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Breakdown on Biting

by Bailey Coldwell

Picture this. You have an 8 week old puppy. They are calm and cuddly. Fast forward a few weeks and seemingly overnight, your teddy bear has become a land piranha. The puppy is biting, jumping, barking, and/or humping. Your puppy is either sleeping or off the walls crazy. What happened and what do you do about it?

When a child starts school, they might be shy. They might hang in the back and not say too much. As the weeks continue, they feel more comfortable. They have formed relationships with their friends and teachers. They come out of their shells. They might start to earn detentions or indoor recess due to constant talking in class or throwing things across the room. This is very similar to what is happening to your puppy. They have bonded with us and start to see what works and what doesn’t work.

PLUS puppies are teething now. Their instincts are telling them that they need to bite down on something. They see our soft skin or a child’s long hair and think, “that looks fun!”. They test things out. They are exploring the world.

These are normal behaviors to see out of puppies. Of course, we want to help them learn what they should and shouldn’t be doing. It is up to us to help them through this. So, what do we do?

  • Reward offered good behaviors throughout the day. This is incredibly important. We spend so much of our time TELLING our dogs what to do. We want them to know that it is awesome to just chill out. Talk to them, pet them, give them food rewards, offer to play with them . . . when they are being good.

  • Make sure you are giving your puppy plenty of naps throughout the day. Not only will this help any separation issue that your puppy has, it will also help with the surge of adrenaline that takes place when they are overtired (think of a toddler having a temper tantrum after a busy day).

  • Mix up how we are interacting with our puppies. Avoid non stop play. If we are just playing with our puppy, their energy levels are simply rising the entire time. Play briefly and then ask for a few training cues. Go back to playing briefly and then just allow your puppy to sniff around or play by themselves. Help their energy levels rise AND fall.

  • If the biting does happen (and it will happen), only try to redirect 1-2 times. This might be a training cue, offering a toy, or calming ourselves. If the puppy keeps doing it, calmly guide them into a crate, pen, or nearby tether to stop the contact. Know that contact is rewarding with puppies. If they are just able to keep doing the behavior over and over again, they will just keep doing it.

  • Keep your puppy on a leash with you if they are not in the crate or the pen. I know this sounds tricky, but it will help us be able to reward the good behaviors, prevent the unwanted behaviors, and interrupt the behaviors if it happens.

  • Keep our energy levels calm. Dogs follow our energy levels extremely well. If we react in an energetic way, their energy levels will keep rising.

  • Training takes time and consistency. You can be doing everything correct, but haven’t given it enough time. Similarly, you can have been working on something for a long time, but if we are sometimes taking the above advice and sometimes roughhousing and allowing the puppy to play bite with us, it will keep happening.

Puppy biting/overstimulation is one of the most common topics we hear as trainers. Know that you are not alone. If you need more guidance on this check out our puppy overstimulation class.

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