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Stop Play Bitting
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Stop "Play" Biting And Growling Now

Most puppies bite and chew their owners, and even growl, especially when they are playing. Some owners worry that this means the puppy will grow up to be aggressive and start to impose punishments or strict dominance regimes. Other owners do nothing, assuming that the puppy will simply grow out of it. In fact, the best approach is somewhere between these two.

The biting is, of course, completely normal puppy behaviour. It has two main causes: puppies and dogs play together by fighting "mock battles" in which jumping on an opponent and biting are fair moves. They do this with their human families too, until taught otherwise as they begin to lose their milk teeth and grow adult ones, puppies often feel pain in their teeth and gums which may be relieved by chewing.

Puppies need to learn while they are young that it is unacceptable for their teeth to meet human skin under any conditions. They may think anger is the human way of playing rough, which is why punishment won't work, but the following should get a result. Make sure your puppy has some very hard toys to chew at to relieve teething pain. Smoked bones, which can be obtained from the pet shop, are good for this and less messy than fresh ones. Putting them into the freezer can help too, as chewing them cold often seems to relieve the pain.

Before 18 weeks of age it is often enough, when your puppy bites too hard, to give a loud, high squeak, then "sulk" and refuse to play. After a couple of minutes go back to play but repeat the procedure if you get bitten again. This is what other puppies do when a companion gets too rough, so your puppy should recognise the message. If you do it every time, s/he will learn that if s/he wants to play there must be no biting.

If the puppy grabs your hand hard, instead of pulling away (which will make them grab harder for a better grip) gently close your hand on their jaw - upper or lower, whichever is easier. Be very gentle when you do this, and don't suddenly grab the puppy's jaw. The aim is not to frighten or injure your puppy, but to make grabbing your hand mildly unpleasant. In fact, it may hurt you as you are closing your hand on puppy's teeth, but should result in the puppy spitting your hand out. After a few repetitions, the puppy should stop grabbing your hand. It may also help to put lemon juice or a deterrent spray on your hands and clothing before beginning a game. Various brands of deterrent spray are available from pet shops: they all use different recipes and often if one brand fails another will not. Many people also get good results with "bitter apple" spray, though you may have to order this through your vet.

You can use the same procedure for a puppy that growls at you. Even if you feel it's just over-excitement, you do not want your puppy to grow into a dog who associates growling at people with having fun. As with the biting, immediately s/he growls stop playing, ensuring that you put any toys involved out of reach. Ceasing the game makes growling unrewarding, and removing the toy ensures s/he does not assume that you will give it up to her if s/he growls. Completely ignore your puppy for a few minutes, after which the toy can be offered again and the game can be resumed. It should immediately be stopped and the toy removed again if the growling recurs. Repeat the cycle as often as you need to.

Your puppy will be less likely to bite if you don't let it get too excited. Keep play sessions short and try to stop before the trouble starts.It can also help to play structured games which are less confrontational than pulling and tugging ones.

After 18 weeks of age, your puppy is psychologically more mature, and any biting or growling may need a different approach. Seek expert help to deal with this: the PADS advice services would be a good place to start.

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