Is it normal for my puppy to bite?
Puppies and adult dogs bite for various reasons. A clear understanding as to why this happens and some good, simple training can make all the difference! Read on for more information and helpful tips to stop your dog or puppy from biting.
Why do puppies bite?
Young puppies are very “oral” little creatures - it’s how they learn about their environment! Sure, they use their nose to smell and ears to hear, but it seems they really enjoy “mouthing” things to learn about them. To keep your puppy safe, it’s very important to closely monitor them and to avoid things such as electrical cords, poisonous plants, and hot items, just to name a few!
As they get a little bit older, say 3-4 months, their adult teeth begin to come in and then the teething-biting really kicks in. It’s best to again monitor the pup closely but also to provide safe, veterinary-approved toys for them to chew on such as a Nylabone or stuffed Kong toy. (Quick tip: the Kong website kongcompany.com has great “recipes” or ideas for safe and yummy things you can fill the Kong toy with!)
A great DIY “teething toy” to make for your dog is to take a rope toy (the kind with the knots in it), and soak it in either water or chicken broth and freeze it on a plate so it doesn’t stick to the freezer shelf. You might need to rub a little bit of peanut butter on it to get the pup interested in chewing at first. Once they do (and they realize it helps numb their gums and alleviate some of the discomforts of teething), they usually take to it quickly and really like it!
How do I teach my puppy not to bite?
Within reason, it’s important to allow your puppy to make mistakes and bite things they shouldn’t. At this time, you can correct them with a stern “Nooo!”, a gentle squeeze of the mouth, and a “redirection” to something that they’re allowed to chew on. Biting hands and feet, especially of children, is completely unacceptable and should never be allowed or tolerated. Puppies need to learn this at a young age as part of their “socialization” skills - in other words, what they’re allowed or not allowed to chew or bite on.
Puppies like to rough house and romp and bite or “mouth” each other. This is fine, within limits. If they start getting too rough, it’s time for a “time out” or time alone, apart from the playmate. It’s great if a puppy can regularly spend time with other dogs, young and old, to learn acceptable limits (how hard to bite, where it’s not OK to mouth or bite, etc.).
Why do adult dogs bite?
The main reason adult dogs bite is out of aggression - the most common being fear or anxiety, or territorial or possession, usually of food or toys. Biting an adult, child, cat, other small animal, or another dog is never acceptable unless they are in danger themselves and it’s in self-defense. Hopefully, your dog will never be in a position where self-defense is necessary. Close monitoring, knowing your dog well, and being in tune with his/her temperament will help prevent most cases of biting in self-defense.
Appropriate things for dogs to bite or chew on are veterinary approved toys (Nylabones, Kongs, etc.) Period. They should not bite or chew on sticks, rocks, or logs, as those sorts of things can cause damage to the teeth or any part of the digestive system should they be swallowed. Chewing on appropriate toys is good stimulation for your dog, mentally and physically. It helps strengthen the muscles and tissues that hold their teeth in place.
How do I prevent my adult dog from becoming a biter?
As far as preventing dog bites, it’s extremely important to teach your dog strict boundaries as to what’s acceptable to bite and what isn’t when he/she is young. Socialization and obedience training regarding other dogs, children, unknown adults, cats, other small animals, vacuums, outdoor objects such as sticks/rocks/logs is the best way to prevent your dog from biting.
If you come across a stray or potentially aggressive dog that may bite, the best thing to do is not make eye contact with the dog, stay calm (yelling or screaming will make things worse), and then slowly walk away. If you’re worried about your puppy or adult dog mouthing or biting, contact your vet or a veterinary behaviorist for advice.