Biting Puppy Syndrome
This is SO exciting!! You have been been waiting patiently (well, kind of) for so long to finally hold your new pup! You've watched the 10 second videos hundreds of times and showed your friends pictures like a proud parent. And today is the day!!
* PICK UP DAY!
You get choked up, eyes starting to water, finally holding your baby in your arms. She's so cute and sweet and a little nervous, but soon starts to warm up, licking your nose and cheeks. You've never been so happy (ok, wedding day, kids, sure; but this is a NEW PUPPY!!)! After a few minutes she settles in and is excited to be with her new Forever Family. You grab her from your child's arms (she is YOUR pup, after all) and snuggle into her soft fur, smelling the wonderful puppy breath. Then, WHAM!! Like a tiny, fluffy shark attack, she clamps down on your nose with dagger-like fangs. Your eyes start to water again, for a whole different reason than before, as she bites your nostril, teeth penetrating right through the sensitive membrane. You struggle mightily not to drop a few choice expletives. HOLY CRAP! You forgot about the teeth! After prying her from your face, pushing her into your kid's arms (it is THEIR puppy, after all!) you pull some kleenex from your pocket, staunch the flow of blood and wipe your eyes. You angrily look down at her as she nervously looks up at you, then your heart melts all over again. You gently pick her up, pointing the bitey parts away from your scarred nose, and snuggle back into the soft, warm fur, so happy to have her as a part of your life.
* WHY DOES SHE DO IT??
Nipping and biting is a completely normal behavior for pups, as this is how they play with each other. They don't have hands, so they use their mouths. They love to play and roughhouse, grabbing chunks of fur and wrestling with siblings and Mom. It's sometimes hard to remember that as we snuggle and play with them, but it's always been perfectly normal and acceptable for them. Until now. She begins to learn how rough she can play the last couple weeks with their siblings. They and Mom will let her know when enough is enough.
*SO NOW WHAT DO I DO (beside stocking up on Band Aids)?
There are different things that can be done to help curtail this behavior so that you and they have a happy life, with less bloodletting. First and foremost, DON'T HIT and DON'T YELL (well, after your initial non-PG13 outburst). Here are some better options:
Learn 'Em Up: We start working with your pups in our homes before they go home to you, but you will want to continue their education. We always recommend additional training and taking your pup to a Basic Training class will teach you (yes, you) and your puppy ways to overcome bad habits. Training will develop confidence in your pup and help to reinforce positive behaviors.
"OUCH!!": Your pup understands your emotions and can tell when you're upset or hurt. When they are still with their siblings and they take it too far, a yelp will let them know to dial it down a notch or two. Even a sudden intake of breath will alert them that something's not right. Through this they will learn Bite Inhibition. Just make sure you only do this when it hurts, and not when they are just "mouthing" you, which is ok.
"You Don't Bite Me, I Won't Bite You!": What could be more fun than rolling a round on the floor with a fluffy little bouncy ball of fur?! Well, I can tell what's not fun: Going to work for a week with one of those little round Band Aids on your nose. The ones that are supposed to match your skin, but don't, so everyone in the Office sees it and asks what happened and you have to explain that you're not quite the Master Puppy Trainer that you've been telling them you are. Sorry, a little side rant... Anywho, as fun as it is to roughhouse with our pups, until they learn bite inhibition, it's best to keep it more low-key and find other ways to play. Saying things like "Calm Down" or "Settle", in a soothing voice, will help them to understand that things are getting a little too wild.
"Oh No You Didn't!": When things get a little crazy, which they inevitably will, and the land shark won't stop attacking, just getting up and walking away will let her know that playtime is over. When you walk away and she keeps nipping at your heels, stop, taking away the thrill of the chase. Just ignore her. Take another step. If she bites, stop again. When she gets it, and doesn't bite, shower her with loud, excited, happy praise. Make her want that praise again, more than anything else in the world! When you ignore or disengage, it's just not as much fun.
Retail Therapy: At a young age, it may not be reasonable to expect her to just forget the yummy goodness that are your ankles. Might be time to mix in some playthings. Distraction is an excellent tool with puppies, as it is with toddlers! Every dog is different, so we always recommend going with inexpensive toys to start, until you find the ones that she loves, then upgrade. I don't know how many times we bought expensive gifts for our little kids, or grandson, only to find that they prefer the box it's wrapped in... When she starts to bite, point the bitey parts away from you and hand her a toy. Works like a charm!
Puppy Play Time: One of the best ways to help your pup to improve this behavior is to put her back where she started: playing with other puppies. Dogs are great at setting boundaries, and puppies are the same. Always supervise the visit so things don't get out of hand. You want to be very careful with several considerations when setting up play dates: 1. Make sure the pups are about the same age, 2. Make sure the other puppy has a good temperament, 3. MAKE SURE THE SITE IS CLEAN!! The last thing you want is to bring something like Parvo home with you. You could have the play date at your house, but you need to make sure the other pup doesn't bring anything in.
*NOW FOR THE MOST IMPORTANT THING:
One of the best things you can do for your pup, when it comes to bad habits, is to be CONSISTENT! These puppies are very smart and learn very quickly at a young age. It is often harder to train ourselves than it is to train our pups :)
Let us know what Tips and Tricks you have for overcoming this and any other undesirable behaviors.