Help! I Own a Land-shark

So you have done all the background research and you have your little Fido home. All is going swimmingly until…cue the Jaws theme…you now discover that they have turned into a ‘land-shark’. They are beginning to feel more confident, learning about their new environment  and are now exploring the world with their teeth. Read on to find out a little bit more about why your puppy is doing this and what to do to help them through this development stage of their lives in a positive manner with this great guide from the Pet Professional Guild

Since puppies are born without hands, the only way they have to explore the world is with their mouths. And you may have noticed that your puppy is quite the explorer. Everything goes into those little mouths, including your fingers, and those baby teeth are like little needles. Ouch! It's completely normal for puppies in their litters to bite each other in play.

So How Do You Stop the Nipping?

Some trainers will recommend that you hold your puppy's mouth closed, yell "No," yelp as if you were a puppy or even push their cheeks into their teeth so that they hurt themselves. If you look at it from your puppy's point of view, this may teach them not to nip, but it also teaches them not to trust. They're not being malicious when they nip you, they are simply doing what they are instinctively programmed to do. There are much better ways to deal with it that don't involve hurting your puppy and making her fearful of your hands coming near her face. When puppies are biting us in play, it's because they are trying to interact with us in the only way they know how. What they want out of the behaviour is for us to interact back. If you're saying, "No, don’t, stop, cut it out!" and moving your hands all around to stay out of their reach, to the puppy you're simply playing back and encouraging them to go after those flying hands. They don't understand your words and moving targets are for chasing. The message you want to give your puppy instead is, "When you nip me, I will immediately STOP interacting with you."

 

So What Can We Do?

When our puppy nips the first port of call is to interrupt the behaviour and redirect onto a more appropriate activity. We want to teach them that the mouthing is not appropriate whilst providing them with a suitable alternative.

So when your puppy mouths stop playing immediately. Try not to wave your hands around, but do remove them from your puppy's reach. Then provide your puppy with an alternative such as a chew toy or rope toy to engage with. Another nice activity is to scatter some food down to give the puppy an alternative job to do.

If your puppy is becoming over aroused and quite mouthy then the best thing to do is to increase the distance between you. This may mean walking into another room and closing the baby gate behind you to allow your puppy some time to chill and provide them with a chew toy or lick mat to help focus their energy elsewhere.

This is not something that your puppy is going to learn right away. She is biting because it is something she was programmed to do. At birth it's as unconscious a behaviour to her as breathing. She has to learn first to connect to it as a voluntary behaviour that she can control. That's why the initial pull-away after the yelp is often followed by another nip (if your hands are within nipping distance). It will take a lot of consistent repetition before your puppy is able to get to the stage where she lunges to nip, but inhibits herself before making contact.

During the teething phase it will also be a great idea to have appropriate toys which will help soothe them. You can google frozen Kong recipes or soak a rope toy or tea towel in a little stock and freeze it then give this to the puppy to chew (always under supervision). Attaching a rope to toys so that you can move them around the floor whilst creating distance to your hand is also a great idea (think of a cat toy on a string).

Children and Ankle-Biting

It's hard for young children not to squeal, dance, wave their hands around and run when puppy is nipping at them. This, of course, delights the puppy and encourages her to continue her "playing." In this case, or if your puppy is persistent and continues to nip at your ankles when you walk away from her, let her drag a leash in the house (when supervised). After a nipping incident, you can use a baby gate to create a physical barrier between your and your puppy and walk out of her reach, or bring your children out of her reach. When she has calmed down, slowly and calmly open the gate and allow her back in whilst giving her a suitable alternative. A great idea is to offer the puppy a job to do when they come out such as a puzzle toy, scent work or Kong. Nips make the people go away again. Make sure to supervise children so that they don't turn this into a rousing "tag" game, winding the puppy up and frustrating her! Movements away from her must be immediate and smooth, and movements towards her must be calm and purposeful.

 

No Rough-Housing With Hands!

The most important thing you can do when your puppy is a little land-shark is to make sure that nobody in her world is rough-housing or wrestling with her with their hands. If this is happening, then no matter what else you do you are confusing her with a game that in essence tells her, "Go for my hands!" Most puppies love to roughhouse, and you can still do it. Just substitute a toy for your hands. While she's going after the toy if clumsy puppy misses and nips your skin or clothing, you can yelp (if that works for your puppy), drop the toy and stop playing. That will also help teach her to be more careful with her mouthing.

 

The Bottom Line

If you do absolutely nothing, chances are your puppy will outgrow this stage on her own. But if you are consistent, persistent and patient, reinforcing calm behaviour and withdrawing attention for mouthy behaviour, you may survive your dog’s puppyhood with less tooth marks!

 Happy training

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