Puppies are curious. Much like infants, they spend a lot of time and energy investigating the world around them via their mouths. When they are small, it’s fairly easy to dodge the needle-sharp teeth. Some people even think it’s cute when a puppy gets all mouthy. It may be cute in puppies but make no mistake about it; you need to stop these early signs of aggression before that innocent little puppy grows into an adult dog, or you will regret it.
This mouthy behavior starts early. In the litter, puppies bite in a playful way to establish hierarchy. They snap and nip each other to test their strength and assert their dominance. When they are weaned from their mother and separated from their litter mates, it’s natural for puppies to take this behavior with them. So when you’re cuddling and cooing over the newest member of your household, beware – you may get a sharp nip on the tip of your nose.
While the biting may seem harmless, it can escalate into real aggression as the puppy becomes bolder. That’s why it’s necessary to teach your dog to curb this behavior early on. Here are some tips and tricks that will help.
If you expect your puppy to control his actions, you need to control yours. When a puppy nips you, the worst thing you can do is pop him. Fight this urge, because it’s useless. This is the time you should be bonding with your puppy, establishing a trusting and loving relationship that will last a lifetime. Furthermore, striking your pup will escalate his aggressive tendencies, and he may try to really bite you as a way of protecting himself. Hitting a dog is always wrong, and in this case it’s also counter-productive.
Properly socialized puppies learn to play gently with one another from an early age. You’ve probably seen a litter wrestling and pouncing and nipping. When one puppy nips a little too hard, the other pup will issue a loud yelp and back away for a moment. Actually, this behavior isn’t just in young dogs. When we take our adult dogs for an off-leash romp, they purposefully bump into each other as they run side by side. This playful jousting is often accompanied by nipping and play growling. If one of our dogs gets too rough with the other, however, the offended dog will let it be known.
Mimicking a dog’s natural behavior is the easiest way to communicate with him. So when you are gently playing with a puppy and he bites your hand too hard, give a high-pitched yelp or a stern no and let your hand go completely limp. Do not remove your hand from his mouth or jerk away; this will only encourage him to jump back towards you and grab at your hand. Your unexpected response will usually surprise your pup and he will let go of your hand. If that works, praise him for letting go and resume gentle play together.
If the yelping-then-praise tactic doesn’t work after about three attempts, up the ante; this mouthy behavior warrants the dreaded time-out. When you’re enjoying gentle play time and your pup gives a hard nip, yelp and withdraw your hand. Then ignore him for 15 seconds. If he tries to reengage you in a mouthy way, get up and back away for a few more seconds. Remain out of his reach for 10 to 20 seconds. After this brief time-out, approach your puppy again and encourage him to play. Repeat these steps as necessary.
Avoid excessive rough play with your puppy. If you’re having a peaceful play session and he reverts back to being mouthy, remove your hand and give him a chew toy.
Puppies frequently nip when they’re rubbed or scratched. If your puppy gets excited when you touch him, divert his attention by feeding him small kibbles like CANIDAE Grain Free Pure Foundations Puppy Food from your other hand. This will help him get used to being petted without getting mouthy.
Every dog is an individual. Some of these tactics will work for certain dogs but not for others. As a responsible pet owner, it’s up to you to try a variety of methods to curb puppy aggression at an early age. Be patient and loving, and enjoy this special time in your lives together. Good luck!
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell