How Do I Stop My Puppy From Chewing On Us?

Dear WOOF:

We have a 9 wk. old Rottweiler puppy and a 7 yr. Shepherd mix. They get along fine and when they play they play bite like all dogs do I'm assuming. The problem is when the puppy wants to play with us she of
course wants to play bite. How do we stop this?


Hi:

Indeed, your puppy is exhibiting an entirely normal behavior in pups called "mouthing". What we need to teach her during this time is a very important lesson called "bite inhibition". In a nutshell, she is trying to learn about the jaw pressure she exerts which in turn dictates the pressure of contact from her teeth. I believe that this is an instinctive behavior, and one that she (like all puppies) are genetically driven to do. She needs to put her teeth on other living creatures (humans and dogs alike!) in order to know how much is too much, so Mother Nature has provided the perfect way for the lesson to be learned - razor sharp puppy teeth! Think about it like this, it takes far less pressure to cause painful contact, which brings the
most feedback! Bite pressure for all intents and purposes, is established by the time the adult teeth are in. The lesson period starts at about 3 weeks of age and continues until the age of about 4 - 5 months, so it is critically important that we answer the call and teach her now.

Although I understand that it can be a very frustrating behavior to deal with, the goal must not be to "stop" it from happening. Soft mouth pressure should be encouraged and reinforced with continued interaction - after all, that's what we want her to learn. On the other hand though, hard mouthing - the kind that hurts, must be addressed so that she effectively learns that only soft mouth pressure will result in continued reinforcement and interaction.

So, what to do when those razor sharp teeth do hurt? First, we must give her some feedback. Usually, a sharp "ouch!" as soon as the painful contact is made, startles the pup and provides immediate feedback regarding the pressure. This however must be followed by a social consequence - a short period in which no social interaction is available. You see, if you give the "ouch!" yet are still there, willing to interact, she will not see any reason not to continue attempts to interact with you - in other words, the ouch! must mean something significant to her.

Here's what the sequence for handling the behavior will look like:

  • Interaction with pup - soft mouthing

  • Continuing to interact - mouth makes contact that is too much

  • Immediate -"ouch!"

  • "Ouch!" immediately followed by your withdrawal from interaction, by either simply turning your back away from her, or removing yourself from the room for a period of 20-30 seconds.

  • Return to attempt more interaction, and repeat as necessary.

It is very important to be consistent with this exercise. If soft mouthing always results in reinforcement (continued social interaction) and hard mouthing always results in no more social interaction - her choice will consistently be to use a soft mouth - Viola! Lesson learned. But, if sometimes hard mouthing means we keep playing/interacting, and sometimes it doesn't, she will predictaby learn to be inconsistent with the pressure of her mouth as well - which could be a very dangerous thing, should she as an adult
put her mouth on another dog or human. Adult dogs that have learned to only exert soft jaw pressure, are far less likely to lose their lives for it one day as the result of a serious bite wound.

I would encourage you to enroll in a puppy socialization class as soon as possible, where she will have the opportunity to play (and mouth on!) other pups, and we can continue to help you through this
process.

I hope that this information is helpful to you. Thanks for writing.
and best of luck!

Thanks for writing,
Lisa Patrona, Dip. CBST, CPDT-KA, ACDBC, AABP-CDT