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Puppy Nipping and Chewing: How to Stop the Biting That Hurts

Love that new puppy, but don't love what she is doing to your sofa, sneakers, or fingers? Then it's time to intervene. While nipping and chewing are natural behaviors that occur when a puppy is between two and six moths of age, they can be stopped!

"Puppies will teethe, just like human infants," says Cindy Sherman, PhD, teacher of puppy training classes in Ithaca, New York. "Chewing and nipping is investigative behavior. It is how they learn about their world...and it is completely normal." But it is important, stresses Sherman, to direct the puppy to chewing appropriate items.

Look for specially designed pet toys. Rubber toys that have an opening for food, such as Kong®, can keep a puppy happily occupied for a long time.

Beware of items that may hide a choking danger. Don't offer your pup anything with a squeaker that can be ripped our and swallowed.

Examine toys regularly for tears, breakage, or stuffing leaks.

Rotate toys. Puppies love novelty. Different items will help make playtime special.

"As you would with a baby, supervise your puppy at all times," says Sherman. "If you can't be with your dog, protect her in an exercise pen or crate. Puppy-proof your home."

Put away items that you don't want chewed or that could be harmful.

Install a safety lock on the cabinet under the kitchen sink.

Keep human snacks and candy out of reach. Remember: Chocolate is toxic to dogs.

When it's more than play

Puppy biting and chewing are generally not aggressive. "However, it is important to be aware that some puppies can be aggressive," says Sherman. "If you have a puppy that seems deadly serious or is snarly or if you are afraid of the puppy, it is important to learn the reason. Videotape that behavior to view with a professional. If you are concerned about it, there may be a reason to be concerned."

Sherman recommends, "Puppies should remain with their litter until seven or eight weeks of age to learn how to communicate with other dogs. When they rough and tumble, they learn that they will have fun if they bite gently.

Reinforce positive play

To teach the puppy appropriate play behavior, "hard biting should elicit a painful shriek from a human companion, sending the message that this behavior is unacceptable. Stop interacting with the puppy. Get up and walk away, ignoring the puppy for a few minutes. You have removed the rewards (you and playing), and you are teaching bite inhibition." This is best done between two and four months of age. "Gradually decrease the pressure of the bite you permit and add a cue before yelping to teach a signal to the dog." Sherman also suggests that a puppy can learn to have a "time out" if you ignore him or place him in a crate.

"The only biting you should ignore is soft biting on bare hands. If this occurs, keep your hands very quiet and still and then redirect the puppy to other appropriate objects."

Other biting, such as the lure of a pants leg or shoelace, can be handled by distractions such as throwing a toy or a simple clap. "Don't engage the dog verbally. IT reinforces the negative behavior." says Sherman. "Reinforce only the positive behavior."

It is important to remember that as much fun as a new puppy may be, children and puppies should NEVER be left together unsupervised. Work with children to teach them how to teach the dog to play correctly. Hide-and-seek is a terrific beginning. It introduces the concepts of the "come" command. Teach children not to roughhouse or wrestle. Like a human baby, puppies get overtired and over stimulated. They need time to rest and calm down. Sherman quotes the well-known British behaviorist John Rogerson, who says, "Control the game, control the dog."





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