Puppies bite for many reasons, including expressing discomfort/frustration, in play, and because they are overtired. Puppies also have an inclination toward a “witching hour” at dawn and dusk. We’ll look at each of these scenarios.
The “Witching Hour”
Many owners find that 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. bring out the worst in their puppies! If you know that a particular time of day prompts crazy biting, do your best to manage/prevent the behaviour and engage your puppy otherwise. This includes using baby gates to manage her movement, taking her for a walk or playing with toys in the yard, giving her a stuffed Kong or more active food-stuffed toy such as a Tricky Treat Ball, or arranging a play-date with a dog who wants to play with her. This is a normal part of puppy development.
Puppies tend to have a wake/sleep cycle of 60 to 120 minutes. If you notice that your puppy seems to lose her mind after she’s been awake for an hour, the best strategy is to ensure that her needs have been met (bathroom, etc.) and settle her in her crate with a food-stuffed toy such as a Kong. Similar to a toddler who isn’t ready to leave the action, the solution for this is helping your puppy to settle and go to sleep.
Biting in Play
Toys and access to friendly dogs are two good outlets for nipping in play. When you can see your puppy is getting revved up and is going to start nipping your hands, immediately get a toy and keep her busy tugging and retrieving it. If her mouth is on a toy, her mouth is not on your hand. As much as you can, keep her busy with a toy before she considers biting you rather than waiting until after she has nipped you.
Having regular contact with friendly and playful dogs will give your puppy a good outlet for appropriate nippy play. Through appropriately monitored play she will learn the life-long lesson of controlling her jaw pressure. This is called “acquired bite inhibition” (ABI) and will come into play later in life if she bites out of stress. A dog who learned good ABI in her formative years will cause less damage than a dog who never learned to control her jaw pressure as a pup.
What to Do if Your Puppy Nips
Many resources encourage owners to yelp or scream when their puppy nips. Generally this will result in a) scaring the puppy or b) revving the puppy up even further. Neither option is ideal. Owners may instead focus on providing more tangible consequences for nipping: the removal of the puppy’s playmate (you!). The order of events could be as follows: