Hello and welcome to another 'truth about' post! I'm always happy to attempt to demystify another myth in the industry and this one is very near and dear.
I remember the feeling of being lost and resentful of my very first puppy. I remember the feeling of overwhelm that quickly took over once I realized my puppy was a land shark!
Today, we'll talk about nipping, and we'll also talk about teething because they are most definitely NOT the same thing. They have different action, different intention and different results.
First, in case you are a skimmer, let's define both - then we'll get into why pups do each!
Teething - This happens! It's a definite thing. As dogs grow, they lose their baby teeth. They will chew (and chew and chew) to stimulate the exchange from baby teeth to adult. The age this happens can vary from breed to breed and even from dog to dog, but the approximation is that pups will lose their 'milk' teeth and grow their adult teeth between 3 - 6 months of age.
Nipping - Nipping is a whole other animal.... Nipping is grabbing at, biting at, tearing at and often putting pressure behind. Nipping is not done with the same intention of aiding the growth of new teeth. It is not done to soothe gums or remove baby teeth. It is done with the intention of hurting.
Now before you panic. Let me elaborate.
Puppies spend most of their time instinctually practicing the skills they'll need as adults. That includes biting in a big way! It's normal to have a land shark.
Take a big sigh of relief.
That doesn't mean it's okay, or that you should put up with it, but I hope that info puts some minds at ease. Biting puppies are normal.
Some dogs have naturally soft mouths - think about sporting dogs and the decades of selective breeding for the gentle retrieval of fowl without leaving a mark.
Some dogs are naturally hardwired to bite. Again, think of what a dog was bred for. Dogs used in protection work are bred to bite and bite hard! The pup who bites the hardest and holds on the longest is usually the most prized pup out of a litter of working dogs. Directed towards the right activities and controlled responsibly, a pup who bites hard is an asset, but put this pup in a home with limited experience and a nightmare could ensue.
When dealing with puppy nipping, picking the right breed of dog for you is a great first step!
Back to instincts..... If a dog were to have to depend on itself for survival it would need to be able to fight and kill as two main ways to stay safe. Conflict is typically avoided when possible, however when resources are being claimed (food, safety, sex, etc.), fights can ensue. Play fighting is a way to practice these skills. Killing is self-explanatory. We all have to eat and dogs are predators.
The majority of dogs no longer require these skills to survive and eat, but instinct is a strong force and it still guides behaviours regardless, so it will still produce behaviours that cater to instinctual growth.
As humans, it's our responsibility to recognize what's happening so that we can address it appropriately. Those early weeks are so important for addressing puppy nipping/biting and creating strong bite inhibition.
Unfortunately, it is all too common to hear nipping behaviour misidentified as teething and that makes it difficult to accurately address. This often leaves us floundering and nipping gets worse as our pups grow.
Now, before you ask me for the perfect formula, know that every dog is different.
In 1999, we brought home a Rottweiler puppy. Quincey was a gem! She was lovely her whole life, easy to train, happy to work, fiercely loyal to her family and a wonderful ambassador for her breed. Truly a wonderful dog who I miss intensely. I mention the year because that was 21 years ago now and I can STILL see the scars on my mother's arms from Quincey nipping as a pup.
Quincey did serious damage with those needle teeth. She was a nipper and she nipped HARD. Nobody was off limits when it came to her teeth and we were not prepared to deal with it. To make matters worse, because we didn't understand it, we became resentful of her very quickly.
Luckily, she was only home for 2 weeks before we started Puppy Head Start and got on track. When we got to class and were made aware of how to fix it, our world changed. At that young age, it was easy to get the message to Quincey and she accepted it with the quiet confidence she carried her whole life. It was almost as if she said, "oh, no problem - I had no idea you didn't like it!"
I've trained many puppies since Quincey and have had very few of them not be nippers. Most recently, Ned as a 9 week old pup lunged at my face twice, both times drawing blood with those needle teeth.
Quincey learned quickly that human skin was off limits when teeth were concerned and she lived a lovely, long life without ever making the mistake of putting teeth on a human. She had many other lessons in bite inhibition that contributed to that, but allowing her to simply grow up and out of nipping wasn't an option for us.
Pups often become nipping adolescents and then careless adults. Not because they are aggressive, but because they never learned to be responsible for their mouths.
Teething, on the other hand, is much different thing to address. If your dog is chewing rather than lunging/nipping/biting. It is not behavioural. Teething is purely physical. They are looking for relief and instinct tells them to chew to remove their baby teeth. I like frozen kongs stuffed with a few goodies to encourage chewing. Teething toys that go in the freezer are great help to relieve painful mouths. Let them chew by providing appealing things for them to chew and save your furniture, etc. from becoming the target of your teething puppy.
Your first step in addressing those needle teeth is identifying the type of issue you are dealing with. Once you do that accurately, you’ll be on a much better path to addressing the issue! The link in the image will provide some clarity on how to stop nipping effectively and how to set yourself up to practice habits that promote good bite inhibition.
A nipping puppy does not have to be frightening. Even a nipping/biting Rottie pup isn't as scary as it sounds when you give them the right information.
As always, Happy Training!