Teething Terror: Managing Puppy Biting
Updated: Sep 27, 2021
We all know to expect biting when we bring a new puppy home, however, it is easy to underestimate just how much puppies bite. As a trainer, biting is the number one issue new puppy guardians complain about. Although it’s a behaviour easily rectified with ethical training, many can fall victim to very bad advice. Sadly, websites, social media and YouTube videos are rife with unethical and cruel training advice.
So first things first, don’t bite your puppy back or try to imitate a bite by grasping the back of your puppy’s neck. In fact, don’t use any physical corrections or punishment. Your puppy knows you are not a dog and such actions are not going to stop the behaviour, neither is it kind or ethical. Biting is a natural behaviour, therefore its unfair to punish your puppy for it. In addition, your puppy is going to be teething from pretty much the moment you bring them home, up until approximately 6 months of age. Biting eases the pain and discomfort felt in the gums, so your pup needs understanding and empathy during this stage. So how can you kindly manage your puppy’s biting?
Firstly, you need to provide a variety of toys for your puppy to play with and chew. You have likely spent a fortune on new puppy toys already but here’s something else you can do. Don’t have them all accessible at once. Puppies soon get bored of the things they always have access to, no matter how much we spend on them, and usually that’s when they head over to table legs and skirting boards. Instead, rotate your pup’s toys and have a variety, with different textures. This will ensure your puppy doesn’t become easily bored. Sadly, many stop buying toys for their pups because they complain their puppy just destroys them. News flash! That’s exactly what they are for! It’s far better for your puppy to regularly destroy a £5.00 chew toy, than your £200 oak tables! Puppy toys won’t last long and the sooner you accept that, the better.
Once you have a good collection of toys, you need to start using them to encourage appropriate play. It is completely normal for your puppy to mouth your hands but there is a difference between mouthing and biting. A puppy’s milk teeth are sharp as needles, so you will know when they are seriously biting you. Many recommend making a high pitch noise when your puppy bites too hard, in imitation of a littermate during play, however, this isn’t the best advice.
I tested this theory with Mando and in all honesty, making high pitch noises and saying “ouch” just egged him on. He became more aroused and would bite harder, so I definitely wouldn’t recommend this method. Instead, I removed my hands and picked up a toy to redirect Mando’s biting to something more appropriate. If he continued to bite my hands, then I would calmly stand up and walk away from play. I would then return within a minute and resume play and then repeat these actions, if Mando started to bite me again. This was teaching him that biting resulted in the end of fun.
Actions definitely speak louder than words with puppies and Mando soon learned that biting was not a rewarding behaviour. It’s important that all family members in the home keep this training consistent. You can follow all these steps, but if your partner or child is allowing your puppy to bite, this is going to undo all your hard work. So ensure that training is clear and consistent, so that your puppy understands how and when to inhibit his bite.
If training that usually reduces biting seems ineffective, I would consider your puppy is overtired (see The Witching Hour: How to Survive! (pawchores.com) ). If I felt this was the case I would give him an enrichment activity in his crate to try and calm him down. Some may view this as a ‘time out’, which is perfectly fine, provided it is done with the right attitude. Time outs shouldn’t involve you becoming frustrated and angry and then banishing your puppy to their crate as punishment. You really want the crate to remain a safe and fun place to be, so time outs should involve you calmly giving your pup some treats and giving them a fun activity to do in their crate or pen, in order to help them settle before letting them back out.
If I felt he wasn’t tired, I would determine if the biting was due to a lack of mental stimulation. Many think a physically tired puppy, is a happy puppy but this isn’t the case. Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise and so enrichment and training activities should become a normal part of your pup’s routine. I love using Tug-E-Nuff Toys as a way of providing an outlet for the behaviour in conjunction with training. I use these tug toys to teach life skills, such as drop, wait and a release cue in order to introduce impulse into play, which will contribute to reducing hyper-arousal and excessive biting. ( Use my discount code PAWCHORES Tug-E-Nuff | Training Toys | Agility | Flyball | Obedience)
If Mando had plenty of mental stimulation that day, I would then determine if his teething was the cause of his excessive biting. Teething is really unpleasant and we are lucky as humans, that we don’t remember this painful stage of development. With that in mind, its important to provide your puppy with some relief. We tried teething rings, which were often ignored, however, we actually found wetting a small, old tea towel and freezing it, was the most effective way to ease the inflammation in his gums.
We tried raw carrot and cucumber, which I know many pups love, however, Mando clearly takes after me and doesn’t like anything healthy, so these weren’t teething options for us. (As you can see in the photo he didn't eat any of the carrot!)
We tried ice cubes, which worked well but I do recommend you supervise your puppy if you use them. Others recommend frozen duck necks, which is a great healthy option if you are considering feeding your puppy a raw diet. We also used appropriate puppy chews and small split antlers, which Mando still loves. Antlers are great as they are natural and last a long time, however, I never leave Mando to chew them unsupervised.
Puppy Teething Gel is also a life saver; however, I can’t promise your pup won’t become addicted to it. Mando looked forward to it every night but it really did ease the pain and improved his quality of sleep. He still can’t look at a white tube without getting excited!
You can purchase this gel from Amazon or Pets at Home. This is the brand I used. VetIQ Teething Gel For Puppies 50g | Pets At Home
Don’t be alarmed if you see small spots of bright blood on your pup’s toys, this is normal. You may never see your pup lose their teeth, as majority of the time they swallow them. However, if you do find a tooth on the floor, don’t panic, as their adult teeth will be coming through. Also expect temporary changes to your pup’s behaviour and health when teething is particularly bad. For example, Mando has a very sensitive stomach, so he regularly had diarrhoea when the teething pain was bad. He was also quiet and withdrawn and struggled to concentrate when we were training. This is completely normal and all will resolve itself once your pup has all his adult teeth.
However, in the meantime you need to be patient and empathetic with your puppy. If their biting is excessive, consider why this might be and act accordingly. Along with management, training and treatment you can effectively reduce puppy biting in a kind way and get your puppy through the teething stage with both your hands in tact!
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