This is a common complaint among new pet owners who have just acquired a puppy. The puppy started out cute and cuddly. The first day they took him home with them, all they could think about was how adorable and harmless he looked.
But once the puppy had adjusted to his new home and family, the under-prepared pet owner realizes to his great dismay that he has opened his doors to a creature capable of wreaking havoc upon his furniture, his clothes, and even upon the human family members.
A puppy’s sharp little teeth can turn into a menace if left unchecked. It only takes a minute for a puppy to tear up that slipper you left on the floor, or to shred the newspaper or the mail that was left at your gate. In the blink of an eye a puppy will have reduced the legs of your dining room chairs into toothpicks, and your favorite sneakers into his favorite chewtoy.
Worst of all is when the nipping and chewing wrath is turned on you. Is this normal behavior? Absolutely. Puppies bite. Puppies use their mouths to explore the world because they do not possess hands with which to touch and feel, they bite because this is how they would play with other puppies.
Sadly, when the puppy biting starts. many unprepared Filipino pet owners decide to get rid of the puppy, stuff him in a cage or tether him in the backyard or in some other secluded area of the house, avoiding the issue altogether. Many misinformed Filipinos, resort to this because of the fear of contracting rabies because many still believe that puppies are born with rabies and that it is some kind of poison that dogs possess. (Read Common Rabies and Puppy Bite-Related Questions for more information regarding this.)
The worst thing you can do once you have recognized the nipping problem in your puppy is to stuff him in a cage and avoid playing with him, hoping that he will grow out of it eventually.Rather than stuffing your puppy in a cage as punishment for doing what is natural to him, you need to
- Manage the situation
- Redirect the chewing and nipping behavior
- Give time-outs for nipping on humans, and chewing on No-No items
- Praise when puppy gets it right.
1) Manage the Situation
A messy living space will not help your cause. Keep items that are tempting chewables for your puppy off the ground and out of reach. If you complain that puppy eats your slippers, don’t give puppy the opportunity to be alone with your footwear. If the sala has a carpeted floor that puppy would love to tear up, never leave the puppy in the sala unsupervised.
2) Redirect the chewing and nipping behavior
Interact with your puppy using proper chewtoys, tug toys, and other dog toys that the puppy is allowed to sink his teeth into. So what exactly is a proper chewtoy? Veterinarian and animal behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar describes a chewtoy as being “indestructible and unconsumable”. That means the dog should not be able to tear it apart nor swallow and eat it. Therefore, by this definition rubber squeaky toys, tennis balls, stuffed or plush toys, etc. are NOT PROPER CHEWTOYS. While it is alright for you to let your dogs play with these, play using these or similar items should always be supervised. Never leave a destructible, consumable toy with your pet. Always put them away when the play session is over.
Examples of proper chewtoys include hard rubber toys, rawhides and maybe occasionally a bone. Please note, however:
- Rawhides are sometimes prepared using harmful chemicals. Do not give these too often.
- Cooked bones and bones that are inappropriately sized are dangerous to give to your dog, please educate yourself on this before giving your dogs any bones.
Hollowed out, hard rubber toys are my favorite thing to give to my dog. The Kong is one that I always recommend to my clients. It is a hard rubber chewtoy that can be stuffed with food or treats. If used properly, you can condition your dog to love gnawing at a Kong, while trying to get at the treats that you stuffed inside.
3) Give time-outs for chewing on No-No items, or for nipping too hard on hands, arms, feet, legs, etc.
A time-out is a penalty given to puppy when he is misbehaving.
Say you caught your puppy chewing on furniture: Call the puppy, if he comes offer him a proper chewtoy. If he ignores you or abandons the chewtoy that you offered and returns to the No-No item and chews that, pick him up and put him in his cage/crate for about 30 seconds before letting him out again. For larger puppies, confining him in a room where he can’t get into any trouble, or tethering him work as time-outs as well. Repeat every time puppy misbehaves.
The same thing goes for puppy play biting. If your puppy gets too excited and accidentally bites down too hard on your hand that you feel it is painful, cry out “Ouch!” or “Aray!” and immediately end the play session and put him in time-out. I say to do this only when the puppy bites down too hard because we are also trying to teach him Bite Inhibition. But more on that later.
4) Praise when puppy gets it right
Do not strike or hit a puppy when he misbehaves. Harsh punishment works occasionally but often you are only setting yourself up for future behavioral problems in your dog if you persist in using pain inflicting methods to discipline him. Rather, don’t hold back on the praises and the treats when you see your puppy chewing on what he ought to be chewing.
Image: Ollie enjoying his Kongs