There are usually 2 reasons why puppies get ‘a bit bitey’:
- Over Touching
- Over Playing
Humans LOVE stroking dogs, especially puppies; they look gorgeous and their soft fur feels dreamy! But whilst humans demonstrate affection through sustained eye contact, verbal praise and touching, it’s all a bit strange for your puppy; on Planet Pup you will never see one dog go up to another to hug, kiss or stroke the way humans do. So, your dear little puppy, whilst probably wanting your ‘company’, may not always want your hands-on ‘contact’.
Moreover, humans often (inadvertently) teach their pup to bite them! Most humans miss all the polite communication that pup uses to say “please stop, I’m uncomfortable with what you’re doing to me”. The ‘Canine Ladder Of Communication’ below shows you some of those body language gestures your pup might use to ask you to refrain from what you’re doing:
The green gestures are the pup’s very polite requests saying “please could you stop?” – but few humans understand ‘Dog Language’ so your poor pup is forced to keep escalating his/her communication (ie moving up the ladder to yellow, amber or red gestures) – to something the humans WILL understand – a nip/bite. So, very quickly – and inadvertently – humans train their pup to bite them if pup wants to make the ‘petting’ (or other unwanted human activities) stop. Your puppy is not being naughty or spiteful; pup is simply trying to get you to ‘stop, please‘.
Consensual Contact: The 3 Second Game
Here’s a great little test you can do with your pup to find out whether he or she likes the way you are petting them:
Try stroking your puppy for a maximum of 3 seconds – then take your hands off, completely. Watch your puppy carefully as you do this; how many gestures did your puppy use from the Canine Ladder of Communication? Video it – I bet you’ll spot even more if you re-watch the footage! For example:
- Did your puppy’s eyes widen or stare (as in the pic above)?
- Did pup turn his head away?
- Did she get more wriggly?
- Does pup move away when you stop?
If so, your puppy is signalling that – at this moment – s/he does not want to be stroked/petted etc. They love you, but dont want your hands on their fur just now, thank you! So, an easy way to stop puppy biting is to TOUCH your puppy LESS! Or, at the very least give your puppy a choice in the interaction by introducing Consensual Contact using the “3 Second Game”.
In my experience, when we do less petting – the puppy ‘miraculously’ does less biting!
The second cause of puppy biting is often down to how you PLAY with your puppy. Usually – while best intentioned – humans play too vigorously or for too long with their pup.
For example in a tug game, try playing more gently; remember, your pup doesn’t have hands! So, all that tension goes through his/her mouth – it doesn’t take much for your puppy’s developing jaw bones to get over-stressed.
Also, keep the games short – and let your puppy ‘win’ after a few seconds (5 seconds is plenty!) Then wait and see what your pup does – does your puppy come towards you to re-play? Or does your pup take the toy to chew on or to fling about or to hide in his den? If so, your pup may be saying that s/he needs a breather from ‘your game’ and that they’ll like to do something else for a moment, please 🙂 Your best response is to let your puppy do so. Give your puppy the choice.
When you start giving your dog or puppy choices in theses ways, you may find your puppy ‘magically’ becomes a little calmer. Choices ease frustration and that in itself creates calmer behaviour in your pup.
Animal Behaviourist & Trainer, Chirag Patel gave an excellent talk at the BCSPCA called “10 Things Your Dog Wishes You Knew”. Click here for the video – scroll to 20 mins for the start of his talk and to 51 mins for the bit on puppy mouthing/biting. It’s well worth listening to if you want to understand your pup/dog’s behaviour better.
‘But It happened out of the blue’
In my experience its very unusual for a dog to snap ‘out of the blue’. Kendall Sheppard, a veterinary behaviourist and author of “The Canine Commandments” says that dogs rarely (if ever) bite for ‘no reason’. Usually dogs give plenty of signals that they feel anxious or uncomfortable with the situation before a snap. Watch this video by Kristin Crestejo to see exactly how dogs use their body to communicate how they feel. Isn’t it clever?
Is that humans struggle to see (or respond to) the subtle signals that dogs give; we only tend to notice when the dog ‘shouts’ at us – ie a growl or a bark or a bite. But look how far up the ladder a growl is. Think how stressed the dog must be feeling by the time he has to escalate to that point?
And worse still, consider the consequences of punishing your dog for growling? Its as though you’re saying “don’t give me a warning that you’re at breaking point.” So, next time, you may find he doesn’t – and the dog goes straight to bite. Inadvertently, we can end up training our dog that shouting and screaming (ie growl, bite), gets people to ‘listen’ and makes the unwanted/scary thing go away. The result? A dog labelled ‘unpredictable’ or having a ‘short fuse’. When actually, the dog has usually tried to give lots of warning behaviours … but we just didn’t know how to listen.
Notice The “Whispers” …
Our advice: Try to notice your dog or puppy’s ‘whispers’. That way Fido doesn’t need to ‘shout’ – or escalate behaviour – or put teeth on human skin.
For help training your dog or puppy, go to www.JoyfulDogs.co.uk