Congratulations on your new puppy! Puppies bring excitement and joy to a home, but they are also hard work, a commitment and can come with their own challenges. The initial excitement can soon wear off if they start biting you or mouthing you when you try to play with them. We will discuss reasons for why puppies bite and things you can do to try to stop this behaviour. 

So what does it mean if my puppy bites me?

Firstly, puppies can bite for a number of reasons; although we would always advise a visit to your vet if things are worsening. The vet will perform a clinical examination and ask questions, they may advise tests if they feel there could be an underlying illness causing the behaviour. 

Possible reasons for biting include normal puppy behaviour, trying to mouth and explore things, illness, over-excitement, play or even behavioural issues. If a true behavioural issue is suspected by your vet, they may advise referral to a qualified behaviourist. They have additional training and experience in dealing with more complex issues and are part of a registered organisation, known as the APBC. Your vet will organise the referral for you and you will then work one -o-one with the behaviourist. 

Puppies will explore by picking up toys and objects in their mouths to chew on and hold. Some however take this too far, which can be a result of being overexcited. It may also be because they need to be taught how to play nicely and interact with humans. Often playing with your puppy will start as fun and then they may get carried away and go to bite you instead of the toy, and this behaviour needs addressing early on whilst they are young and able to adapt. 

How do I teach them not to bite?

Training your puppy should involve positive reinforcement, rewarding them for good behaviour, rather than punishing them for unwanted behaviour. We would advise you to ignore the unwanted behaviour instead. So if you are playing with your puppy and they go to bite you, then firstly stop playing with them immediately. Then turn away and ignore them.

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This must be done consistently so the puppy builds up an understanding that biting means no attention. Use suitable age-appropriate toys that will not cause damage to your puppy’s mouth. If they start getting overexcited then you can redirect them onto their toy before it escalates to a bite. Again, this needs to be consistent. Very rough play from a young age can encourage them to bite as part of a game, so this type of interaction is not ideal. 

Puppies are so full of energy! What else can I do?

Other things that can work to prevent biting are to make sure your puppy is having plenty of physical and mental stimulation. So, as well as physical stimulation of walking them (if able to go outside), mental stimulation to use their brain helps to keep them working but also will tire your puppy. You can try things such as puzzle feeders or lick mats. Where your puppy has to work out how to get the food and it takes longer to eat so keeps them occupied. There are many games you can do with your puppy using food or a toy as a reward when they complete the game or listen to instructions. 

Puppies can give so much love and happiness to you, but it is important to remember that training can mean a happier relationship with your puppy as well as a well-behaved puppy. If you are struggling with your new puppy, we would always advise you to speak with your vet for advice. 

For further information please see the Dogs Trust website behaviour section, and the APBC behaviourist website.

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