Puppies have small, sharp, pointed teeth until they are about 6 months old when these baby teeth are replaced by blunter adult teeth. Puppy teeth make any bites on our hairless, sensitive skin very painful. They don't mean to hurt us; they are just trying to get the play they need to grow and develop.
Ouch!! Why are you biting me?
Play biting is normal for puppies. They are not being aggressive, but just asking you to play in the same way they used to play with their siblings. Wrestling and biting games are natural and educational between puppies. When puppies are separated from their littermates and taken to new homes, they will attempt play with us, by biting at our hands, feet or clothing.
Are you sure it is just play?
Play biting is usually accompanied by a relaxed body, friendly expression and softly waving tail, and there is plenty of movement. Puppies usually try to play-bite when they are excited, so a common time for them to try it is when they are greeting you after an absence. The puppy may yip in excitement or play bow before they begin to play. The more excited a puppy becomes, the harder the bites. Squeals of anguish from owners, especially children, and much running around to try to escape the little crocodile will make the situation much worse as the puppy tries to join in with the new game.
Puppies will often play-bite whatever is nearest to them at the time they feel playful, whether that is hands, arms, clothing, legs or feet. Some puppies can play very vigorously, especially when older, even growling and leaping at their owners to grab chunks of clothing or skin when they get excited. However, if they are coming forward voluntarily rather than running away, it is usually still only puppy play and is it relatively easy to solve.
Growing out of it
All dogs like to play and the more working ability your dog has in its genes, the more drive they have to be active and playful. Puppies that learn to play-bite humans for fun never grow out of it unless the owners find a solution. Why should they? They are having lots of fun, and the older they are, the more powerful their jaws become so they can bite harder and hang on longer.
Play biting needs to be tackled early, preferable before it begins, so start as soon as you get your puppy home and settled in. (Go to ‘Play Biting in Adult Dogs' if your puppy is still play biting later than 6 months of age).
How do I stop it?
The solution to play biting lies in teaching your puppy to play with humans with toys, rather than by biting parts of their body. Successful toy play will teach your puppy to focus all their biting onto toys rather than on people. You may also need some remedial measures, such as house lines and time outs if the bites are hard or persistent, if your puppy is already practised at biting, or if there are delicate people in the household, such as the elderly, infirm, or very young. A good diet and plenty of exercise and mental stimulation will also help.
If you need further help, please ask your veterinary surgeon to refer you to a behaviourist that he/she recommends, or contact the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors to find an experienced pet behaviourist in your area www.apbc.org.uk
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