Dogs of all ages are prone to chewing, biting and mouthing behaviors. When your tiny, fuzzy puppy gnaws on your knuckles, he is doing what comes naturally. Unfortunately, the bigger he gets, the bigger his teeth get and as he grows older, what seemed like a sweet love bite can become downright painful. Your puppy may never outgrow this behavior unless you teach him to be more particular about what he chooses to chew.
Biting and Teething
Most newborn pups are born without teeth and if you let them mouth your hand, it won't hurt at all. Don't allow this mouthing to become a habit. Your puppy's mouth will become full of needle-sharp baby teeth between 8 and 12 weeks. As these teeth arrive, your puppy will feel the urge to chew and he will want to chew on you. Although the baby teeth are small, they are sharp and strong and can cause real pain. Adult teeth will all be in place by 7 months, according to the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and if your pup is still biting at that age, you could be in trouble.
Your pup needs to chew as part of his development, according to "Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook." It's part of how he explores his world and it strengthens his jaw muscles. Teething also hurts and chewing helps massage the gums. You can help your dog grow by giving him plenty of opportunities to chew something besides your ankle. Hard rubber chew toys with treats hidden inside provide a reward for gnawing a toy. Frozen nylon bones or a frozen washcloth can offer relief for his aching jaw.
Be consistent and let your puppy know you don't like being bitten. Give a high-pitched sound each time his teeth touch your skin. Withdraw your hand slowly and ignore him for a few minutes. Replace your hand with a favorite toy to let him know there is an alternative to chewing your favorite finger. If he chomps on shoes, rugs and furniture, use a training spray such as bitter apple to keep him away. Most of all, prevent boredom. If you give your pup plenty of fresh air and exercise, he may be too tired to chew.
When To Seek Help
If your puppy continues to bite despite consistent training, the ASPCA recommends that you seek the advice of a certified trainer. If you think your puppy bites because he is particularly fearful, aggressive or otherwise acting abnormally, you can consult an animal behaviorist. This veterinary professional can assess your dog's behavior and help him break the biting habit.
- Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine: Training a Puppy to Behave
- Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine: Preventing Canine Behavior Problems
- ASPCA: Puppy Mouthing
- Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook; Debra M. Eldredge, DVM
Based in Los Angeles, Mary Helen Berg has been writing about pets, travel, families and parenting since 1989. Her work has appeared in publications such as "The Los Angeles Times" and "Newsweek." Berg holds a Master of Science from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.