There is a well-known saying in the dog training world: You may need to change your behavior to change your pup’s behavior. If you have been trying to solve your pup’s biting, and your pup is still biting, I must ask, “How is that working for you?”
If you answered, “Not so good,” please read on!
First Things First
If you are concerned about your puppy’s behavior, your first stop is your veterinarian to rule out any possible medical causes.
Worms, contagious stomach maladies, old injuries and even pups going through rapid growth are just a few of the possible causes might be contributing to a puppy’s aggression. It is not enough that your puppy may have already been to the veterinarian; you need to communicate to the vet just what is going on so that he or she can help you.
Aggression in puppies most often arises from two things — pain and fear. Once you have ruled out any medical causes, it is time for you to stop scaring your puppy!
As a dog trainer for more than 20 years, I see people put their puppy into scary situations all of the time. Sometimes, the everyday things that scare your puppy are easy to miss. Holding your puppy while strangers pet him and playing with big dogs are two of the most common.
Puppies Are Just Vehicles For Their Mouths
Biting and nipping are part of a normal developmental stage for pups. As a general rule, biting becomes a habit after 6 months. Puppies need to learn bite inhibition and how much pressure they can use with their teeth. That is in your job description.
How do you do this? Redirect! I often recommend that people pick up a carpenter bag from the hardware store, and wear it around when your pup is in the throngs of teething. This is an excellent $3 investment. When you wear a carpenter’s bag, you can carry around treats and toys and things for your puppy to chew on to replace your sleeve, shoes and digits.
Change Your Behavior To Change Your Pup’s
How do you do this? Think about a time when your puppy bites and ways you could prevent it. If every time you come out of the shower your pup attacks your slippers, what can you do differently to avoid this? How about giving the puppy something else to munch on before you walk past, or restrict access to all your slippers and other property by using puppy pens, leashes, gates or tethers? If you restrict access, be sure it is only for short periods of time.
Violence Begets Violence
Please do not treat your puppy’s excitement with force. Some dog trainers and vets recommend methods that we know can cause more harm than good. Following is information on other actions to avoid.
- DO NOT pin your puppy to the floor. The Monks of New Skete, who popularized the Alpha Roll, rescinded this advice years ago. It can cause aggression.
- Do not hold your puppy’s mouth shut. This can cause aggression.
- Strive to be the most trusted person in your puppy’s life. Just as you wouldn’t teach a toddler with violence, the same goes for your puppy.
Red Flag Behaviors
If any of the following situations occur, seek professional help immediately for your puppy.
- If you feel out of control.
- Your methods are not working or making it worse.
- Your puppy continues to break the skin with bites. For some people, such as older people with thin skin on blood thinners, you cannot wait to address this.
Put in the training time NOW; it will be well worth it over the next 15 years or so.
If you have a bully puppy, stop the behavior and stop it now. If your puppy is pinning other puppies to the ground, guarding spaces or special things, or bowling over other dogs, please don’t allow this to continue. While such behavior may be accepted by the puppy that your puppy is playing with, such play with most any other dog can end in a fight. Teach your puppy to be respectful by utilizing frequent play interruptions. You want your puppy to learn to diffuse his own situations, but this will take time and guidance.
Empower Your Pup
The best thing you can do for your puppy is to empower him. Stop putting him in situations that he is not ready for. Not all puppies, like not all people, want to be the life of the party. Let them meet and greet people in their own time. Interrupt any interactions before things get too wild. Practice reinforcing the behavior now that you want to see when your puppy is grown.
Let your puppy go up to people if he chooses. As tempting as it is, stop holding the puppy while people approach him. That can be scary. There will be plenty of time for manners later on.
If your puppy is behaving aggressively with other puppies or dogs, your first job is to stop it from happening. That is the management part of training. You absolutely do not want this to continue.
I am not trying to be an alarmist, but you could end up with a dog who does not get on with other dogs for life. Dog trainers can help with this! The first step is to stop putting your puppy in situations where he feels he needs to act with his teeth.
Be sure to let your puppy know when his teeth hurt you. A high-pitched yelp, like a littermate would make, is usually all it takes. Teach your puppy to take treats and food gently. Be kind.
A Word About Growling
A growling puppy is telling you that he is uncomfortable. Heed the warning. In this very important window of development, you have one job — and that is to teach your puppy that life is good!