Lucy is a carefully selected pet. Simon, a twelve year old boy, and his family did their research, making sure that they met both the father and mother of their new puppy. The adult dogs were calm, obedient individuals in excellent health, making it far more likely that their offspring will also grow into healthy, well-behaved dogs.
When Lucy arrived, at the age of eight weeks, she was a quiet, meek puppy, but over the past month, she has grown in confidence and strength. Simon has enjoyed playing with her from the start, getting down on the ground with her, and rolling around. In recent weeks, Lucy has started to become more aggressive during this play, yapping excitedly, and she has begun to snap. She has bitten Simon’s hands and ankles. A couple of times, she has even nipped at his face. She has not broken the skin, but she has given him enough of a bite to be painful. Simon still adores Lucy, but he came to me asking what he should do to prevent her from behaving like this.
This type of biting is a completely normal part of puppy development – it is known as “play biting”. Most puppies do this as part of their normal growing-up. If you watch a litter of pups together, you will see them rolling around on the floor, growling and nipping at each other. Lucy is no longer with her litter-mates, and instead, she sees Simon as a fellow puppy, and she is treating him at the same way. The best way of working out how to respond to Lucy’s play biting is to watch what happens in a litter of puppies playing naturally.
When puppies play together, most of the time they roll around, growling, yapping and play-biting each other with no problems. When one puppy goes too far, and bites his litter mate too hard, the one that is bitten lets out a loud yelp. This makes the other puppy back off a little. He has learnt that he has bitten too hard, and he will not usually do it again. If, in excitement, the puppy bites too hard a second time, the pup that has been bitten will yelp again, and this time, will back away, retreating from the biting puppy. This provides a lesson to the biting puppy that if he bites too hard, the fun stops. Gradually, the biting puppy learns to adjust the strength of his play bite so that he does not hurt his litter mates.
Simon needs to take the same type of steps to teach Lucy that she cannot bite him in play. From now on, if she does bite him, he must let out a loud yelp, like a hurt puppy. This will often be enough to make Lucy back off. If she comes back and bites again, he then needs to yelp again, then back off from her completely, ignoring her. Puppies just love playing, and they adore attention from their owners. If Simon completely “blanks” Lucy for a few minutes, this will teach her that biting leads to the end of the play session. She will soon learn that biting causes the fun to stop, and she will gradually stop biting.
Simon should also look at introducing different ways of playing with Lucy. He should try different types of toys, rather than always playing with Lucy with his bare hands. Lucy can then burn up her energy chewing and chasing the toys rather than human flesh. There are all sorts of toys available, from rubber bones, to squeaky soft toys, to tug-of-war ropes. If he does play tug-of-war games, he should remember that he is the “top dog” in Lucy’s mind, and he should always end up keeping the toy at the end of the tussle.
Lucy, as a Labrador, has a strong “fetch” instinct, and even at this early stage, Simon should introduce retrieving games. Puppies are intelligent and quick to learn. If Simon throws a toy, then tells her to fetch it, he should soon be able to teach her to bring it back and drop it in on the ground in front of him. This type of game provides great exercise, whilst also stimulating Lucy’s mind. He can also teach her to sit, stay, and walk on a lead beside him. If Simon spends fifteen minutes a day training Lucy, she will grow up to be a more balanced, biddable dog.
Simon and Lucy are going to grow into adults together, and careful attention at this stage will make sure that their friendship is positive and good-natured from the start.
- Play-biting is a normal part of puppy development
- Owners should learn the correct way of teaching puppies not to bite
- Puppies can be trained in simple ways from a very early age
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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.