Under the control of their genes, pups grow 28 temporary teeth within three weeks of birth. The same genes direct them to chew and nip constantly to prepare the gums for their 42 adult teeth. These start to replace puppy teeth at about 3 months, and are all grown by about six months.
The uncomfortable teething process, intensifies chewing and nipping. It is critical during this time to train your pup into acceptable use of its teeth. This training largely determines how it will bite and chew as an adult. Here are some tips on how to do it.
- Do not allow the pup to nip your fingers or clothes. Every time it does so, trains it that little bit more into biting as an adult. Say nothing. Simply remove the pup from the situation immediately. After a few times being deprived of your company, your pet learns that the reward of crawling all over you with tickles and pats does not happen if it sinks its sharp little teeth into your hand.
- Provide plenty of hard rubber chew toys. (Do not provide fabric toys that the pup can tear up, or soft plastic toys it can eat chunks of.) Whenever the pup starts to chew on you or the furniture, remain calm. Never yell. Never physically punish. We use the disapproval command “Oh dear”, and remove the pup distant from the situation. Give the pup a chew toy in a furniture safe spot. Praise and a treat after it settles down to the toy quickly teach it that chewing toys is a rewarded activity. Use the same safe spot each time.
- New pups socialized properly, that is with their littermates and their mother, nip constantly. Yelps of pain from littermates, and growls from Mom, quickly teach them to restrict the force of their bite to an acceptable level. But many pups do not have this opportunity for long enough. So, you must be the surrogate Mom, giving a loud, high-pitched yell, followed by the “No” command warning, whenever it nips you. If the pup persists, remove it from your company.
- Treat times are excellent opportunities to train your pup’s bite. I wince every time I see an owner toss food to a pup because they are wary of the sharp and uncontrolled puppy teeth. That’s a sure way to train a snapping adult. Instead, hold the treat tightly in your fingers, or totally enclosed in your hand, and let the pup sniff it while you give the command “Gentle”. Give it the food only after it has stopped trying to chew or wrestle it from you. If it snaps do not give the treat at all. Very quickly your pup will learn to wait with its nose pressed to your hand. Then give the treat slowly with the command “Gentle”, and do not allow it to snatch. You will soon be able to hold one end of the treat while the other is in the pup’s mouth.
- Mealtimes are the best. Put down the food bowl and start right away from the first day to train your pup with “Wait” to sit unmoving in front of the bowl, then “OK” to release it to the food Initially you will have to hold the pup back physically. But, within days of gradually releasing pressure, simply a hand held palm forward will be sufficient. Then, just the “Wait” command will be enough. Even young pups can be quickly trained to wait for the “OK” release for as much as 60 seconds.
- Pups must also learn that the food is theirs only if you want it to be. Use the command “Let” and take away the food bowl while the pup is eating. Then do the “Wait” and “OK” sequence while returning the bowl. If the pup growls or snaps at you, take the bowl anyway while restraining your pet with the other hand. Put the food away out of sight, and make the pup wait an hour before going through the food bowl sequence again. Very quickly they will come to accept you taking away the food and returning it.
It is so easy to train a puppy to happily control its bite, and such a delight to get down on the floor and play fight ferociously with them, confident of the safety of your nose and toes. The best of times.