If you are a new puppy owner, you have probably already observed that your little furry tyke has declared that everything is his chew toy. This can result in the destruction of your favorite things, and when those needle-sharp puppy teeth sink into your very hands, the behavior results in a painful pierce as you ponder whether or not this transgression was an act of play or an act of aggression. Find out why your puppy is so mouthy, how to differentiate his mindset and what you can do about his mouthy behavior.
When human babies and toddlers discover new objects within their reach, their first instinct is to place these objects in their mouths. This is how babies explore their world. A baby is naturally curious about the appearance of a new object in his path. After seeing it, the next step in learning more about the object is to place it in his mouth to see what it feels like and tastes like. Puppies explore the world around them in the same manner. If your puppy is less than five months of age, he is still at this oral exploration stage. Remember that he has likely seen two or three big changes in the environment around him. First, he was with his mother and littermates. From there, he may have joined your household or he may have spent a few days in a pet shop before you took him to your home. Each place is new and presents a whole new set of opportunities to explore.
There are other reasons why your puppy seems to have an oral fixation. First, between three and four months of age, he will begin the process of losing those puppy teeth as his permanent teeth erupt. This teething process can be uncomfortable. Like human babies, they take some comfort from chewing on things. Secondly, when puppies play with each other, they all nip at one another. It's all in fun for them, but when you take a puppy away from his sibling playmates and place him into your home, he sees you as his new playmate. He gently nips and chews on your hands and feet as playful behavior in the same way that he played with his littermates. Whatever the reason of the moment may be for your puppy's urge to nibble your fingers, it is important to determine whether he is practicing normal puppy behavior or if he is testing some aggressive tendencies.
When Chewing Becomes a Problem
It may seem cute when a small puppy insistently chews on your hand. After all, he's playing with you, right? It may be cute now, while he's a little guy with tiny, albeit sharp, teeth. It will no longer be cute when he is fully grown with a full set of larger and stronger permanent teeth. This playful habit may be normal, but it shouldn't be encouraged. In order to employ the most effective training tips, you need to confirm that your puppy's biting behavior is normal play instead of a display of aggressive tendencies. Two ways to distinguish between play and aggression include the following:
- Look at the puppy's stance. Playful dogs have relaxed bodies as they bounce and run, but a stiff posture with a fixed stare indicates aggression.
- Listen to your puppy. Excited barks and grunts can be part of play, but growling should be interpreted as a warning of aggression.
Aggressive behavior is never cute and should be addressed as soon as possible to your veterinarian or an animal behavior specialist. Playful biting behavior, as well as destructive chewing, can usually be corrected at home by the human family members.
Training Tips to Discourage Nibblers
There are several easy things that every family member can do to discourage your puppy from playful or destructive biting. The key to success is to make sure that all family members, including children, are on the same page and practice the same techniques. Some of these tips include the following:
- Redirect his biting behavior. When he tries to bite on a finger or passing foot, lower the pitch of your voice and yell out "No bite!" in a loud and stern tone. The volume should startle him enough to stop his behavior. When this happens, hand him one of his toys. When he starts to chew on this appropriate object, resume your normal tone and tell him "Good boy."
- Give him a time-out. When your puppy starts to nibble on you, issue the loud and stern "No bite!" command, and then walk away from the puppy. Ignore him completely for a minute before allowing him to engage with you. Repeat this as necessary until he engages without his mouth.
- Never engage in roughhousing play with your puppy. If you roughhouse with him or encourage him to attack you, even as play, he will get overstimulated, and the intensity of his biting will escalate accordingly. Such rigorous play becomes more dangerous as the puppy grows into a full-sized adult, and this form of play with puppies is not a safe pastime for children.
If your puppy is teething, he may turn to harder objects than fingers and toes to try to relieve his discomfort, including furniture, corners of walls or some of your prized possessions. The best way to handle this is to keep him in his crate whenever a responsible adult is not able to supervise his every move. Provide acceptable things for him to chew on, such as his chew toys, in the crate as well as outside of the crate. Never use the crate as punishment, and never hit the puppy or inflict any form of physical punishment to the puppy. Doing so will teach him to be hand shy and can fuel aggressive tendencies.
The good news is that your puppy will outgrow his nibbling behavior as he matures. In the meantime, keep him exercised and socialized, provide plenty of toys and other ways to play, and focus his attention on obedience training to raise a well-behaved companion. For more information, contact a company like Veterinary Emergency Services Of Lincoln.