Puppy Nipping: Everything you need to know, from cause to cure and beyond.
One of the most underrated puppy problems is something that can be a cause of severe anxiety both for the newly adopted pup and his new ‘paw’rents. This is known as Puppy Mouthing, Nipping, Nibbling and/or Biting. While some pups ace this stage with utmost ease and negligible fuss, some end up quite troubled and as a result become troublesome to his family too. Here you will get a detailed overview of each and everything associated to it in a very compact manner. So straightaway let’s get digging…
WHAT IT IS.
In a nutshell, pups tending to ‘mouth’ things is a very natural phenomenon. This is because they do not have ‘hands’ like us to play with, so instead they try to compensate by using their mouths to grasp, feel, move and explore everything they wish to ‘handle’. Until it is limited to permissible extents, there is nothing to be concerned about. But often many pups let this mouthing behavior escalate from trivial things like newspapers, to important or precious items like furniture, or even our hands and feet while we happen to be fondling or playing with them. This is where the problem arises. Those who have not experienced it, may wonder about the severity of this issue, but let me tell you, even though a pup that cute and tiny may look everything but a cause of annoyance, a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth that look more like pins is actually capable of puncturing human skin, drawing out blood with moderate pressure, causing some real pain!
THE ROOT CAUSE BEHIND PUPPY NIPPING.
The one word answer to the cause behind their nipping behavior would be ‘Teething’. Teething is simply the phase in which a pup loses his milk teeth and replaces them with adult ones. Now a pup goes through teething twice, even before he turns one year old. Newborn puppies are born toothless. They start getting their teeth two weeks after being born. The incisors are the first ones to appear in the front at around week 2 to 3. These are followed by the canine teeth, the premolars and lastly the molars. A pup has a total of 28 milk, baby or deciduous teeth. This process may take him the first 3 months. But once he is above 12 weeks of age, he will begin losing his first set, beginning with the incisors by his fourth month. The permanent teeth start pushing out the baby teeth settled on top through the gums. And this is uncomfortable for the tiny pups. Many times the pressure becomes painful too and this is when they get this urge to chew on things in order to counteract the constant pressure in their gums. They may run a low fever at this time too. Don’t panic if you find a little blood on your dog’s chewables during this time, it simply characterizes this stage. You may also find a tooth stuck on his favorite toy or even loose on the ground if you are lucky, just add it to your precious collection! This newly discovered chewing behavior provides them with an immediate temporary relief and as they learn about this cycle, the frequency and at times the intensity is also increased as a result. And this phase stretches on to about 6 to 7 months. So by the time a pup has replaced all his baby teeth with a complete new adult set he should no longer feel this necessity and eventually get worn out of this behavior and the problem should dissolve itself.
EASING THIS PAINFUL PHASE.
There are quite a few things we can do to help our teething pups. It is important to teach him right from the beginning, that certain things are alright to chew on, whereas the rest are not. A pup won’t obviously learn to differentiate between a cardboard packaging and the expensive gym shoes that came packed into them. Dogs don’t understand these things hence don’t care if their parents are poor or billionaires. They just know how to love them unconditionally, regardless of the shade of their skin, model of their car or the type or location of their home. Neither do the tiny babies understand that their nibbling would wear out their parents’ commodities, rendering them useless. All they get is that this massaging of gums leads to a soothing effect each time, so whenever he feels uncomfortable all he has to do is nibble on whatever he finds nearest! So at times when you discover him having destroyed something you are fond of, instead of losing your cool please just remember this.
The best way to help your fur kid as well as yourself, during this time is to provide him with some designated toys to play with or chew on. There are a variety of toys available that are meant for this very purpose. Soft rubber or plastic dental rings or chews or toys are specially designed to soothe their swollen gums. While buying those, it is advisable to make sure that they are made of good quality plastic as a lot of cheap variants are known to be responsible for causing a variety of cancers. However do not leave them unsupervised for long periods of time as their sharp teeth can easily rip off little chunks of the chewable toys, which they may swallow or even choke on. In case you prefer an organic approach, you can make a DIY puppy pacifier on your own too. To make one you need to have a handkerchief or similar sized cloth twisted and tied into a knot, which you then need to soak with water and refrigerate. You can then give it to your pup to play with and chew on as much as he wants. This cold temperature is just perfect to help bring down the inflammation of his gums and provide a better relief than the rest of the toys. Also because it’s a soft cloth it would not damage or crack his teeth as it could have been in case you gave him a hard ice-cube. In case your pup isn’t very enthusiastic about this new toy, you can also encourage him by replacing the plain water you froze it in, with some (low salt) broth. Frozen dog treats and dog ice creams are also other good ways to soothe his gums while he’s busy munching.
TEACHING HIM NOT TO MOUTH ON PEOPLE OR FURNITURE.
A pup may choose his own preferences when it comes to items to nip on. At times he could choose people’s hands or ankles too, little realizing how much he is hurting them. Many times people don’t mind this cute little fur ball and just excuse them giggling and petting, exclaiming how cute and adorable they look while at it. A totally wrong message to send, however! This response only encourages the pup to do what he shouldn’t and you really can’t blame him later when the frequency and (as his jaws grow stronger) force increases!
So what you rather should do is a bit of ‘DRAMA’! Yes you read that right. As soon as your little monster decides on making you his favorite chewable and actually sinks those teeth you need to let out a loud dramatic yelp, ‘OUCH’ would do just fine. Even though he did not really hurt you, you need to pretend as if it hurt you SO much and for a couple of minutes back off and discontinue playing or giving him any attention. If you don’t mind a little extra drama you may also supplement your yelp with a bit of licking the place he bit you. As this is how Canines respond to getting hurt. The idea is to make him realize that humans are too sensitive to be chewed on and in case he does repeat it again it will only lead to his human getting hurt and abruptly leaving him alone. Now pups love you, your playing with them and your paying attention as well. They live for these! So he will soon figure out that his nipping on humans has only unpleasant effects. The human cries in pain, he walks away which means no more play or even attention. And this is the realization we were hoping for that will soon discourage his behavior and nip nipping in the bud!
Do not get your pup separated from it’s mother and litter mates until about 7 to 8 weeks of age, as this is when they are taught ‘bite inhibition’ by their mother and siblings. Each time he bites his mother while suckling or brothers and sisters while playing, the feeding or playing comes to a halt, naturally discouraging his behavior. But in case he is separated too soon, he does not get this opportunity to learn, which eventually leads him to unnecessary complications post moving in with his forever family.
Some pups may seem to enjoy nibbling on things other than humans (and of course his toys allotted for the purpose). These could range from table and chair legs, to work shoes and bathroom slippers, to cushions, mattresses and carpets, to books, stationery, bags or anything you can literally think of. In this case, whenever you find them ripping anything they shouldn’t, just give them a loud and firm ‘NO’ and direct them to the toys they are allowed to chew on. Bitter-tasting, bite-deterring sprays are also available at pet stores that are meant to be sprayed on furniture legs or whatever your pup has a tendency to chew on. Also should you be specially careful to never let any electric cables hang loose within their reach, and properly tape any worn ones as these little mistakes have often proved to be life threatening!
Just being calm and consistent in your training will give you amazing results soon. In case it takes a bit longer, you can always device your own little tricks to get positive results, because each pup is unique and even though some breeds tend to be more of ‘mouthers’ than others, there are no hard and fast rules and always room for exceptions. You know your pup best, so you are at the best position to improvise on the training methods. Bribing these lil monsters with a treat every time he stops biting and adjusts his behavior for you is something that always works universally! Just don’t resort to violence while trying to teach him things, as this will make your baby afraid and unsure of you and affect your bond with him which is more precious than anything he can ever lay his teeth on.
TEETH ABNORMALITIES YOU SHOULD WATCH OUT FOR.
Most dogs get their full set of adult teeth at around 6 months. As parents we should run a gentle check of the inside of their mouths every few days. At times a bunch of complications can arise at this stage. A milk tooth may get stuck somehow in the gums blocking the adult tooth’s way of coming out. This leads to red, swollen and painful gums. The adult teeth may also grow crooked as a result. In this case you need to have a Vet pull it out for him. Also at times the jaws may not be aligned properly, needing to be corrected by a Vet before the teething process is completed as this can significantly affect your pup’s quality of life later on. ‘Dolichocephalic’ or long muzzled breeds such as Great Danes, Dachshunds and Siberian Huskies among various others, have a tendency to get an overbite which basically is having their upper jaw longer than the lower one, whereas ‘brachycephalic’ or the ones with short muzzles such as Pugs, Bulldogs and Boxers among others, tend to get an underbite which is having their lower jaws longer than the upper. Don’t worry though, there is just a slight chance that their teething would need interference, because most pups just do fine without the slightest of complications and even if there is something less than perfect, it can be fixed by your Vet provided you keep monitoring him at least once a week and bring anything odd you notice, to your Vet’s attention BEFORE the entire teething process gets completed.
That’s pretty much all about it.
I hope I have been able to cover every aspect of ‘Puppy Nipping’ by now. In case there is something I might have missed or anything else you would like me to add, please let me know in the Comment section below. If you enjoyed reading it, please don’t forget to Like and Share with anyone you think might find this useful. And lastly, Subscribe to my newsletter to get notified about every future post.