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Puppy Biting vs. Aggression

You’ve brought your new puppy home, and you’re enjoying getting to know him. House-training is going well, and he’s even sleeping most of the night. The only problem you’re having is that he’s constantly nipping at you and your family members. Why do puppies nip, and how can you stop it?

Why Do Puppies Bite?

It’s normal for puppies to use their mouths to explore the world around them. After all, they don’t have the same type of hands and fingers that we do, so their mouths and tongues serve as a way for them to learn about the textures and uses of objects in the world.

Puppies use their teeth to play with their littermates; you can watch them roll around, biting at each other’s necks and faces, and puppies will also do this with their mothers. It is a normal play behavior for dogs, and this type of play helps train them for hunting and grabbing prey.

How Do You Train a Puppy Not to Bite?

Even though it’s normal behavior, it’s not appropriate for a puppy to bite a human, even when it’s all in play. A puppy’s littermates and mother teach him to moderate his bite by yelping and refusing to play with him for a few moments when he bites too hard. However, all bites are too hard for human hands, and it’s important to understand that many puppies won’t simply grow out of play nipping; they must be taught not to do it.

You can employ the same technique that the puppy’s mother and siblings use to teach your puppy not to nip at you. Here are the steps to take:

  • Never use your hands or feet to play with your puppy. Always use a toy and make sure that everyone else who plays with the puppy does so, as well.
  • If your puppy’s teeth touch your skin, immediately drop the toy and withdraw from the play session for a few moments.
  • When you return to the play session, do so with a toy, and praise your puppy for biting it instead of your hands.

Consistency is the key to this training. While it can be cute to have a small puppy nibbling on your hands, clothes, or toes, it’s not so cute when that puppy grows up. Make sure everyone in the household is on the same page as far as teaching your puppy to keep his teeth to himself.

When Is Biting Aggression and Not Normal Puppy Biting?

It’s important that you can tell the difference between normal nipping and signs of aggression in your puppy. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Puppy nipping happens during play or when trying to get your attention. The puppy is wagging his tail and looks relaxed and happy.
  • Aggression usually happens at times other than play, like when you are trying to do something to the puppy that he doesn’t like. His other body language will indicate tension rather than relaxation; his ears might be down, his muscles tense, and he might growl.

Talk with your veterinarian for further clarification on puppy nipping vs. aggression and be sure to consult a canine behaviorist immediately if your puppy shows aggressive tendencies.

Learn about some other puppy behaviors here: “3 Things Your Vet Wants You to Know About Puppy Behavior.”