puppy’s personality and motivation, eliminating mouthing can be a challenge. By following the suggestions below, even the most unruly puppy can learn not to mouth you.

  1. Never give your puppy attention for mouthing.
  2. Never play rough with your puppy using your hands as toys.
  3. If your puppy is very young, you can use a high-pitched sound like the word, “ouch!” to correct her for mouthing. As soon as her mouth touches your hand, say, “ouch!” Then stand up and walk away from her. If she follows you and doesn’t mouth you, hand her a toy so that she has something proper to play with.
  4. Teach your puppy from the very beginning to perform an alternate behavior for attention. It isn’t fair to only correct her. She has to know what is right as well.
  5. If your pup continues to mouth you, stand up immediately and walk away from her. If you can leave her safely in the room that she is in, do so. Count to five as you wait on the other side of a baby gate or door. When you come back through the door or baby gate, if your pup is calm (not mouthing), praise and reward her. Then hand her a toy to play with.
  6. Make sure your puppy has lots of things to do. When she’s playing with an appropriate toy, engage her so she knows that when she’s playing with something appropriate, she will get your attention.
  7. Exercise your puppy regularly many times throughout the day for short periods. Puppies don’t have a lot of stamina, but they do have a lot of energy in short bursts.

Stick with it and remember the story of Noah. Even the most unruly pup can turn into the most wonderful dog.

Dr. Lisa Radosta

Image: Michael Zysman / via Shutterstock