by Lonnie McCartney
My grandson got a Chocolate Lab pup for Xmas.
We've followed your crate training advice and all is going well. This pup likes to bite, what can we do to stop this? I'm the grandfather here, and somehow we get the pup thru the day while everyone is working. I don't want to beat the dog but I don't want it biting me and everyone else. Help!
Puppy biting is one of the most common puppy behavior problems and I've seen this question many, many times!
Of course, just because it's a common behavior, doesn't mean you should tolerate it. It's definitely something you need to discourage early on, because although puppy teeth are razor sharp, an adolescent or adult dog who's never learned to control this habit can do a lot of damage.
First of all, puppy biting is an attention seeking and/or dominant behavior. Your pup has a very strong natural desire to nip and chew, particularly during the months of teething, but you need to teach him that he's only allowed to chew on his own toys and possessions and that his teeth should never touch human skin.
Some breeds tend to be more 'mouthy' than others, and shepherds and terriers are often fanatical 'nippers', labradors are retrievers and many of them have the need to feel something in their mouths at all times (and they're not very selective about what that is!)hence the constant biting.
First thing to do is to be sure to correct the pup whenever he starts to nip by saying "OUCH! No bite!" or something similar right away. Don't shout or yell as that will just make him more excited and increase the biting. But do use a loud, firm voice - it should be enough to startle him, at least for the first few times he hears it.
As soon as he starts biting, withdraw your attention from him. Stop whatever interaction is going on (petting, play etc.), cross your arms, avoid eye contact and ignore him. Stand up, walk away or even leave the room if necessary. Puppies learn through association, and you want him to associate his biting with losing your attention.
Be very consistent about this, make sure that you withdraw your attention EVERY time he starts biting. Don't expect instant results but with patience and persistence your puppy will get the message.
Another thing to do that can help the process along is to buy some Bitter Apple spray from your local petstore and spray your arms, hands, pant-legs etc. This product tastes very bitter and dogs generally hate it, so once your pup gets a taste he'll be much less likely to want to bite on you.
Another aspect of puppy biting is that it seems to escalate in situations involving a lot of noise, movement and excitement. Your pup reacts to the general stimulation by biting, it's his natural way of expressing his excitement. When you're attempting to control this behavior it's best to try and maintain a fairly quiet and calm atmosphere around the house. I know with children around this can be a challenge, but a running, squealing child is a classic trigger for a biting frenzy (part excitement, part prey-drive). Also a child's flailing arms and dangling hands are irresistible to most puppies, so if possible have the children walk with their arms crossed when the puppy is around.
If there's a particular time of day when it's especially crazy and loud (such as the family dinner time etc.) it's a good idea to put the puppy in his crate (best in a room that's not the center of the noise, but close enough for him not to feel isolated) with a good chew toy. This way he's still part of the family, but doesn't feel obliged to join in by biting! He can expend any emotional energy chewing on his bone/toy which is a much better idea.
Because of the excitement factor in triggering this behavior, shouting or smacking a puppy for biting generally has just the opposite effect to the one intended. The confrontational aspect of the punishment usually either makes the puppy bite more/harder or start to bark and growl too. You don't want to do anything to encourage this sort of reaction as it's very counter-productive.
When correcting him, always be firm and consistent but loving too. He's just a baby and needs to be treated as such. And remember to be patient, with a puppy you need to give him time to build up the association between the behavior and the reaction. Your pup wants to please you, and once he realized exactly what it is you expect he'll do his best to comply. Even if it means trying to overcome a natural instinct.
Some pups can be unusually stubborn. If after a couple of weeks of trying these techniques you don't see any improvement there are a couple of more things you can try that are a little more forceful. But these don't generally need to be used as most puppies respond to the above measures pretty well.
To find out about the other methods, check out my Puppy Biting Page.
Best of luck to you and your grandson.