Puppy Bites: Change of Teeth & Biting Inhibition

There is hardly anything cuter in the world than puppies. It’s just sweet how they scuffle and encourage people to play. You can’t resist frolicking with the pack – and before you know it, a little tail-wagging puppy has discovered your hand as a chew toy. It doesn’t have to be. In an adult dog, biting is anything but funny. So take precautions: With a few parenting tips, you can teach the little ones that biting is taboo.

A look into the mouth: How do puppy teeth develop?

A strong bite is essential for a dog. But it’s not there immediately:

Puppies are not only born blind and deaf but also toothless. They do not yet need teeth to suck on the mother’s teats. But in the third to sixth week of life, the time has come: the milk teeth breakthrough. With two fangs, six molars, and six incisors each in the upper and lower jaw, the milk teeth have 28 teeth. What is striking about these first teeth is that they are much more pointed than those of an adult dog. The change of teeth only takes place between the fourth and seventh months of life. The fully formed set of teeth has considerably more, namely 42 teeth.

The exact time and duration of the change of teeth depend on the breed, but: In any case, it takes place in puppyhood – i.e. in a period of time in which the separation of mother and littermates has usually already taken place and the young dog lives in its new home. One of the important lessons is to teach your four-legged friend now what he can and can’t work on with his teeth. Not so easy, because the need to bite and gnaw is particularly high when the teeth are changing.

What about bite inhibition?

Normally developed dogs will not bite without the need or good reason. This regulates the so-called “bite inhibition”, a behavior that ensures that dogs do not injure themselves when fighting each other – and of course, this should also include their human pack members.

However, biting inhibition is not innate. Young dogs learn this behavior from interacting with parents and littermates, starting around the fourth week of life. This is also one of the reasons why separating the animal from the litter too early can lead to socialization problems. If the dog hasn’t learned that it shouldn’t snap when it’s playing or when it’s angry, it’s important to teach it consistently. Snapping and biting incidents in dog ownership often result from maldeveloped bite inhibition or insufficient training.

Why do puppies bite when playing?

Biting in play is a natural behavior in puppies’ development. As soon as the teeth show up, the animal feels the need to try them out – for example by biting one of the sibling puppies. However, he will not put up with the behavior and will snap back, which in turn causes pain.

The biting inhibition described above develops when young dogs bite like this. The puppy learns that after a bite they bite back – that is, something unpleasant follows. The very beginning of playful biting is, therefore, to build up socialization. Once the dog understands that it has a new master and that it can stay in its new home forever, it will be the best friend you have ever had.

If the puppy gets a little older, it will change its teeth, which is another impulse. The animal tries to influence the stimuli in the mouth associated with the change of teeth by gnawing and nibbling more – in case of doubt also on toes and fingers. Furthermore, when interacting with their humans, puppies bite according to the situation: as a high-spirited invitation to play, as an expression of frustration, excitement, or when examining unfamiliar objects.

How can I stop the puppy from biting?

What seems cute in puppies can become dramatic in adult dogs. So stop immediately when the puppy snaps.

The following tips will help you:

  • Chew toy: When handling the dog, always have a “legal” object handy that the dog can use to bite and nibble.
  • Consequence: If the dog attacks forbidden objects or even your fingers or toes, react severely. Take the taboo object away from Little Sharptooth, along with an appropriate word signal (“No!” or “Ugh!”), but at the same time offer the toy and praise him if he gets distracted with it.
  • Clicker: If you have experience with clickers, you can also apply the principle to anti-biting training: not biting is positively and precisely reinforced with the clicking noise.
  • Play Pause: If the pup is undeterred by playful biting attacks, drop out of the game. Command “No!” and ignore the animal for a few minutes or send it out of the room. In this way, the little one learns that rough behavior scares off their playmates.
  • Alpha animal: This works even more effectively if you act like a dog for a short time when you are bitten. Growl at the puppy, “snap” mimicking, grab the cheeky rascal briefly, and then ignore him. This is close to the species-typical response of a higher-ranking dog and will impress the pup.
  • Caution: When you act with the puppy, avoid violent movements. This also applies to stroking: massaging is better than patting. The dog may reflexively try to snap at frantic hands.

Don’t get involved in wild biting games with the puppy and if possible refrain from undifferentiated vocalizations: Both of these can encourage the inexperienced animal to play.

What toys are suitable if the puppy bites?

Suitable toys that can be used as “allowed” bite objects are

  • Rubber balls
  • Playing ropes
  • Suitable chewing sticks
  • Dog Stuffed Animals

Avoid wild tugging games during the change of teeth – in the worst case, this can promote tooth misalignments. Choose teething toys without a squeak: the “rewarding” noise that bites can be an incentive for the dog and therefore counterproductive.

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