Puppy biting and Hyper Behavior is a problem for many puppy owners. Dr Ian Dunbar, one of the foremost canine behavior experts in the world, does not find the term aggression helpful in diagnosing and correcting the problem.
Part of the problem is that people believe that any dog that bites, growls, or backs away (stress/fear) is aggressive, or going to be aggressive. Without understanding this is normal dog communication.
The second part of the problem is that dogs which jump up on their owners, other dogs, bark ‘happily’, rush up to other dogs, are actually displaying inappropriate behavior. I am far more concerned with this behavior because this is ‘not’ happy or friendly behavior. By putting ‘human emotions’ on this behavior (often because it makes us feel happy) is letting a dog practice behavior which I have seen lead to:
- Bullying their owners
- Bullying other dogs
- No self control or control over the dog’s behavior.
Why is My Puppy Biting?
I’ve had many people call me terrified because their puppy bit them, or their child. Once I ascertain that they were not bullying the puppy I ask when it had a nap. In most cases the puppy has been kept up most of the day, often for days. Puppies normally are awake 2 hours, sleep 2 hours, repeat. Even at 5 months old my puppies are up 3 hours, sleep 2 hours. Would they ‘act out’ if they were over tired? Of course, just like children.
Another reason puppies bite is because they are frustrated. Two of the main situations are a) when you want to go in the house but your puppy wants to play, and b) the puppy is bored/under exercised, over exercised.
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- There is a third one that I see less, the puppy is over stimulated. The puppy has no quiet, safe place to recharge and calm down.
- Before we can assess your puppy you need to ask yourself a few questions:
- Was this dog from working bloodlines, or bred by someone with no genetic history?
- Am I spending enough time socializing the dog, training the dog, exercising the dog, mentally stimulating the dog, and touching the dog?
- Have I seen any indication that my dog is touch sensitive and withdrawn? Does this dog not want to be the ‘life of the party?
- Was my puppy properly socialized in the whelping box? Did the breeder do a program like Prodigy Puppy or Puppy Culture? Did the breeder do a temperament test?
- Am I putting unrealistic expectations on the dog? Am I treating it like a human? Am I making excuses for bad behavior? Am I letting it run wild 23 hours a day, and then expecting it to ‘obey’ or ‘comply’ because I want to spend time with it?
- Does my puppy have the zoomies around 3pm or 7pm? (see our other articles)
A sad truth is that most people do not research ‘how to pick the right puppy’ until it is too late. It is sad to say, but most behavior problems I’ve seen involving puppy biting under 16 weeks were from ‘non professional’ breeders who did not do Volhart (or similar) tests, Puppy Culture, or worry about genetics and behavior. Temperament is hereditary. You can not fix it. (behavior can be changed, temperament cannot – Dr Dunbar).
In fact, designer dogs are big business. I belong to many dog groups on facebook and have heard some horrifying stories. On one thread several designer dog breeders were talking about how to convince people that ‘all’ benefits of purebred dogs in behavior are gone when you cross the dog. They discussed how to make people believe that a cross brought the best of both breeds to ‘every’ puppy.
On another thread people breeding a variety of dogs discussed what to do when people wanted to see the puppy parents. The solutions ranged from feeding the dogs gravol or some other medication to sedate/calm them, to boarding the parent’s out and ‘borrowing’ a couple of good dogs. This is truly a buyer beware situation.
Aggression or Dangerous?
Instead of asking, “is this dog aggressive?” Dr Dunbar says we need to ask, “is this dog dangerous?” He explains that a bite history does not mean that a dog is dangerous. Dogs bite when frustrated, afraid, or stressed. Many dogs bite because they have been bullied by children, forced into situations they are not comfortable in, or over stressed. Many bites are a dog’s last resort to stop you from doing something that hurts/upsets/frightens the dog.
I have assessed about 10 dogs who were ‘great with kids’, ‘the kids best friend’, ‘loved the kids’ who suddenly bit those same kids. Only one of these dogs I assessed as dangerous. Once the children were given boundaries and limits with the dogs and/or gates were put up to create safe places for child and dog, and the parent’s saw to the dogs’ emotional needs, then there was no risk of danger to the child.
Dangerous is any dog who may accidentally harm a person or dog. Any dog who has ‘intent to harm’ should be euthanized – not give away to someone else. Even if it is a puppy.
Dr Dunbar uses the dog bite damage to assess whether a dog is safe or dangerous. If you ask me if the first puppy is aggressive I will say ‘probably not if you do the socializing and training until 1 year old, as all dogs should have.’ If you ask me if the second puppy has more of a chance of becoming dangerous than the first puppy.
What Can You Do? How to Stop Puppy Biting
The wrong thing to do is become angry, try dominating your puppy, or do nothing. All of these will teach a puppy behaviors you don’t want them to know. The first step is to make sure your have assessed the problem correctly. We don’t like deadlines, but a puppy’s temperament is set before it is 16 weeks old. You are running out of time. If you assess wrong then you may stop the biting (mask the emotions) but you will not solve the problem. One day the mask will come off and you will be unprepared.
One thing you cannot do is ‘train’ the puppy to have a better temperament or behaviors. Look at it this way, if your puppy is biting because it is frustrated and you stop the biting then you think the puppy is better. However, the puppy will continue to build up the frustration, with no way to tell you that something is wrong – until the puppy finally explodes.
I hope this article helps you. If you have any more questions then please contact me. I can answer a couple questions, or we can set up an online consult to help solve a puppy bite problem before your puppy grows into a dangerous dog.
If you feel your puppy is just being a baby then please read through this blog. There are several tutorials to download, and over 30 articles to help you raise your puppy.