Puppies use their mouths (and tiny sharp teeth) to explore their world. But, too often, this playful behavior can turn painful when your pup decides to chew on you or your family members. Most puppies grow out of this mouthy stage pretty quickly, but sometimes, if a pup isn't taught boundaries, it will continue nipping at the family as it gets older and stronger. Here are 10 ways to teach your dog not to bite the hand that feeds it.
- Act like a puppy. Things can get pretty rough when puppies rumble with their littermates. If you watch a litter of pups at play, you will eventually see at least one puppy get so excited it bites too hard. Immediately its littermate will scream or yelp and stop playing. The offending puppy will look startled and back off. This is how the puppy learns that biting a friend has consequences. However, some puppies don't learn this lesson and continue to bite and nip their human friends. One of the best ways to stop biting behavior is to act like a puppy: Yelp loudly if your pup hurts you. Then, turn away and ignore your puppy for a few minutes. Eventually, your pup will learn that if it's too rough, it won't get any attention.
- Distract your pup. Another way to stop your pet from nipping you is to have a squeaky or chew toy nearby. As soon as your puppy starts to chomp down on your hand, stick a toy into its mouth for your puppy to chomp on. A squeaky or chew toy is a lot more fun and satisfying to chew on than your hand or arm.
- Be consistent. Consistency is the key to all training, especially when it comes to easily distracted puppies. Make sure everyone in the family follows the same rules when it comes to bite prevention. Children especially need guidance because they are so active, making them an attractive target for puppies. Remember, even puppies have prey drive, so if your child is running through the house making high-pitched noises, your pup will think it's a fun game to chase and nip the moving target.
- Use the buddy system. If you know of someone else who has a puppy or a calm older dog, arrange for regular play dates. The best teacher for any puppy is another canine. A friendly older dog will quickly teach your unruly puppy proper etiquette.
- Call time-outs. Puppies can quickly become overtired and overstimulated. And when they get overtired, most puppies don't make good decisions and might resort to biting to get your attention. If you suspect your pup has had enough excitement for the moment, put it in its crate for a well-deserved nap. Most puppies require 18–20 hours of sleep a day, so if your pooch has been pushed to its limits, make it sleep off the excitement.
Learn to read your dog's body language.
- Bring out the toys. Always have a variety of toys available so you can toss one on the floor to distract your pet if you suspect it is thinking of attacking your toes. Look for toys that provide plenty of chewing action such as hard rubber bones and balls, sterilized bones, and strong squeaky toys. Avoid cheap, thin plastic squeaky toys that your pup might be able to rip open. You don't want to take an emergency trip to the vet to remove a swallowed squeaker. Most importantly, vary the toys your pet gets to chew on so your pup doesn't get bored.
- Exercise your pup. Let your puppy safely explore the world outdoors where it can focus its pent-up energy. Toss a ball or begin teaching basic obedience. Your goal is to challenge your puppy physically and mentally in an effort to minimize destructive puppy behavior inside your home. And, never forget to praise your puppy. Whenever it does what you want it to do, praise or treat it so it strives to repeat the behavior.
- Try bitter spray. As a last resort, you might want to try spraying your clothes or hand with a product called Bitter Apple. It's a nontoxic spray that leaves a bad taste in your pup's mouth if it tries to chew on anything that's coated with the spray.
- Keep your cool. Puppies can certainly try your patience, but never hit or slap your puppy or use any type of physical punishment to stop your pup from nipping. This creates a more stressful situation that could rile your pup more. Plus, any physical punishment can cause your puppy to lose trust in you and ruin the developing bond between you and your pet. Present yourself to your puppy as confident and strong, not as a thing to be feared.
- Go to school. All puppies should be given early obedience training to teach them the groundwork for becoming a good canine citizen. As soon as your puppy is eligible, enroll it in a class just for puppies. Your dog will learn obedience basics and get to interact with other pups of the same age. And, if your puppy has any special needs, your instructor can work with you one-on-one to improve the situation.