Hannah and Ben have had Alfie for two weeks, and he’s settled in well. There’s one area which has been causing problems: Alfie has needle-sharp puppy teeth, and he sometimes bites the children’s hands in a way that hurts. Hannah and Ben love playing games with Alfie, but the biting is putting them off. When Alfie was brought in for his vaccination, they asked me how to stop him from doing this.
Play-biting is a common problem in puppies. Young dogs explore the world with their mouths, and they love to interact with people and objects. They’re learning all the time, and grabbing something with their mouth is a fast way to find out about something new. Does it taste nice? Does it move? Is it soft or hard? “Mouthing” is a natural behaviour in pups, and there’s nothing that can be done to stop this completely. The answer is to redirect it towards objects that it’s good for puppies to chew. Tough red rubber toys, called Kongs, are ideal, because they can be stuffed with food to make them more appealing to pups, and they are virtually indestructible, lasting for years. Other chew toys – e.g. made from rawhide – are also helpful, but they don’t last for so long, so they’re a pricier option. I told Hannah and Ben to keep a chew-toy handy, so that Alfie could have a toy to play with as an alternative to biting humans.
Pups also have a natural tendency to play chase-and-grab games. In the wild, dogs hunt prey, and puppy-play is partly about training young dogs to carry out adult activities. Pups love to run after things, grab them in their mouths, and they make snarling noises as they shake them from side-to-side. It’s only play, but it can get uncomfortably rough.
I explained that there had to be new house rules for playing with Alfie, to encourage him to be calm and gentle. Rough play and excitable wrestling were against the rules, as was running around, shouting and anything involving over-excitement. Instead, games involving chasing balls, or fetching toys to “bring back and drop” were to be encouraged. The children had to learn that they were the ones in charge of play. They had to learn to call Alfie over to start a game, and they had to decide to stop the game. Alfie had to understand that humans in the house – including children – were in control of situations. Once he realizes this, he’ll be a calmer, more obedient dog as he grows up.
I also suggested that the Hannah and Ben should also spend time training Alfie a couple of times a day. Feeding time is a good time to practice this, because a hungry dog is keen to behave in return for food treats. At meal times, instead of just putting down the bowl, Hannah and Ben were to teach Alfie simple tasks, like sitting, staying, lying down etc, while they hand fed him the first half-dozen pieces of food.
What about when Alfie rushes at them, energetically play-biting? They had to deter him sharply, in the same way as a mother dog teaches her pups not to bite her. Making a sharp “yip” noise, before turning around to ignore him is one way. It’s also possible to buy a “Pet Corrector” which is a small canister of compressed gas. When the button is pressed, a loud jet of air squirts out. This can be a very effective way of interrupting problem behaviour.
Once Hannah and Ben have mastered my simple training tips, Alfie will be a much easier pup to have as a playmate.
- It’s common for puppies to play-bite, especially with children
- Pups need to be taught not to bite humans from an early age
- Children need to be shown the best way to interact with pups