Pet parents are often troubled by their puppy’s excessive mouthy behavior and become frustrated because they are not equipped to properly overcome puppy biting. Puppy teeth are very sharp and it is normal for pet parents to dislike when their puppy begins to bite everything in sight, including arms and ankles!
Biting behavior serves as a function for puppies during their developmental periods while they learn bite inhibition. Bite inhibition is a behavior dogs learn at an early age with the appropriate management, training, and social skills where the dog learns how to control the strength of their bite, as well as what to and/or not to bite.
All puppies bite because they are navigating the world through their mouth. Biting is often a behavior function to fulfill needs stemming from teething, boredom, attention seeking, exhaustion, and uncomfortable conflict. (i.e. Often viewed as “temper tantrums”)
Sometimes it is hard to accept that excessive puppy biting is completely normal. (Especially when their razor sharp teeth come into contact with human skin.) However, this behavior is entirely normal and taking proactive steps to overcome puppy biting is recommended. All puppies should be provided with long-lasting chew treats, behavior and environmental management, toys for appropriate play, a nap schedule, and training to give the puppy the appropriate tools to learn the important life skill of bite inhibition.
Understanding the function of why puppies bite helps provide a clear path on how to effectively manage the problem and train for better behavior. These steps help puppies develop a very important life skill, bite inhibition, that is necessary for becoming a well-mannered adult dog.
The Function of Puppy Biting
All puppies bite, and there really isn’t much exception to this issue. Excessive biting and chewing is a very normal behavior puppies exhibit for a few months. That is correct – a few months. This behavior is quickly viewed as a problem among pet parents and they often become very frustrated with the puppy as a result of biting, but in order to overcome the problem, a complete understanding of the function of biting is necessary.
Puppies go through two rounds of teething. Puppies are not born with any teeth and their first set of puppy teeth begin to arrive around 4 weeks of age. At this time, the puppies are still with their mother and siblings and many pet parents do not experience the first round of teething in puppies.
The second round of teething occurs when the puppy begins losing its puppy teeth to make room for their permanent (adult) teeth. This teething phase begins around 14 weeks of age and continues until the puppy is around 25 weeks of age. The puppy will exhibit excessive mouthy behavior for a minimum of 10 weeks between the age of 3 to 6 months.
When a puppy is teething, their desire to bite and chew increases. This behavior serves to fulfill three needs – alleviate gum discomfort and pain, facilitate the removal of puppy teeth, and assist in the eruption of adult teeth.
Puppies are busy bodies when awake! Therefore, if the puppy’s time is not occupied using their energy in constructive ways, they become bored and attempt to find something to eliminate the boredom. The very first thing puppies do when bored is find items to bite, chew, and shred apart. Many pet parents view this behavior as naughty and may often call the puppy stubborn or hyper. However, it is important to understand these are very natural behaviors that fulfill their needs.
Biting, chewing, and shredding items apart are physically and mentally enriching to dogs and are inherently reinforcing. These behaviors fulfill their need to release excessive physical energy and eliminate mental boredom.
Dogs are very social animals and puppies are very good at exhibiting attention seeking behavior. Puppies communicate with attention seeking behaviors they know will fulfill their need for human interaction. One of those communication methods is through biting. This behavior is very normal for puppies to bite humans on their clothes, hands, feet, and ankles when seeking attention from their human guardians. This form of attention seeking behavior helps fulfill the need for human interaction.
There can be many reasons why a puppy could be seeking human interaction. When a puppy is purposely biting at human skin, it is important to evaluate the puppy’s needs at that moment. These needs may include: The puppy may be bored and attempting to engage in a game of play; The puppy may be hungry; The puppy may need to go outside to relieve itself; Or the puppy may simply want affection.
In contrast to boredom and attention seeking behavior, a puppy can become excessively mouthy when tired. It has been established that biting is a normal behavior for a puppy and to be expected, but what happens when the biting begins to get worse during specific times of the day, or after specific events?
The puppy is likely expressing it is physically fatigued if the biting behavior begins to progress in frequency of bites (the number of times the puppy bites) and if the bites increase in intensity (the puppy begins to apply more force in each bite). Biting behavior due to physical exhaustion is a mixture of attention seeking behavior as well as their way to seek personal space.
This behavior can be displayed after the puppy has had substantial physical stimulation. Many puppies begin to become hyperactive when physically exhausted and biting behaviors increase in frequency and intensity within this context. The biting behavior displayed in hyperactivity is a form of attention seeking behavior due to exhaustion, and it is the puppy’s way of fulfilling their desire for human interaction to communicate their needs for rest.
In contrast, other puppies begin to become very grumpy when physically exhausted and, as a result, their biting behaviors increase in frequency and intensity. In these contexts, the puppy does not display hyperactivity, but may still exhibit biting behavior. Tired and grumpy puppies bite because they are trying to communicate that they wish to be left alone which fulfills their need for space to rest.
If a puppy is biting excessively during moments of hyperactivity or in times where the puppy seems “grumpy,” it is important to assess the physical activity the puppy accomplished during that time and day because it is likely the puppy is exhausted and needs to rest.
Many pet parents explain how their puppy throws “temper tantrums” and begins to excessively bite – and bite harder than before! The pet parent often begins to think their puppy is aggressive; however, there is more to the situation on further investigation. Often times when puppies throw “temper tantrums,” it is because they are put in a situation that makes the puppy become overexcited or stresses the puppy out.
Over excitement in puppies can increase biting and can often be quite unsettling because it becomes difficult to calm the puppy down. In these moments, the puppy has adrenaline pushing throughout the body, they are on overdrive, and the excessive energy tends to explode on the nearest item – which typically is the pet parent’s arms, legs, hands, or feet! Over excited puppies bite because they are frustrated and the act of biting fulfills the need to reduce that frustration.
Stressful situations, such as grooming and vet visits, can put puppies in really uncomfortable scenarios where their biting increases. In these moments the puppy is acting upon hormones from anxiety and fear and biting is their way of communicating their stress in these contexts. Anxious and fearful puppies bite because they are trying to fulfill their need for gaining space and safety.
Methods to Overcome Puppy Biting
Once the functions of puppy biting is identified, the next step is to provide appropriate tools to teach the puppy what they can and cannot bite. There are multiple components to overcome puppy biting and each step should be adopted while raising a puppy. These tools and skills will prove beneficial to establishing foundations for better behavior as well as preventing biting from becoming a problem behavior in an adult dog.
Puppies go through a significant teething period and a proactive approach to this problem is to provide long-lasting chew treats for the puppy to chew on. These chew treats provide the appropriate outlet for the puppy to fulfill their need for chewing on an item that is safe for them to consume.
Recommended chew treats include dehydrated bully sticks, pig ears, and beef trachea. These chew treats are safe to be ingested without the risk of tooth fractures or intestinal blockage. Avoid raw hide chews, smoked bones, or nylabones as these items risk tooth fractures and intestinal blockage.
The next component of overcoming puppy biting is management which includes controlling the environment the puppy is in and the situations that trigger biting behavior. The concept of management means to reduce or eliminate the opportunity for the dog to engage and exhibit in a problem behavior – in this instance, biting.
If a puppy is excessively biting inanimate objects, it is ideal to eliminate access to these items. The human must then pickup articles left throughout the house that should not be chewed on – these items include, but are not limited to: shoes, laundry, remote controls, socks, and more.
Additionally, if the puppy is chewing on furniture, it is ideal to eliminate access to rooms with valuable furniture and/or provide a puppy-proofed confinement space. The human is to then close doors to spare rooms throughout the house and/or use gates to section off a portion of the home to eliminate furniture chewing.
Developing appropriate toy play with young puppies fulfills the need for human interaction and physical stimulation while still providing a productive outlet for biting. Toy games provide an outlet for human interaction, physical stimulation, and an appropriate avenue to bite onto an object.
Playing games such as fetch and tug help reduce excessive energy and helps teach the puppy not to come into contact with human skin. The dog learns the enjoyment of the game continues when all biting is done to the toy.
Additionally, it is important to be mindful of how the human interacts with the puppy in this process because the human’s behavior can inadvertently create more problematic biting behaviors. Avoid frantic hand and arm motions which will visually look enticing to an excited puppy. It is best to control the physical movements and encourage the puppy to only play with the toy.
Establishing a consistent nap time routine is often overlooked when raising puppies, but it is a very important component on overcoming excessive puppy biting. Puppies are going through exponential growth rates at their early stages in life and this means they have a high requirement for rest.
Puppies do require physical stimulation to provide an appropriate outlet for their energy, but maintaining a consistent nap schedule is just as important as physical exercise! A growing puppy needs a minimum of 18 hours of sleep a day and establishing a daytime nap schedule helps reduce over exhaustion.
Last but not least, teaching a puppy how to appropriately communicate their needs and desires through better behavior is an important component of overcoming puppy biting. Through training, puppies can learn how to provide self-entertainment by playing with appropriate chews and toys, politely request attention, settle for daily naps, and overcome fears.
Puppies do not come equipped with these polite behaviors that humans find desirable and training for better behavior is a vital component of overcoming normal puppy biting.
A Plan For Success
Puppies bite and it is not a very enjoyable experience for pet parents, but It is important to understand the functions of why puppies bite and how biting behavior helps fulfill their needs. Puppy biting can be attributed to teething, boredom, attention seeking, exhaustion, and “temper tantrums.”
Understanding why puppies bite is a major portion of overcoming the problem. Providing the appropriate tools to teach a puppy what they can and cannot bite can be accomplished by providing long-lasting chew treats, management, toy play, nap time, and training.
Puppy biting does not go away overnight and the behavior will be worse on some days compared to others, but the behavior does get better over time when the steps outlined in this article are established in a puppy’s daily routine!