Planet Dog is experiencing a natural development, and all of this biting makes sense. It’s only natural that we humans with our delicate skin would want this to stop immediately. When your puppy “attacks” the entire family, it’s a terrible thing. It’s hard being a misunderstood pup transplanted from your own culture.
Implement a plan for both sides! Here is a five-part strategy to help everyone get through the challenging puppy phase peacefully:
Use toys to distract and deter puppy teeth during play. Then, use tug games to bridge to early training. Teach Planet Human (so called “training”) slowly. Employ management equipment to ensure everyone’s safety.
Give puppies their Planet Dog Needs
I spend the majority of my waking time with puppies between 3 and 6 months old. This is because I am a specialist in puppyhood, run a play-and train group for puppies, and my family fosters rescue litters. Owners often drop off their puppies at my house, frustrated by the constant biting. When I send them the videos of my puppy interacting beautifully with my dog and human family, without biting, they are both hopeful and annoyed.
What is the secret? Before I interact with the puppy, I first try to meet his basic Planet Dog needs. What other needs are there besides food and shelter? Consider:
Running, chasing and “hunting” at their own pace. Exploring (and resting), and having mouthy fun such as chewing sticks or biting their friends.
Our house is a place where a puppy can play with other dogs, with teeth and all, explore a yard full of interesting smells, dig some dirt, chew sticks and bark at deer and foxes. When the puppy has had about half an hour of all that and wanders over to me, he’s no longer bursting with that wild I’ve-been-trapped-in-a-pen-in-the-living-room energy.
It’s not the pup who is tired after his 30 minutes with us, but he has been filled with enrichment activities. He is like a second-grade boy that just came back from recess after having a great time. Now he can sit at his desk, listen and be calm.
You can give your dog daily doses of what it’s like to be a real puppy, no matter where you live. Find a dog friend to have regular bitey playdates with in your area. A “sniffari”, or a leisurely walk in an interesting place, some interaction with friendly adult dogs and lots of chewing and digging will also help.
The next section will help you manage biting by addressing those needs. Ask yourself, “Did I get to be much of a dog today?” If you answered no, then start there.
Second, provide a variety of chewables.
Your puppy may bite to demonstrate his need to chew. For teething puppies, chewing is an essential canine activity. It pays to have items that encourage a long, satisfying chewing session. This will make your puppy happier and teach him the habit of chewing on “legal” objects.
What’s safe for use? Rawhides can cause intestinal blockages. Bully sticks are choking hazards. Toys with threads in them can entangle the intestines. Marrow bones are known to break and puncture internal organs. There’s no chew toy that is completely safe. Even if it is labeled as a puppy chew, it can still land you in an emergency room.
But let’s get back to the main point of this section: Puppies need to chew. And those dramatic medical emergencies are unlikely to occur if you choose appropriate chewing items. Everyone has to assess their own risks. Here are some of my guidelines:
The safest options are food-filled Kongs and Toppls, in the right size for your pup. You can use them every day if you put in some nutritious ingredients (a mix of a spoonful or two of canned food with some moistened kibble and some green beans or carrots that are almost too old). Later, always keep an ear open for sounds of coughing or choking. Stay nearby and listen for sounds of choking or coughing. As you observe different chewing styles and evaluate them, be on the lookout for a pup that is able to chew at a rapid pace and break off pieces. This puppy will get a limited variety of chew items. While your pup is exploring the new treats, grab the chew that he has left behind. Adult dogs can easily break the bones into small pieces or even crack them with their teeth, but puppies are not strong enough to do that. I will personally leave a puppy in a crate unsupervised with a nice marrowbone like this. If you’d like to keep it for a few more days, put it in the refrigerator after every 20-minute session of chewing. Rawhides and Bully Sticks are notorious for causing digestive upset, blockages and choking issues. When I use them I always supervise. Also, I only buy giant-sized chews, as the smaller ones that say “for puppies” are more likely to be swallowed by the puppy or get stuck in their throats or digestive tracts. I buy the super-long or thick chews and offer them in 20 minute increments to the pups. If they do chew it down to swallowable size I toss it out before it becomes a choking risk. The price of the bully sticks is a bit much, but stomach surgery would cost more.
Play tug with toys to get rid of puppy teeth.
It only takes a split second for those sharp teeth, and the cute disguise of extreme cuteness to cause a puppy’s pants to rip or draw blood. The worst part is not the blood or the rip. Your puppy had a chance for practice at biting. It’s likely that she found it rewarding and fun – “Yay!” It’s like being at home with my littermates!
This clever use of two puppy-management tools is a great example: a soft, long tug toy, and a portable pen that can contain the puppy while keeping clothing and skin on children intact. Photo by Kathy Callahan
Do not let this happen. You can reach for the toys in the basket that you’ve placed at the entrance of any area where the puppy spends a lot of time. Grab one or two tug toys. When the puppy is new, at first you will use these toys to protect yourself from those sharp puppy teeth.
How well the classic replace-hand-with-toy strategy works in decreasing painful bites depends on your ability to choose the right toys (by observing closely which ones are favorites for your particular pup) and keeping them in the right spots.
When you are first fending off, large stuffed animals will protect your hand and block the mouth. When you start to tug, long, flat furry animals are best (bonus points if they have a squeaker at the end). The thick, hard rope toys are often ignored, while the soft, stretchy braided fleece is the best. You can make these yourself!
Remember that the length of the toy is important. A six-inch toy can be used by very experienced puppy handlers, but for newbies, the longer the toy is, the safer it will make the human. You’ll thank yourself if you include a three-foot crinkly serpent in your repertoire if you have small children.
The way you manage and store your dog’s toys can make a huge difference. I want to give you so many choices that you could literally litter your puppy’s room with them. Should you? Nope! If the toy is old and has been sitting around for a while, it will not be appealing.
You can also choose the fluffy raccoon that the puppy hasn’t been able to see since Tuesday. Bingo! Teeth are occupied in a manner that is pleasing to everyone. Always rotate toys. You can keep a few toys out in the morning and then switch them for the afternoon.
You’ll soon be encouraging your dog to play tug, a wonderful Planet Dog/Planet Human compromise. Tug lets us give our puppy a YES to her instinct for physical, biting play instead of a NO which is both ineffective and unfair.
In the dark age of dog training when alpha was king, dog trainers used to say that tugging would make your dog question your authority. Modern tug is a fun way to improve communication as you gradually add structure to the game.
You can start by teaching that a polite “sit” will restart the game. Then you progress to a “Drop”. What is the result? Fun plus learning plus communication plus bonding.
#4) Introduce fun training games
After they have met their Planet Dog needs through play with other puppies of their kind, in a natural environment, where there are opportunities to sniff, chew, roll, and dig, pups will be more able to behave calmly. Photo by Kathy Callahan.
When your puppy’s teething is over, introduce a new fun way to entertain yourself. You can teach your puppy new ways to interact by using food as a reward for certain behaviors, such as “touch” or “sit”. As the puppy gets used to fun and food-filled training the quicker you will be able to use it to stop the biting. Instead of ignoring your voice, and continuing to attack your pant leg with a biting, the puppy will start to stop and think “Oh, right.” It’s a win-win situation!
As the eyes meet yours, say “Yes!” and toss a reward to the other side: “Find It!” Repeat, repeat, repeat as pup goes back and forth (like a ping-pong game). When the pup’s eyes meet yours say “Yes!” tossing a treat the other way: “Find It!” Repeat as the pup moves back and forth.
This simple game has many advantages:
You can increase the difficulty of the game by throwing farther, increasing the energy expended, or changing the behavior required to restart the game.
You can create a cooperative atmosphere by playing a quick game of tug with your biting pup, followed by some time of this type of training. This ping-pong is more effective than a game of tug because mental stimulation is more exhausting than physical exertion.
Remember: This will not work on the first day, as you haven’t built the relationship and understanding that you can earn tasty things by listening to you. Review: On Day One, the strategy to stop biting is to use stuffed animals. A few days later, you can play a tug-of-war game. And only later should you resort to a training session if your child has a bad mood.
#5) Use management tools: Crates, Gates and Pens
All of these strategies don’t always work. Remember, your first reaction is “Oh, haven’t I given my puppy a chance today to be a puppy?” Even if you are doing everything correctly, there will come a time when no one can be around the puppy. Here is where “management” comes into its own. Hello pens and gates!
It’s important that we can all put the pup in a place where she won’t harm anyone. To help ease the separation, throw a handful or kibble onto the floor (“Find It!”) and/or give your dog a chew. This option is useful when:
The combination of the children’s mood and the puppy’s mood is a disaster. Puppy is overtired and requires confinement in order to sleep.
Keep to your plan
This plan for getting through the puppy biting phase seems complex when it is written down. Once you get the hang of it, it isn’t that difficult. Many people do not have a strategy for this phase – the cuteness of puppies can fool them into thinking it will be all rainbows and butterflies! These five steps will help you navigate this cute but challenging stage in your puppy’s life.
Five steps to stop your puppy from biting whole