Mouthing and Biting Behaviour in Puppies

From approximately five weeks of age until teething is finished and earlier, your puppy may bite at your hands, heels, clothes, try to snatch objects from your hands and exercise those razor sharp teeth. Generally a puppy will treat you like a litter mate, who he expects to rough and tumble with as a preliminary to hunting and stalking. This prey behaviour will be a source of food in the adult dog and is the kindergarden training ground for the puppy.

A litter of puppies will play together quite happily until one puppy bites too hard. With an agonising scream, the bitten one will launch itself at the biter. World War 3 will erupt among all the puppies and for a short time there will be bedlam. Then the bitten one will march away, snorting as if to say, "There, that will teach him" and then the litter will play happily again.

The lesson we can learn from observing puppy behaviour, is that there is acceptable pressure when biting a fellow sibling. Not acceptable pressure gains loud screams of reproach and strong punishment. I am not suggesting that you over-correct a puppy as they are fragile enough. React with a loud "Ouch - that hurt", and push the puppy down on to the floor. Be careful that he does not sense that this is a great game, to be met with equal aggression. Firmly and quickly push the puppy down into a submissive position.

You should have decided already if your puppy is simply playing and does not realise that you are hurting. What type of temperament has he? Placid, excitable, apprehensive? Was the mouthing playful, or was there a strong desire to dominate you? Your response range from pushing the puppy down, a loud "Ouch", followed by ignoring him for a few minutes to express your dissatification with the behaviour - to firm correction and turning the puppy on his side and shaking him by the soft folds of skin around the jowls. The shake can range from very mild to very severe.

Be aware that he puppy may have been testing to see what your reaction would be. Is he teething and tender around the gums? Have you had a look at the huge teeth erupting from the gums? A spray bottle filled with tap water, kept in a handy reaching place, can stop a puppy in his tracks when biting behaviour occurs. Excitable biting can be stopped in the above fashion or you may put him outside when he becomes over excited.

Small children can squeal and run, causing the puppy to give way to prey behaviour. He will then catch and tear a child's clothing or trip the child and jump on top. While this can be great fun for the puppy, the toddler or small child will not be similarly impressed. The screams of outrage only excite the puppy further and make a great game of chasing, tripping and holding a child. Some children tease a puppy until it retaliates in the only fashion available to it.

Pups have a defense behaviour that appears in three parts. Defense, freeze, flight and bight. FREEZE exhibits when the pup is faced with a bad situation. An older child or an adult corners it, stands stock still (the child is uncertain what to do) and as the freeze by the child is a forerunner to attack in dog language, the pup will shift gear into the FIGHT part and launch itself at the child. The puppy is only reacting to a given situation, but try telling that to the parents of an injured child. FLIGHT is, of course, 'he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day' (with apologies for the mis-quote).

Submitted by John Chandler

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