The chew behaviour should not be eradicated as it is a self-rewarding behaviour offering mental and physical stimulation. The chewing activity is a stress reliever due to the calming endorphins that are released. Dogs of all ages enjoy chewing, puppies chew even more to help soothe the growth of the adult teeth breaking through, they also need to chew to explore items with their mouths.
It is a natural behaviour and should not be eradicated but redirected. Manage the area with removing items that you do not want damaged, chewed or swallowed. Supply your puppy with plenty of different toys to chew on. It is important that you have a variety of different textures which satisfies your puppy at any time. These should be a combination of edible and non-edible items. Soft toys, rope toys, hard plastic toys, softer rubbery toys and safe wooden arrow root chew blocks are brilliant for fulfilling your puppies need to chew on something harder preventing skirting board and table leg damage! Edible chews such as Yakers, goats ears, pig pizzels, hooves, carrots and ice cubes.
See below for a list of recommended items to help you survive the bitey, nippy, and chewing puppy development period!
Before your puppy’s inoculations there is usually between three to five weeks before your puppy can interact with other dog’s and puppies, unless you have other fully immunized dogs within your home that is. It is left to human puppy parents to train their puppy to have a softer bite, this is termed as an ‘inhibited’ bite. An adult dog has an extremely strong and powerful jaw in ratio to his body size and weight so puppy needs to learn how to control the pressure of its bite when it is young, so it does not cause harm later.
Puppies communicate with their mouths and as well as teething they are discovering different textures and smells, what is edible and what is not. This is a perfectly normal behaviour. I find people can get worried at this stage that they have an aggressive puppy. In rare circumstances this can happen if the puppy has received an extremely poor start in life and has undergone a frightening experience which then causes the puppy to be distrusting and fearful but on the main this is a normal developmental stage that all puppies go through.
The puppy will have already started the process of controlling their bite when playing with the mother and siblings but there is still some way to go with this when puppy arrives home. Going from biting and nipping to a soft mouthed dog happens in stages and this can be a very challenging time for puppy parents when suddenly their fluff ball seems to have become a crazy shark. Much of this frustrated biting is due to the pain of many new adult teeth erupting through the gums replacing the baby teeth. This is at its most prevalent between the ages of 12 – 16 weeks, but all the adult teeth may not be through until 6-7 months.
If your puppy is biting, mouthing or nipping it is advisable to make sure your puppy does not need to toilet as this is often exhibited with these sorts of behaviours due to your puppy not having yet learnt how to communicate this to you. Many new owners do not realize just how much their new puppy needs the opportunity to have ample sleep and rest, this can be as much as 18 hours a day! Without this puppy can become over tired and more likely to show more regular occurrences of nippy and bitey behaviours.
For young puppies’ diversion is often the best way forward. Ensure you always have a reward pot nearby or rewards in your pocket so you can react quickly at any given time. If your puppy nips at your hands, show the treat to divert off your hands and deliver the treat then offer a permittable toy or food chew. To move on so the biting does not become a rewarded behaviour, introduce a ‘sit’ cue to sandwich in between. Therefore, the nip occurs, show the treat, ask for a sit, reward the sit, deliver or throw a permitted item to chew. Obtaining a retrieve and toy swops are a great way to divert of biting you or your clothes and great for early training of retrieve and tug games.
Hand feeding games encourage the puppy to take food gently from the hands.
Game 1. Try smearing the palm of the hand with some coconut oil, peanut or almond butter ensuring it is safe for dogs with no added sugar substitutes such as Xylitol which is poisonous for dogs. Allow your puppy to gentle lick the substance from your palm. Tell your puppy it has been good with ‘yes’ or ‘good’ and reward with a small treat. The softness of the mouth is being rewarded.
Game 2. Place some soft treats in a cupped hand. The reason I say soft is this promotes a softer mouth action; hard treats means your puppy will have to crunch so it is a harder mouth action. Within the cupped hand allow the puppy to nuzzle gently and take the treats, if your puppy was to bite and grab with his teeth then remove the hand and try again, repeat until the desired soft mouth is being used to take the treats.
Game 3. A further game to promote a soft mouth is when you give a treat by hand to say ‘gently’ if your puppy goes to snatch the treat lift your hand away. Slowly take the hand down again to your puppy, if there is a further snatch remove the hand quickly. The delivery of the treat is slow just like a butterfly fluttering down to your puppy’s mouth, if puppy bites at the treat the withdrawal of the hand is a fast motion. When the puppy does not snatch then mark the behaviour with ‘yes or ‘good and deliver the treat slowly and gently.
Game 4. Teach your puppy the Hand ‘Touch’ cue. Please see my article Training Hand ‘Touch’ Cue
Soft Mouth in Play as Puppy Gets Older
When playing tug toy and toy swops with your puppy it is inevitable that puppies may end up nipping, this can be accidental, the puppy does not know this is wrong and has not yet learnt to differentiate between a person and the toy. As the puppy gets older, from around fourteen weeks it will start to learn consequence, before this age diversion and management is the preferred option.
Note: Always keep any tug game short as arousal grows quickly. Move the tug toy back and forth and not side to side as this can cause neck damage for your puppy. If tug arouses your puppy too much and biting you becomes the default game! then remove this game for the time being and move on to retrieve games and retrieve toy swops instead.
If a painful nip occurs, say ‘ouch’ loudly and stop play and walk away from your puppy. Try again and use the same technique, this is termed as negative punishment It is difficult for the puppy to understand this straight away so this can be trained in small increments lessening the harder bite to softer mouthing. The first nip may be sharp and could even draw blood. On the next play session, the puppy may still nip but not as hard as previously. In this case the puppy has made progress but the criteria has now changed and you are looking for an even softer mouth action now. Again, this will not be tolerated so say ‘ouch’ and stop play even if the nip did not cause as much damage as the previous. Once your puppy’s mouth is starting to show signs of being much softer and you can see your puppy has made a choice to take the toy and not bite at your hand, arms or clothes then the use of positive reinforcement comes into play and the owner can then say ‘yes’ or ‘good’ and reward with a treat or continued play .
*Negative punishment means you have removed something that has value to the puppy at that time. In this instance, attention from you. The behaviour is less likely to be displayed again as the value has been removed from the puppy.
*Positive reinforcement means you are rewarding the correct behaviour made. You have marked the behaviour verbally by saying ‘Yes’ and then reinforced the behaviour with a positive reward such as a treat. Positive reinforcement means the behaviour will more likely occur again. In this instance you are telling your puppy that playing with the toy and not your arm is the correct behaviour.
Using both these methods gives a clear message to your puppy of what behaviour you are wanting your puppy to do.
My ‘Must Have Survival Kit’ to help you and your puppy through the early development stage of nipping, excessive chewing and biting
- Soft Toys
- Rope toys
- Nyla bones
- Yaker Dog Chew
- Snuffle mats
- Licki mats
- Origins root chew or olive branch chews
- Food puzzle toys (Nina Ottosson does a great range)
- Treat balls
- Natural foods chew items (J R Products do a great range)
Please remember this is a development stage and you and your puppy will get through it, but it can be very challenging time. By adopting a proactive approach and remaining consistent over the first few weeks combining management, fulfilment, redirection and positive reward training you will both come out the other side.
Article by Mandy Rigby, Canine Behaviour and Puppy Training at Yes! Good Dog