Puppy bites: teething and bite inhibition
There is hardly anything cuter in this world than puppies. The way they tussle and encourage humans to play is simply adorable. It's impossible to resist romping around with them, and before you know it, a little tail-wagging puppy has discovered your hand as a chew toy. When an adult dog bites, it’s anything but funny. So prevent it: with a few training tips, you can teach your little friend how to chew. So prevent it: With a few training tips, you can teach your little buddy that biting is a no-no.
Take a look into its mouth: How is the puppy's bite developing?
A strong set of teeth is indispensable for a dog. But they don’t come right away:
Dog puppies are not only born blind and deaf, but also toothless. While they are still sucking on their mother’s teats, they do not need teeth. Between the third and sixth week of life, however, the time has come for the milk teeth to emerge. With two canine teeth, six cheek teeth and six incisors in the upper and lower jaws, puppies will have 28 milk teeth. What is striking about these first teeth is that they are much more pointed than those of an adult dog. The change of teeth does not take place until between the fourth and seventh month of life. The fully formed set of teeth has considerably more, namely 42 teeth.
The exact time and duration of the change of teeth depends on the breed, but: In any case, it takes place during puppyhood – i.e. during a period of time when the separation from mother and littermates has usually already taken place and the young dog is living in its new home. One of the important lessons to teach the four-legged friend at this point is what he is allowed to bite on with his teeth and what not. Not so easy, because the need to bite and gnaw is particularly high during the change of teeth.
What about inhibiting biting?
Normally developed dogs do not bite without need or good reason. This is regulated by the so-called “bite inhibition”, a behaviour that ensures that dogs do not hurt each other when fighting – and which should naturally also include their human pack members.
Bite inhibition is not innate, however: young dogs learn this behaviour through interaction with their parents and littermates, starting around the fourth week of life. This is also one of the reasons why separating the puppy from the litter too early can lead to socialisation problems. If the dog has not learned that it must not snap either in play or in anger, it is important to instil this in the dog consistently. Snapping and biting incidents in dog ownership are often the result of a lack of bite inhibition or insufficient training.
Why do puppies bite during play?
Biting during play is a totally natural behaviour in developing puppies. As soon as the teeth appear, they need to try them out – for example, by biting one of their littermates, who will not put up with this behaviour and will snap back, which in turn causes pain.
During these young dog biting episodes, the bite inhibition described above is formed. The puppy learns that after biting, it will be bitten back – i.e. something unpleasant will follow. The very beginning of playful biting is therefore about building up socialisation. Once the dog has understood that it has a new master or mistress and that it can stay in its new home forever, it will be the best friend you ever had.
When the puppy gets a little older, the change of teeth provides another impulse. The puppy tries to influence the stimuli associated with the change of teeth in its mouth by gnawing and nibbling more – even on toes and fingers if necessary. Furthermore, puppies use biting in certain situations when interacting with humans in their home: As a exuberant invitation to play, as an expression of frustration, excitement or when exploring unknown objects.
How can I break the puppy's biting habit?
What still seems cute in a puppy can become dramatic in an adult dog, so you should stop your puppy from biting immediately and consistently.
The following tips will help you to break your puppy's biting habit:
- Chew toys: When handling the dog, always keep an object handy that your dog is “allowed” to use for biting and nibbling.
- Consequence: If the dog gets hold of forbidden objects or even your fingers or toes, react strictly. Take the forbidden object away from your sharp-toothed puppy, together with an appropriate word signal (“No!” or “Ugh!”), but at the same time offer him the toy and praise him if he can be distracted with it.
- Clickers: If you have experience with clickers, you can apply this principle also to anti-biting training: If the puppy refrains from biting, the clicker sound will be used to positively reinforce the behaviour at exactly the right moment.
- Play break: If the puppy cannot be distracted during playful biting attacks, get out of the game. Command “No!” and ignore the animal for a few minutes or send it out of the room. In this way, your puppy will learn that too rough a behaviour will scare the playmate away.
- Alpha dog: This works even more effectively if you behave like a dog for a short time when it bites you. Growl at the puppy, “snap” at it, grab the naughty dog for a moment and then ignore it. This is close to the typical reaction of a higher-ranking dog and will impress the puppy.
- Careful: When interacting with a young dog, avoid violent movements. This also applies to petting: it is better to massage than to pat. In reflex, the dog may try to snap at your hands.
Do not get involved in wild biting games with the puppy and, if possible, refrain from uttering indistinct sounds: Both can encourage the inexperienced animal in its play instinct.
Which toys are suitable when the puppy bites?
Suitable toys that can be used as “allowed” biting objects are
- Rubber balls
- Play ropes
- Suitable chewing wood
- Stuffed animals for dogs
During the change of teeth, avoid wild tugging games – in the worst case, this can promote malocclusions. Choose teething toys without squeakers: the “rewarding” sound of biting can have a stimulating and counterproductive effect on the dog.