Puppies are mostly delightful, but sometimes they can be a little frustrating. One of the most annoying and painful problems new owners face is often the dreaded play bites. Dogs love to roughhouse and wrestle, and part of that involves playful nips and snaps. Unfortunately, puppies aren't born knowing how to control their bite strength when playing. For their owners, this often means a lot of painful chomps. This is a very common problem when raising a puppy, and there are plenty of easy ways to teach your puppy to stop biting and be more polite.
Old-school methods of dog training often relied heavily on physical punishment, and it can be tempting to lash out when your puppy gives you a particularly painful bite. Remember, though, that your puppy is still learning about the world and doesn't know any better yet. Avoid using violence or intimidation to scare your puppy out of biting. Using gentler techniques helps establish a stronger bond with your puppy and helps set your pup up for success.
Puppies may not seem all that different from adult dogs at first glance, but they are still learning all about the world and how to behave well. Make sure to pay close attention to your puppy whenever possible, and give pets, praise, and treats when your puppy is calm and polite. Rewards are highly motivating for puppies, encouraging them to demonstrate good behavior.
If your puppy is biting hard during play, one of the best things to do is simply end the game. This teaches your puppy that biting too hard results in the opposite of what the pup wants. Since most puppies are very interested in playtime, this lesson tends to be very effective. You can do this by simply turning your back or crossing your arms and looking away. In more extreme cases, you can put your puppy in a timeout.
A big part of training puppies not to bite is to teach them what they should nibble on instead. Biting and chewing are natural instincts, so they need an appropriate outlet. When you're playing with your puppy, make sure you always have a toy or chew close by that you can offer if your dog starts to bite too hard. Redirecting onto more appropriate outlets is a great way to teach your dog healthy chewing habits.
Dog trainers often like to say that a tired dog is a happy dog, and that holds true for puppies as well. It's important to consult with your vet to develop an exercise plan for dogs under a year old because their growing bodies can be injured by too much physical activity. However, getting enough exercise helps keep puppies from getting too frantic, which can cause them to bite more than they otherwise would. Some breeds also have strong instincts that need an outlet. For example, border collie puppies may nip people in an attempt to herd them if the puppy does not have an opportunity to use those herding instincts in more appropriate ways.
Speaking of border collies, they're notorious for being experts at the "puppy pounce," although it can be found in any breed. This is a playful behavior that is rooted in hunting and herding instincts, but it tends to lead to biting. Puppies like seeing the motion of human legs, which may lead them to stalk and eventually playfully attack your feet. While this is cute when puppies are very small, it can get painful and dangerous as the pup grows. When you move around your puppy, keep an eye out for intense staring or stalking. If your puppy does start to do that, gently redirect by holding a high-value toy or treat next to your leg. Your puppy should focus on that instead of biting your ankles.
Much like toddlers, puppies sometimes act out because they're too tired. If your puppy is suddenly acting more aggressively than usual, it may just be time for an enforced nap. This is particularly likely if you've had a lot of exciting activities that day, which may make it hard for your puppy to wind down. Quiet time in a crate or a small space, such as a bathroom, may help your puppy settle. Puppies also often have trouble communicating that they need a potty break and may result in nipping or aggressive play to try to communicate that. If your puppy suddenly seems restless or aggressive, a quick trip outside may help.
Biting is a normal behavior for dogs. If you watch two dogs play together, you'll generally notice them chewing on and nipping each other quite a bit. It's a good idea to teach your dog bite inhibition, which means that the dog learns to moderate their bite strength so they do not hurt the person or animal they are playing with. One of the most effective ways to do this with many puppies is simply to give a high-pitched yelp when your puppy bites too hard. This mimics the behaviors dogs use to communicate with each other, so most puppies instinctively respond by backing off. However, some puppies get more excited by the unexpected noise. For those pups, a brief time-out or withdrawal of attention may be more effective.
Playing nice can be a struggle if your pup is too wound up, so it might be time to use that energy for new commands instead. Mental exercise can sometimes be even more effective than physical exercise when it comes to wearing puppies out. You can use practical commands, such as sit and stay, or trick training, such as teaching your dog to roll over or shake hands.
Joining a puppy training class and puppy playtime groups can play a critical role in raising a good canine companion. Puppies learn through experience, so letting them socialize with their peers often helps reduce biting and teaches other good behaviors without much effort from you. A good dog trainer can help you develop personalized strategies to help reduce your puppy's biting, and the classes also provide helpful mental stimulation and socialization time that can burn off some of that excess puppy energy.
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