I read so many pleas for help in the Breed Groups and other local dog forums I belong to. They are responded to with well-meaning but often outdated, amateur advice, which often could be emotionally harmful for the puppy but particularly dangerous if there are children involved, which there often are. The positive ones below will ensure there is no need to scare or be unkind to your puppy.
Puppy nipping is a normal part of puppy development, and all puppies go through this stage, some more so than others. It is a way of communicating, albeit in an unsophisticated way. We find it hard to read what they are telling us subtly and so they ramp up to a full-on message giving.
I fostered (I failed, she stayed) my Lola as a result of being a particularly bad Pirhana puppy, I know exactly how it feels to have your fun, much loved, adorable puppy become some manic horrible growly being.
It is horrible, isn’t it?
But the thing to remember is that much of nipping is teething pain… puppy biting is pain relief … it is us that makes it a game for them by squealing and jumping around and the fun makes them feel better, takes their mind off the pain or provides a limb to bite down on for pain relief, so they play more. Like us with toothache, we feel better when we have something to occupy us, to detract from the pain, especially when the alternative is something that makes us happy or excited, releasing emotionally, the “happy hormones”. However, for pups it is just them dealing with pain, releasing that feel good emotion. So address the pain first and the need to bite, to relieve it.
How do we provide pain relief? Some great ideas are : supervised frozen carrots or other dog appropriate veg or fruit , frozen rope toys, frozen kongs or ice lollies. Try getting a sock wet it and freeze it, or use a tea towel or flannel… all these things can be swapped for what they find easily available …YOU!
Pups need CALM
LOTS of calm; a chance to chill out.
Being over tired and over stimulated is the other reason for what seems like total “manic” behaviour. Like young children without proper sleep and a calm environment for rest time puppy brains become overloaded and they get “cranky”.
Puppies need around 10-16 hours a day of sleep and calmness. This is imperative to empty out the build-up of hormones from the excitement of having fun, and exploring their world, but also to digest their food, and process their learning. Without the rest time, learning can be inhibited, and a puppy can seem to be “hard to train” or “wilful”, but mostly they are overtired and need some time to rest.
In a busy or noisy household this is difficult for them to achieve, they need us to guide them. There is a great blog on achieving calm here https://peacefulpawstherapy.com/blog . Following these guidelines will significantly impact on the intensity of the biting phase.
Learning and training support
This is a really good time to learn the best way to manage a dog who is pestering or has yet to learn good manners or seems aggressive (puppies are NOT being aggressive, wilful or dominant!) a good trainer with up to date puppy knowledge is really helpful as a specialist puppy classes.
All attention is good for puppies, good or bad repercussions, they have achieved being noticed! They want to be noticed and entertained. Unfortunately, their idea of entertainment is not in line with human expectations! we have a very high expectations of them to fit into our world and it is confusing and frustrating as it contradicts the natural being a puppy learning they have already.
If you have children or people who find the jumping and nipping challenging or who don’t understand how to consistently prevent the attention giving, then the kids bite prevention programmes are easy and fun to learn and they remove attention until the puppy offers the behaviour we find acceptable. The Doggone Safe “be a tree” programme is great . https://doggonesafe.com/Be-A-Tree.
We also highly recommend having a look at Kids Around Dogs. This is a specialist organisation which supports best practice around safety for Kids and Dogs and is essential for families with young dogs.
Any attention is good attention for a dog, touch, eye contact and especially verbal responses, they have no idea what we are saying so they tune in to our behaviour to work it out (more attention giving!) Being still, silent and no eye contact is boring for them, removing the attention removes the response. So ANY noise “ouch” , “squeals” , “shouting” , “shaking limbs” is all attention and worse raises the excitement and sense of fun, and ultimately is a positive thing for them, turning their misery into great fun, remember that fun raises happy hormones and makes them feel great!
Ignoring the behaviour for too long can create frustration and the pup will get more confised and need to up their communications.
Another person could offer a distraction with a “legal” toy or quiet and still game or calm chew. and then this will stop the behaviur, however it is not the total answer.
We used to use a system which sent the pup or you out of the room, but it is hard to get this right. The time out needs to be tiny – no more than a count of 3. it takes a while for the removal to work and causes confusion and frustration. So we would rarely use this.
We now teach a what we do want for appropriate behaviour really early on. Teeth or mouth on hands or objects does not work. Waiting a tiny time can get attention. I use the Choice Game. All trainers modify the games we use so it is based upon both Susan Garrett “its Yer Choice” and Absolute Dogs Mouse game.
You can use toys too. The pup learns that by not engaging good stuff happens. they learn the manners you are expecting. Don’t make them wait more than a count of 3-5 at first. if there is teeth pop hnd behind back and start again. Only play when the pup is already calm and ready to work. Use their dinner as long as they are not hungry. they should never be confused or frustrated,
CALM, CALM and more CALM!
Persistent “mad” pups are usually not getting enough sleep and general rest. Pups need at least 10-16 hours or so hours each day until around 8months – 1 year old as they are growing so fast. If your pup is not getting this, then you need to provide more nap, or rest times, we often need to proactively manage this. Teaching a dog some calm behaviour in a place that is theirs is one of the most important things we can teach them. This blog explains in detail how to achieve calm and why it is vital. https://peacefulpawstherapy.com/blog .
Sometimes pups become over excited and bitey because they are understimulated. Or over stimulated in a way that is too exciting. In recent years there has been a blossoming of ways to enrich, engage and also promote learning as well as tire out all dogs.
The FB group Canine Enrichment has endless ideas, I really recommend a visit! https://www.facebook.com/groups/canineenrichment
Snuffle mats are popular with our crew, easily made with a fluffy bathmat with a scattering or yummy crumbly food like tuna cake or crushed doggy treats or grated cheese.
We also love to recycle recycling!! Save those amazon boxes, packaging paper and bubble wrap milk bottles, little boxes, and put them all together, throw in a handful of kibbles from their dinner or a little bit of roast chicken or sausage, get a cuppa and leave them to it!
Scent games such as hiding bits of food around are much loved. There are lots of focussed scent games around on the internet now.
A Kong with different textures and tastes each time is a great resource as well as the tasting plates many new training methods include, a chance to have bite sized pieces of new foods.
A great training school is a fabulous resource, especially one which is modern games based with enrichment and confidence building focus, alongside the usual manners learning.
Some trainers now offer a pre vaccination visit to prepare for puppy classes meeting the specific needs of your family.
Some time spent learning fun games and tricks (remember the happy hormones?) and practicing manners such as recall and walk manners can be worth a good hour of physical time and is deeply relaxing and tiring.
Offer a range of interactive play time at both high energy and low energy is important and needs careful planning. Limit too many toys and use special ones for focus special toy time
FINALLY ! Routines
A routine for play, rest, food, toilet and sleep is really important, this will help all the little niggles with settling a puppy! A caution though, an over exercised , lots of run and chasing dog walk does not create tired and calm, often it can over excite
MOSTLY – HAVE FUN !
For further support please visit the Peaceful Paws FB page https://www.facebook.com/peacefulpawstherapy