Why is My Puppy Biting and Growling?
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When a puppy enters the family, it is usually a time of great joy and happiness. It is also a time of upset and adjustment as both the family and puppy adapt to each other's natures. Educating a puppy and making their transition into the family smooth is not always easy. While much of the time a puppy might be happy to investigate corners of the home and play with us, we may also see them behave in ways which seem aggressive. If we don't understand a puppy's nature, it can lead to questions for new dog guardians.
AnimalWised helps those who ask, “why is my puppy biting and growling?” In doing so, we can get look at the different reasons puppies bite, what is and isn't healthy behavior, and how to encourage good behavior in the future.
My puppy is biting everything
Puppies bite a lot. They bite their siblings, your shoe, your finger, pretty much anything that comes in their path. While a puppy biting everything can mean you need to protect your valuables, it is also important to know it is completely normal. Puppies bite as part of their necessary development. It allows them to understand different stimuli in their environment, similar to how a human baby will naturally put objects in their mouths. Unlike a baby, puppies do not have hands to manipulate objects, so biting is even more important.
Biting is not only a part of their exploratory behavior, but it is a way for a puppy to interact with individuals. It allows them to play and develop their natural instincts. Growling is a part of their communication, along with body language, which shows they are willing to play. In the wild this involves hunting and communicating with their pack. With domestic dogs, these instincts are still vital, but will have to be developed in a different way.
One example of a dog learning is bite inhibition. This is part of a dog's socialization. They learn how to bite without hurting because their guardian (we humans) needs to provide for them with safe interaction.
Another reason puppies will bite everything is due to teething. When a dog's baby teeth fall out, their adult teeth need to grow in. Just as with toddlers, this can be very uncomfortable for the dog. Here biting is a way to provide relief from discomfort. Growling or howling may accompany this behavior due to their feelings of frustration.
Is a puppy biting and growing normal?
As we said above, biting and growling is a normal part of their development. But this is only the case if they have a healthy development. After 3 weeks of life, the socialization process with other dogs, animals and humans can begin in vain. During this process, the puppies will learn how to interact positively. Not only will puppies bite, we need to let them bite, but only in appropriate ways. If they nibble at us affectionately, we can encourage them and offer positive reinforcement. If they bite too hard, we need to end the play session and only continue when they learn bite inhibition.
When a puppy is play-fighting, they will not always growl. When they do, it should be in a way where their body language shows they are secure. Their tails will wag and they do not attack aggressively. If the play becomes too serious or they genuinely feel threatened, then their growling may be a sign they need to stop. Hopefully this will only be a temporary situation and the puppy will learn the proper limits of play.
It's very important to realize how normal it is for puppies to bite. It is part of their development and learning, similar to how sleeping a lot is so important for their physical development. You only need to worry if the puppy continues to bite too hard, aggressively or they do not reduce the amount of biting as they grow.
You will also want to protect your household belongings by putting the puppies in a pen when unsupervised. This is an area which will prevent the puppies from biting and chewing on things they shouldn't. If you have anything important you don't want to be chewed, it is important you keep them in a separate room from the puppies. It is also important you don't scold puppies from engaging in normal healthy behavior. This will only harm their development and encourage behavioral problems later in life.
While you shouldn't scold the puppy for biting or growling, you should still set limits. As they grow, you will want to teach basic commands and provide positive reinforcement so they stop unwanted behaviors.
How to manage a puppy's biting
While some puppies may be more of a biter than others, all will engage in this practice to some degree. Managing biting behavior can be tricky, but it is also necessary. Here are some tips to help you in the process:
- Since puppies will need to nibble, especially when teething, it is best to offer toys especially designed for this purpose. Chew toys have been created to channel this behavior into something less destructive. It is important you congratulate them every time they use the chew to show them what is suitable.
- From three weeks of age, we can teach them biting is not OK. We do this by giving a little shriek, turning away and ignoring the dog for a minute (n.b. this is not the same as scolding the animal). The puppy will want to continue playing with us, so when we take this away they will eventually understand the acceptable bite level. Each time we turn away, we can say the word ‘leave’ or ‘no’, something which will help us during their basic education training.
- Avoid overexciting the puppy. A puppy will often bite when they are excited, leading to a stronger and often uncontrollable bite. You can play with them when they are nibbling, but always calmly and in a controlled manner.
- When the dog begins to understand their limits, bite inhibition and when it is inappropriate to bite, it is important to reinforce this understanding positively. We can do this with treats, a reassuring voice and petting.
- Be careful with children playing with puppies. Although it is an important part of the puppy's socialization, children can play too roughly and encourage bad behavior. This includes biting. It may also be important for the safety of the child.
While it is normal for a puppy to bite and growl, these tips should help you to channel this behavior correctly. If we have trouble training obedience in a puppy, we may need extra help. This requires contacting a qualified dog behaviorist or canine ethologist. This is especially the case if the biting is a sign of some other issue such as stress.
If you want to read similar articles to Why is My Puppy Biting and Growling?, we recommend you visit our Basic education category.