Is Your Puppy Playing or Being Aggressive?
By Jason Wright
January 26, 2023
Welcoming a new puppy into your home can be exciting, but it can also lead to many questions as you learn to navigate your puppy's behaviour and habits. One of the most common concerns with new dog owners is about their puppy biting, wondering if they are playing or being aggressive.
It's important to note that in the beginning, puppies will use their mouths to chew, play, and investigate their surroundings. While this is a normal habit, it needs to be monitored and corrected as your puppy grows. A 6-week-old puppy nipping may seem harmless. However, a 4-month-old dog biting is not acceptable behaviour.
As you start working with your pet and as they mature, it's important to ensure that you are training them to understand what they can bite or use their mouths to play with and when this behaviour is allowed. It's also important to correct any aggressive behaviours or tendencies surrounding biting right from the beginning.
This will lead to a well-behaved dog that has a healthy and happy relationship with you, your family, and other animals they come in contact with. It will also prevent any unnecessary accidents from occurring later on.
When Your Puppy's Biting is Harmless
As mentioned previously, it is normal for your pet to bite when they are a puppy. They will do this for many reasons, including:
Playing: If you notice your puppy biting your pant legs or certain toys and items around the house, it could signify that they are playing or are in a playful mood. They may also try to bite your hands while playing, which is a behaviour referred to as mouthing. While this type of biting may cause some annoyance, it is normal behaviour that does not signify aggression, and with proper training, they will grow out of it.
Teething: When puppies start teething, they tend to bite or chew on objects or items to help alleviate the pain. It's important to provide your puppy with toys so that they can teeth with designated items instead of your baseboards, shoes, or by trying to bite and nibble on your hands.
Investigating New Items or Environments: When a puppy is curious about something, they may bite or use their mouths to investigate or explore. Again, this is normal behaviour that does not signify aggression but requires training to ensure that your pet is using its mouth and teeth at the right time instead of causing harm to your home or family.
Chewing: You may notice that your pet is regularly chewing your baseboards or certain toys. This could be a sign of overstimulation, as puppies tend to bite as a way to relax and self-soothe. However, this is not a sign of an aggressive pet, though it will require training to break the habit.
How to Prevent your Pet from Biting Others
As you can see, there are many reasons why your pet will bite or use their mouths, all of which are expected and normal. However, as your puppy matures, it will need to learn to keep its biting to its toys and selected items, refraining from biting people's hands and feet. This should be addressed and taught to your puppy right from the start. Not only does it help them grow out of unacceptable habits quickly, but it also prevents accidents from happening or their behaviour from worsening as they age. One of the most effective ways in which you can do this is through Biting Inhibition.
Biting Inhibition: Biting Inhibition refers to a dog's ability to control the force with which they use its mouth. Most dogs will learn this from their mothers or other pets. However, if your dog is having issues learning this, or continues to bite unwanted objects or people, especially with strength, then you must teach them.
There are a few ways in which your pet can be taught biting inhibition. One of the ways in which you can do so is by allowing your puppy to mouth on your hand until they bite hard. Once they do, let out a high-pitched yelp while letting your hand numb. This will startle your pet, preventing them from biting with the same strength again. Reward your puppy once they stop biting to signify appropriate behaviour.
Additional ways in which you can teach Biting Inhibition include;
- Redirecting Your Puppy: “Redirecting your puppy” describes the process of redirecting your pet's attention or energy from one thing, usually something you as a pet owner don’t want your dog to focus on, onto something else. This is a great process that can be used to prevent your puppy from biting your hand or feet and instead have them focus their energy on a toy or food to prevent the behaviour.
So, whenever your puppy goes to bite your hand or fingers, try giving or showing them a toy to chew on instead to distract and direct their attention elsewhere. This can also be done with bones, treats, and food.
- Use Non-Contact Forms of Play: There are critical periods in which it is essential that you teach your dog to how to play, as it makes it easier to play with your dog later on. During this time, you’ll want to encourage play, which as a reminder, comes out in the form of mouthing or “play-type”/chasing behaviour.
One of the games in which you can play is tug-of-war. This requires no contact and helps stimulate your puppy mentally and physically. This prevents them from playing by biting or using its mouth on people. But be sure not to tug too hard with your puppy otherwise, it’s possible to rip their teeth out.
Also, at ages 4 - 6 months, your puppy with start to teeth. At this time, you’ll want to change the types of games you play with them and steer clear of tugging games. Instead, try focusing on retrieving and frustration-based restrained play. This will help prevent your puppy from having a bad experience while playing tug-of-war.
When your Puppy's Biting Shows Signs of Aggression
It's just as important to understand when your puppy's biting indicates signs of aggression and a more significant issue so that you don’t actually discourage your puppy from when they are playing. Some of these aggressive signs include being possessive over food or toys and continuous biting even when they are told "NO!" Your puppy should not try to snatch treats or food out of your hand and should not try to bite when you take away toys or food. Likewise, it's important that your pet understands the command "NO!" and stops biting once that command is given.
If you find that your pet has these behaviour traits, it's important to work with them and correct their behaviour from the very start. If not, these aggressive issues can develop further, causing more and more problems down the road. Tactics such as e-collars and crate training may work to resolve these issues; however, we recommend consulting an experienced team of trainers to find the right solution for your pet and their particular behaviour.
Need Assistance with Biting Aggression? iTK9 Can Help
An aggressive puppy is not a happy or healthy pet, which is why early signs of aggression should be dealt with right from the beginning. This will help correct your puppy's behaviour, teaching them how to mature and act around others in an acceptable way.
To assist you with your aggressive puppy and its biting tendencies, our trainers are here to help. They are fully committed to working with them through behaviour, obedience training, and continued learning.
We do the hard work for you to attain a happy home and a healthy relationship with your pet.
Included in all of our programs are the following;
- In-Person Learning: Midway progress training video, two go-home lessons.
- Online Learning: Owner education course, instructional training videos, iTK9 member community, e-books & additional training resources.
- Owner Support: Photo updates of your dog training with our team and access to our team for questions & support.