Introducing a puppy to your family is wonderful. They bring a sense of purpose and joy into many households. However, with the warm cuddles, kisses and play can come undesirable behaviours that leave some new owners stumped. Knowing the difference between what is normal puppy behaviour and what is inappropriate is important. 

Your puppy has a lot to learn when they are settling into a new household. As their owner, it is your responsibility to teach the right behaviour from the outset, and not mistakenly reinforce the bad behaviour. It is also important to have a basic understanding of why the puppies do what they do.

Remember, although it sometimes feels that they immediately sink into the family as though they have always been there, they are also an animal that explores the world in a different way than we do. Playing and discovering usually involves the puppy’s mouth and needle-sharp teeth. This includes human hands, fingers and faces! It is imperative to remember that mostly there is a degree of normality to this behaviour, and that they aren’t attacking you in an aggressive way. 

However, on many occasions, there may be some easily fixable underlying reasons why your puppy is biting more. Sorting out the basics is sometimes enough to result in an dramatic improvement in their behaviour. 

Are they getting enough sleep?

Young puppies need 18-20 hours of sleep per day. The easiest way to manage this is to offer the puppy a quiet section of your home that becomes their retreat.

Once they have become over-tired, they often become over-stimulated and irritated. You may find that after a good-quality nap they have returned back to the affectionate, happier and quieter pup who woke up on the right side of the crate. 

Have you established boundaries?

If not, essentially, the puppy doesn’t know what behaviour you’re trying to reward. They don’t yet understand that you don’t want them nipping or gnawing at your hands. Or that the lunge and biting behaviour they did with their littermates is something that is undesired with their human counterparts.

Providing them with basic obedience commands will immediately help you discourage unwanted behaviour. If your puppy is getting a little rough, and has not yet learned their bite inhibition, remember these three simple steps and practice them daily:

  1. Stop play (a dramatic ouch! remove your own fingers, turn away, ignore)
  2. Redirect attention (chew toy!)
  3. Praise and reward (good dog! Treat!) 

Are they over-stimulated?

As much as there is fun in toy wrestling with your puppy, they also need to be able to wind themselves back down from play. There are different ways for you to be able to help them do this. Popping them in a quiet corner for time out with a frozen kong, a chew, or one of their favourite toys is a simple way to dampen their adrenaline, and encourages independent, quiet play that can help down-regulate them. 

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Are they hungry, painful or uncomfortable?

Feeding, teething, gastrointestinal upset, growing – there are many things in a puppy’s life that can make them uncomfortable, and watching for any clinical signs of illness is important. Sometimes the signs can be somewhat subtle and if there are any concerns, it is always a good idea to speak to your veterinarian so that you can rule out any medical reasons for aggressive behaviour. 

Are they getting enough exercise?

Playing, tugging, retrieving, sniffing, walking not only provide mental stimulation that helps you develop a positive human-canine bond, but it also helps wear them out appropriately. Even though you are unable to safely take them out into the world on walks before the vaccination courses have been completed, you can still provide adequate activity and exercise in your homes and gardens with a little bit of time and creativity. Read more on our blog When can you first take your puppy out for a walk?

Are they getting adequate socialisation?

Exposing your puppy to a variety of controlled and positive situations whilst they are still young is paramount to their training. Other animals, children, bicycles, traffic noise, people- they need to see components of the world as normal in that formative period between 8 to 16 weeks of age.

However, you also need to ensure that these events are creating a confident and encouraged pup. So try to make these experiences as constructive as possible, to avoid future stress and anxiety.  

How can I tell if I need to be worried?

There are a few ways to tell whether the puppy biting is normal play behaviour, or whether it is a warning sign for aggression. 

Body language

A relaxed dog is a happy dog; wagging tail, loose body, open expression, soft eyes. Alternatively flattened ears, tucked tail, tension in the body whilst holding their head low or turning away from you, showing teeth or staring at you with a hard expression may indicate that your puppy is uncomfortable. 

Vocalisation

Growling, excessive barking, high-pitched squeals, especially when introduced to new environments, humans or pets. If accompanied by the body language described above, can be a signal that your puppy is displaying behaviour that needs to be remedied. 

Possession

Does your puppy tend to react when somebody approaches their food, toys, bed, crate, section on the couch? Are they showing signs of possessiveness towards people? Whilst this may not be an issue when they are nine weeks old and small, this can develop into problematic behaviour as they become older. Read more on our blog, Why won’t my puppy give his toys back?

Reactivity 

Are you able to wake them from sleep? Is there an issue when new people come into the house? Can you take their toys or play tug without it going too far? Are they okay with you touching their ears, their feet, their tails?

It is important to get them desensitised to certain stimuli whilst they are young. Once again, it comes down to introducing them to a wide range of events in the early weeks of having them home. 

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I am worried, what can I do? 

It is always best to consult a professional when you feel that your puppy’s behaviour may be an issue. Establishing solutions whilst they are young is paramount to long-term success, and a veterinarian, dog trainer or a qualified behaviourist will be your best place of contact if you are concerned. 

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