By Lisa Moore – firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re beginning to see lots of new puppies, no doubt the result of Santa granting the wishes of many children at Christmas. Along with all the fun that raising a puppy can bring, it is also a lot of work, and dealing with a puppy’s super-sharp baby teeth can be a struggle if you’re not armed with information on how to deal with them effectively.
It’s completely normal for puppies to use their mouths when playing, when exploring new things and when bored. Nature equips puppies with those sharp teeth for defense, but it’s the chewing that aids in loosening them so the permanent teeth can come in.
When puppies are playing among their littermates and one bites too hard, his playmate may yelp or stop playing altogether. Over time, the puppy learns to use its mouth more gently, to inhibit its bite, to keep play going. This is why it’s so important to allow puppies to remain with their dam and littermates until 8 weeks of age. Critical skills, such as learning how much pressure is too much, are best learned from their siblings.
It’s equally important for puppies to learn to inhibit their bite with people; our skin is much thinner and more fragile than a dog’s. But, if you attempt to stop your puppy from using its mouth at all, you are denying it a basic way to play and interact with you, and you can’t give feedback about what is too hard. Set your puppy up for success and prevent painful, albeit accidental, bites by having a toy between you when playing. When your puppy misses the toy and uses its teeth on you instead, respond with “OUCH!” and withdraw from any play and interaction-a short timeout. This can be accomplished by simply becoming still, quiet and avoiding the puppy for a few seconds, or you can get up and walk away. In either case, your puppy needs to experience what happens when it uses too much bite pressure-it loses access to you and loses the opportunity to play. Your puppy will modify its own behavior, and use much less bite pressure, in order for what it likes-the play-to continue.
It is not an exaggeration by any means to spend a lot of puppy-raising time offering your furry family member something appropriate to chew on. When I am raising and educating a new puppy in my household, I have well over a dozen items on hand to offer my puppy when it needs some chewing activity. I include a variety of textures, some soft and plush, others hard and rubbery, some with ports for treat placement, and I rotate the items to keep the pup’s level of interest high. By always having something good to chew on, I can prevent the puppy from trying to come up with its own chewing options, like the leg of a chair or my favorite shoes.
Eventually, as your puppy grows into an adolescent and finally a mature adult dog, the need to always being chewing on something fades. Raise your puppy correctly, with plenty of acceptable things to chew on and few opportunities to chew inappropriately, and as a result you’ll have an adult dog that can be trusted, even without supervision, to leave off-limit items and furniture out of its mouth.
Lisa Moore’s pet-behavior column appears once a month on the Pet Page. Write to her in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.