If your puppy is biting you or other animals you could be wondering – is my puppy just born to be aggressive? The good news is that biting doesn’t always mean you have an aggressive dog, and its also a problem you can often fix with training. If the nipping continues despite the tips and training techniques on this page then you should hire a professional to deal with the problem.
Why It Happens & How To Stop It
There are several reasons why a puppy might bite, most reasons are innocent but this behavior should always be corrected.
Have you ever watched two dogs play with each other at the park? If you have then you will probably have noticed that their play often involves wrestling and rough-housing. To an uninformed outsider it can look like fighting but really its just their way of letting loose and having a good time. In the wild animals have a drive to play-fight because it sharpens their ability to defend themselves which is important when it comes to keeping predators away.
Puppies have not yet learned how rough is too rough, so sometimes gentle mouthing can become a nip.
What To Do: When puppies are young they learn their limits by the reaction of the friends they are playing with. If they nip and their playmate yelps in pain they quickly release and over time they learn to be gentler. You should do this too. When your puppy nips make a yelping sound or any short and sharp sound which indicates pain. Don’t pull, let him release the bite all on his own, then after a little while you can begin playing again.
2. Herding Instincts
You may find herding breeds nipping at the feet and ankles of people walking by. German Shepherds, Australian Shepherds, Border Collies and Australian Cattle Dogs are just a few breeds who tend to display this type of behavior. As unpleasant as it may be, don’t think of this as an attack, and don’t get angry or dish out punishment as this can actually make the problem worse.
What To Do: Work to distract your pup with his favorite toy and a short play session. Move it around in front of him to make it interesting and he should quickly release your feet in favor of the toy.
If this doesn’t work it might be time to take a leaf out of grandma’s book of tricks. Did your grandma ever put something with a nasty taste on your thumb to stop you sucking on it? Apply Bitter Spray to your ankles and your dog will quickly learn not to go near them.
3. “I’m The Boss!”
Dogs are pack animals, so they have a drive to find their place in the pecking order. Puppies with a strong dominance drive (usually intact males) can guard their food bowl and possessions fiercely. You may notice a puppy growling when anybody gets near him while he’s eating. If a pup thinks he is top dog you could also find him trying to exert power over you and other family members which can rear its head as aggression. When a dog seems to “guard” you when other people are around its easy to think of it as a sign of love and affection, but he could also be trying to guard one of his “posessions” from outsiders.
Behavior like this doesn’t mean your dog doesn’t love you, it’s just that, like most pack animals, the designated “alpha” keeps the pack functioning correctly and expects certain privileges. It’s also common for other dogs to challenge for this position so the alpha has to react with aggression to ward off would-be competitors. This behavior of challenging and of aggressively defending challenges means the most powerful dog is always the pack leader.
It’s important that all members of your family learn not to tolerate shows of dominance, even children, because an alpha puppy could quickly take advantage of a child’s submissiveness.
What To Do: Become the commander-in-chief! Always enter doorways first and remember, you are the owner and have control over mealtime which is a powerful tool in your arsenal. We don’t send our puppies to bed without supper for being naughty, but it’s up to us to put their dish on the floor and to let them have it. Instead of letting your pup barge through you to get his food, make a point of eating first and make him wait for you to give him permission to eat. The same can be said of toys and playing – if your dog is showing signs of aggression make sure you are the one who has the toy in your hand when the game is over and that it’s you who decides when playtime begins and ends.
You can also get the boys neutered which quickly resolves a lot of the problems.
4. Lack Of Socialization
By meeting other friendly humans and animals a puppy will learn to feel comfortable around strangers.
Socialization is when you teach a dog to feel comfortable and safe around strangers, be it new people or other animals. When dogs are still very young they are more receptive to new situations which makes this task much easier. As they begin to mature, however, it becomes trickier and you could find they are cautious and guarded. If puppies have not been socialized they could feel threatened by strangers and react as if that person or animal is dangerous, which can result in biting.
What To Do: Always socialize puppies before they mature. Take them out and about, let strangers pet them and feed the puppy treats during these times to create positive associations. Let them play with other dogs and learn how to make friends. If your puppy has already matured and you have missed the window of opportunity read this article by the Animal Humane Society about socializing older dogs.
5. They Just Love To Chew
Puppies have a strong urge to gnaw on things, and because they don’t yet understand that it causes pain they could explore their curiosity by nipping at you.
What To Do: Find something more appropriate for your pup to chew on. Toys are not only tools to stimulate a puppy’s mind, they are also a great outlet for chewing. Be careful about the items you give your puppy to chew, hollow plastic objects can snap when bitten and leave razor-sharp edges.
When Nothing Is Working
Nipping can either be a simple annoyance or a sign of a larger problem with aggression. If the behavior continues despite these techniques you should recruit a professional. Not all dogs can have aggressive behaviors trained out of them, but, like children, puppies are impressionable and receptive to new teachings so training is usually able to resolve these issues quickly.