Ask The Trainer: How to stop puppies from biting, chewing, and destroying our once simple lives.

“Ruby is still doing the crazy biting where she lunges and gets really wild, grabbing at anything including our face if near by. The “Yelp” isn’t really working in this case. Any suggestions?”

Puppies are so cute, which is an important trait considering they also bite, hard, with razor sharp daggers for teeth. Those sharp puppy teeth will begin to fall out at about 4 months of age and their new molars come in at 7-9 months–you’ve got a lot of teething and chewing energy to plan for.

Set up for success

Simply offering the puppy something else to chew on isn’t the whole solution, and can backfire if you present your chew toys right after your puppy bites you. Begin each morning with a good long chew on something novel.

Teach Bite Inhibition

Your puppy should be less likely to choose you to chew on later, but don’t just wait around to find out, be on the lookout for calm behaviour, and if you don’t see any–try offering physical exercise and mental stimulation like trick training. Even the most aggressive biters are calm and not seeking attention some of the time. Notice that. Notice your calm puppy and go play gently and calmly with them. Allow them to mouth your hands, getting plenty of practice figuring out exactly how much pressure they can use with their teeth on human skin. If you play enough, your puppy will learn that humans are very sensitive. You will come to enjoy playing with your puppy as their bites get softer and softer. When you feel a bite that is too hard, yelp loudly at that very instant, just as your puppy’s littermates would have done when play got too rough in the whelping box. Make it a high-pitched cry; let them know they hurt you! Let your hands go limp for a moment, maybe as long as 20 seconds if your pup is very excited, so that they understand that when play gets too rough, play stops. Your puppy will learn to play gently to keep the game going. Always yelp when your puppy bites your clothing or your hair. For older and bigger puppies, standing up suddenly, with hands up is the perfect body language to teach your dog the “off” cue too. I use this same ‘Go Wild and Freeze‘ game to teach dogs not to jump on people. Simply stop play the instant your dog is too rough, bites too hard, or jumps up.

Every dog has the potential to bite; even the friendliest dog can be startled on a bad day by someone accidentally bumping a sore hip. We hope that if and when your dog bites, they will use one of these soft, inhibited bites that we’ve taught them are more than enough to hurt to a human being.

You should initiate play when they aren’t begging for your attention, a good time to start a game is right after your dog does something you like. It helps for kids to always have a toy available for their puppy to bite instead of them, but adults need to spend time teaching bite inhibition with hand-play. As your puppy’s bites get softer, you’ll find they will happily choose to focus their bites on toys, because they can bite hard and enjoy playing with you like they do another dog. Be gentle with tug-of-war until those puppy teeth fall out.

My puppy turns into a crazed land shark at 8PM!

puppy bitingWhat if a yelp or short break in play isn’t enough to stop your puppy when they are especially excited? You’ll need to stop play abruptly, and leave the play area. Dogs are most active in the morning and evening, so plan accordingly. If you initiate play when your puppy is calm, and practice ‘go wild and freeze‘ games a lot, your puppy will get very good at managing their excitement, will learn to play softer to keep the game going, and will calm down quickly when you give the signal. What is the signal? If your puppy bites you too hard or becomes too rough, yelp loudly and stand up, arms up, nose up, possibly even turning around and leaving. It helps to play in their exercise pen or somewhere that you can safely leave them if you need to exit. Tying them to a tree or other sturdy post while you play lets you simply step out of their reach to end the game when puppy gets too rough. If they bite again after you yelp, simply step away.

Consistency and timing are key, as always in dog training.

If we fail to notice our dog being good often enough, and only seem to be yelping when puppy get bored and comes to bite us, then our efforts won’t be sufficient for your puppy to get the idea, and your yelping might even backfire on you; your puppy will see biting as the best way to get your attention. If your puppy is biting someone other than you, such as you child, and you see a bite or hear a yelp from your child, make sure that play is stopped, hopefully very briefly, but it is important that if puppies keep biting after humans yelp and stop play, that leashes, gates, and parents step in to keep the message consistent.

What if My Puppy is Chewing or Destroying Objects or Furniture?

Chance ParkerMake sure that each day begins with a novel, positive outlet for the chewing you know your puppy will need to do. Don’t wait until they get bored and go looking for a table leg to gnaw on. Offer them bones, antlers, Kongs, tug-toys, teething toys, or simply soak a dishrag in chicken broth and freeze it. Puzzle toys and treat dispensing toys abound at the pet store. Feed their entire (water-soaked) meal of kibble frozen in a Kong. Don’t quit coming up with ways to keep those teeth busy. You’ll need to supervise constantly so that puppy knows which items are appropriate to chew. A simple ‘ah!’ should be enough so long as you have good timing and you are consistent. Bitter apple and similar anti-chewing sprays are strangely pleasant to some dogs and will work only if applied constantly to chewable areas in conjunction with your supervision. Access to forbidden items should be restricted with baby gates, exercise pens, leashes, and kennels.

Keep contraband safety kept away from your puppy, until it is time to practice your ‘leave-it‘ cue. Use your leash at first to prevent your dog from stealing and running off with the item.

If the chewing or destruction occurs only in your absence, you have some sleuthing to do. You’ll need to block access to chewable items when you can’t be spying with mirrors or through windows.

Biting the leash as you walk?

Make sure you aren’t turning it into a fun game of tug-of-war, and make sure this isn’t their only chance to get your attention on a walk. Try your best to keep them busy with other tasks like jumping over logs, or doing tricks on the sidewalk. Bitter apple might be useful if applied daily but you shouldn’t need a chain leash, they are cumbersome and lame. You just need to interrupt them consistently, removing it from their mouth calmly and deliberately if necessary. Immediately engage them in another activity, and keep them engaged, so that they don’t try to grab the leash again to grab your attention. Take shorter walks with a tired, hungry dog. Play tug-of-war with them at home, and practice your ‘get it,’ ‘tug,’ and ‘give’ cues to exhaustion. You dog will learn an appropriate way to enjoy tug-of-war, and his ability to release the toy, and ‘get it’ only when asked will improve. You can even bring your tug toy along on a walk to reward them for walking nicely. If you dog tries to tug your leash, calmly ask them to ‘give,’ holding their collar and the leash still to prevent them from enjoying tug of war, while you wait for them to get bored and drop the leash. They should be good at this if you have practiced the ‘give’ cue with plenty of items, trading for a treat, and saying ‘yes!’ when they relinquish an item.

$15 dog toys are torn into piles of stuffing?

Allow your dog access to strong toys like the black Kong and chewable items like antlers when you can’t be watching them. Then, when you are ready to train your dog to be less destructive, bring out a softer toy while your dog is on leash and play a structured game with it, like fetch. Your dog will learn a new way to enjoy the soft toy and you will be right there to time your ‘ah!’ and interrupt their play at the very moment they begin to rip and tear at the toy. Start the game again, always interrupting play the very moment destructive behaviour begins. Play for just a few minutes at first, pretty soon they will be able to play for a long while without even thinking of trying to destroy the toy –because, well, that would be the end of the fun, now wouldn’t it?