Puppy owners struggle with two major issues: Housebreaking and Puppy Biting. The challenge of puppy biting is very real and an inevitable part of puppyhood. You cannot eliminate puppy biting, but you can empower yourself with the knowledge of how to appropriately handle it.
Puppies bite for several reasons, so there is no one way to address this. Rather, you need a multifaceted approach that you can adjust according to what your puppy is doing.
Puppy Proof: Puppies will chew on anything and everything. They chew on shoes, clothes, electrical wires, children’s toys, etc. That’s why puppy proofing is essential.
Pickup and remove unnecessary items that are within reach of your dog. It’s best to prevent incidents of frustration then it is to deal with the conflict. The old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” certainly rings true here.
Supervised Freedom: Your puppy should be crated when you are unable to provide direct supervision. Direct supervision is defined as visual eye contact on your puppy at all times. You cannot simply have your dog in the same room with you and think that is supervision. Dogs are very opportunistic by nature (not in a spiteful way), so they look to find anything fun and reinforcing to do (i.e. chew on whatever is around). Therefore, your dog must be in a crate when you cannot maintain direct supervision.
When you are directly supervising your puppy, have them on leash with you. A leash provides you positive control, so you can easily diffuse any biting/chewing. Without a leash, the only recourse you have is to push your dog away (which becomes a game of “I push you, you come back at me”. This is a vicious cycle of reinforcing bad behavior) or you grab your puppies collar (which puts your hand/wrist/arm right in line with your puppy’s mouth…leading to them biting you).
The leash will allow you to easily and calmly intervene, while preventing any unintentional reinforcement when your puppy is biting. While holding the leash, extend your arm. Your puppy should have all four paws on the floor, you are just creating separation between you and your dog (so they can’t bite you or your clothes). Once they settle down, release the leash.
Teething: An aspect of puppy biting that usually never gets acknowledged is the fact that puppies go through teething, just like babies do. This is why puppies like to chew on cold items: stone fireplaces, legs of metal chairs, iron table pedestals, etc.
The goal is to provide appropriate cold outlets to help ease their teething. My preferred choice is a Kong toy stuffed with a little creamy peanut butter or wet dog food and frozen. Another option to consider is a wash cloth socked in water and frozen. Whatever you choose, make sure it is cold.
Excessive Energy: As soon as you take your puppy out of the crate, immediately put them on leash and go directly outside. Once they have gone to the bathroom in their designated “potty spot”, you want to tire them out.
It’s essential to preemptively relieve your dog’s energy in a productive way. This will help curtail their biting and chewing, while also developing the bond and relationship with your new family member.
Take your puppy for a short walk, easy play session, and work on obedience training. These three things are critical to tiring them out and raising a well-behaved adult dog. A dog with excess pent up energy will undoubtedly find mischief. It’s best to proactively drain their energy, rather than reactively address the mischief they created.
Overtired: Just like a child, puppies can become overtired and cranky. Many owners underestimate how much their new puppy should sleep. Puppies typically sleep most of the day. An overtired dog will get into a chewing frenzy and not listen. If you have provided your puppy enough exercise, yet they are still going at full speed, make the smart choice to let them relax in their crate.
The crate is never used as punishment, it is a safe and secure place for them to sleep. Puppies can’t auto regulate themselves enough to know when it is time to go to sleep. You need to be cognizant and help them to rest when it is time.
Taste Deterrent: Bitter Apple, white vinegar, and other taste deterrents can be very effective for some dogs. Daily reapplication to appropriate surfaces/furniture is often needed.
Toy Rotation: Redirection is something you will frequently do. The key is to be able to successfully redirect your puppy to a toy of interest. A VERY helpful way to do this is to maintain the novelty factor of each toy.
Find six toys your dog loves to play with. Do not allow them free access to these toys. Create a six toy rotation, only dispensing one toy at a time. If he starts chewing on your shoe, try redirecting him to toy #1. If he is no longer interested in toy #1, take it away and replace it with toy #2. Toy #1 goes in the back of the rotation, and your puppy should now be actively playing with toy #2 (because it is a novelty he has not seen or played with in a while). If for some reason he is disinterested in toy #2, remove it and put it in the back of the rotation as you try toy #3. Repeat until your dog is successfully distracted from chewing and now playing with a proper chew item.
I am restating this because it’s so important for you to understand: Puppy biting is an inevitable part of puppy ownership, with no one way to “cure” it. Use your discretion and a little finesse to determine the cause of your puppies’ biting (the reasons outlined above) and then use the techniques you are now empowered with, to appropriately handle the situation.