The summer is the perfect time to get a new pet: children are off school so they can spend time with the new arrival and the weather is good, so they can all spend more time outdoors, learning to be house-trained more rapidly.
Kiko was just eight weeks of age when she arrived into the family household, and she settled in well at once. Over the past month, she has grown bolder and more energetic, and she has now started to cause problems by nipping with her sharp baby teeth. When she gets excited, she rushes around, wanting to play when humans in the house are otherwise occupied. Kiko gets frustrated, and she uses her mouth to tear at the bottom of people’s trousers or their shoes. And if anyone bends down to give her toys, she’s started jumping up, grabbing the person’s hand and giving them a painful nip. Finally, if she is being held and she wants to get away, she turns around and nips the fingers that are holding her. Christian loves his new dog, but he’s beginning to lose his confidence with her. She has never drawn blood, but her teeth are sharp, and it’s painful when she uses them on him.
The “nipping” issue is a common problem, often referred to as “play biting”. Puppies use their mouths in the same way as human toddlers use their hands, and they have to learn to do this in a controlled and gentle way. Pups normally learn to have a gentle mouth while playing with their litter mates. If you watch pups playing together, if one puppy bites the other pup too hard, the one that’s bitten will let out a loud yelp and withdraw from the game. The puppy that did the biting soon learns that biting too hard means that all the fun ends. To teach puppies not to nip human hands, you need to copy this behaviour. Say “OUCH” loudly, and immediately stop interacting with the puppy. If you have to, you may even wish to walk out of the room. If you do this, your pup rapidly learns that biting too hard means they get left alone or ignored, and puppies love company, so they soon learn to be gentle with their mouths.
It can be difficult to teach children to train puppies in this way, so a simple answer is to tell children like Christian to “be like a tree” if Kiko bites too hard. This means he has to stand perfectly still, with his hands by his side, ignoring the puppy completely. Once she has calmed down and stopped being excited, he can start to give her attention and play with her again. Importantly, young children should never be left on their own with dogs, or even with puppies: continual adult supervision is important to make sure that both child and dog are kept safe and healthy. Another important tip is the importance of being consistent: it’s tempting to have occasional “rough play” with puppies, but this just encourages biting behaviour, and it can make the problem much harder to solve.
Kiko’s “nipping” problem is just the first of several common behavioural problems in young dogs, and the best overall answer is to enrol in a series of puppy training classes with a good local dog trainer. A well-trained adult dog is a much easier pet for both children and adults, and that’s how Mandy wants Kiko to be.
- Play-biting is a common problem with young puppies and children
- Simple training tips are enough to solve it
- Regular puppy training classes are a good idea