A lot of people ask me, why is my puppy biting? I’m talking about that mouthy nibbling with tiny needle-sharp teeth… it hurts! And with some puppies, it can be quite extreme, and if left unchecked, can become a bit of a problem – especially if it continues into the teenage years and adulthood. So how do you curtail your puppy’s biting habit?

The first thing to remember is that biting is normal. The same way babies like to put things in their mouths, puppies can use chewing as a way of exploring their world. It’s used in play, to communicate, and is also common when they’re teething. Problems arise because we humans are really not that clued in when it comes to understanding the subtleties of canine communication: our responses are often unexpected, delayed and confusing to a pup. Then there are our inconsistencies. Different family members react in different ways, so we lack persistence in our responses. It’s no wonder that the learning experience can be challenging for a youngster!

I like to think of the three golden P’s when helping your puppy understand acceptable behaviour in a human world: patience, persistence and positivity.

And there’s no place for the other P (punishment). Punishment can create anxiety, which affects a puppy’s ability to learn, and can exacerbate undesirable behaviours like biting. So, here are five tips to nip the nibbling in the bud:

  1. Start with making sure your puppy has plenty of opportunity to fulfil all of his or her needs (a bored and energetic puppy is a recipe for disaster!). This means exercise, playtime, obedience training and socialisation. Remember to do these within environments approved by your vet. Immature immune systems means greater susceptibility to disease, especially if vaccinations are not yet complete.
  2. When the biting occurs, try redirecting your pup’s attention to something more appropriate. A lovely squeaky chew toy, for example! If there are instances where you know your pup is likely to be stimulated and lead to biting, try to pre-empt this. For example, have a chew toy ready to toss when you go to hang out the washing if they see this as an invitation to attack your toes and ankles.
  3. Teaching to ‘sit’ or ‘settle’ on command (achievable with treats and patience!) is a great technique. It’s incompatible with biting! Sometimes, just ending the interaction by walking away can help your pup realise that the biting won’t result in the attention he or she was seeking. In some instances, people find a ‘yelping’ sound can stop the pup, but be careful this doesn’t make them fearful, which can lead to more issues. It should act more as a distraction.
  4. Calm is key! Our challenge with the subtleties of body language can mean that our attempts to stop our puppy can actually result in exactly what they’re seeking: our agitated arm flapping and carry-on might be seen as “this is fun!! Now I’m really playing!!”. If you’re struggling, seek professional help sooner rather than later – it’s hard for a puppy to unlearn behaviour you’ve inadvertently encouraged!
  5. Finally, try to reward desirable behaviour whenever you can. A quiet puppy resting quietly on the mat? Definitely worth a treat!!

by Simone Maher, the Baxta Vet