Updated: Jan 6
Teething & Chewing
Puppies, just like children, have a set of baby teeth first, which gradually fall out as they are replaced with permanent adult teeth. Their baby teeth come through at about 3-4 weeks old, then start to get wobbly around 12 weeks old, when the adult teeth come in, starting with the incisors and canines at the front. By about six months old the full set of adult teeth are usually through, including the molars at the back. This means your puppy will be teething for at least 3 months, and during this time their little mouths can be very sore. Puppies find chewing on something very soothing and settling at this age, and it will help wobble out those pesky baby teeth faster. Puppies need to be allowed to chew, so it is important to buy a supply of chew toys for them. It is best to provide a range of options on a rotation and see what your pup prefers e.g. soft toys, rope toys, rubber chews like kongs, or long-lasting treat sticks.
Remember that puppies explore everything with their mouths, and they don’t know the difference between things they are allowed to chew and things they are not. Try not to leave anything on the floor that you don’t want to risk being chewed! It is not the puppy’s fault if they mistake your favourite shoes for a chew toy – they all look the same to them and smell oh so interesting! If you catch your puppy chomping on something they shouldn’t be – don’t punish them or tell them off, just politely take the item away and excitedly swap it for a chew toy they are allowed to chew. Be enthusiastic about puppy chewing this item so they are encouraged to go for that one next time! If you struggle to get puppy to give up the item, offer the puppy ‘TREATS!’ in your most excited voice and reward them. You are teaching your puppy that by dropping the item even better stuff is in store – treats, and then a safe chew toy they can chew on for as long as they want.
When puppies play with other dogs, play-fighting is a completely natural part of social development. Puppies explore everything with their mouths and nibbling on things is a normal part of them discovering what things are alive and not alive, what moves or crackles or bends when they chew it and what doesn’t. This means many puppies will try out play-biting and chewing with you and get very excited by it when you react – thinking it’s a great game.
It is important to nip this in the bud and get all family members to be consistent. Teaching puppies polite play-time manners takes time and a LOT of patience.
The golden rule to fix play biting is: teeth-on-skin = play time is over.
Whenever puppy accidentally or deliberately nips your hands, immediately react with a ‘WHOOPS! That hurt – sorry, game’s over now’. You don’t have to scream or tell puppy off or make a big deal of it, just drop the toy, or put puppy down if they were in your arms and ignore them for a minute or two. Puppy will very quickly learn that humans like to play with toys, but not with their hands, and they will adapt their play style accordingly.
It is always best to play with your puppy using a toy, or to gently stroke and tickle them. Rough-and-tumble play where you are using your hands to manipulate the dog or waving them in their face only encourages the dog to go for your fingers. Rough play like tug-of-war is far safer for everyone if the puppy has a rope or plush toy to lunge for, and one much larger than their mouth so they can hang on to one side and you can safely hold the other.
If your puppy likes to grab your clothes or nip at your heels when you walk, employ the same tactic. Whenever the puppy bites something they are not allowed to, say ‘WHOOPS!’ and end the game. (Duck into another room and close the door, put puppy in another (puppy-proofed!) room for a time-out, take the item they are biting away etc). Pause for at least 2-3 minutes before trying to play again, so the puppy has had enough time to calm down and reset. If the puppy is too over-excited and you can tell they are going to carrying on biting anything they can, then the puppy is too over-stimulated to play with humans right now, and you shouldn’t interact with them until they have calmed down.
Make sure all children in the house know about these play-time rules and what to do if the puppy starts biting them. Puppies and children commonly get into a reinforcing cycle where the more the pup bites, the more the children scream and run around, which the puppy then thinks is a GREAT game, so the more the puppy jumps and bites. Teach your children to stroke and pet the puppy gently and quietly, not to react too much if the puppy is nipping, and instead, take themselves off into another room until the puppy has calmed down.
With a small sized puppy you can also try gently picking them up under their armpits and holding them facing away from you for a few seconds. This means they are not physically facing the correct way to bite you, and they are looking out at the room which makes for a perfect distraction. Puppy will usually notice something interesting to run and sniff as soon as you let them go and it can serve as a good little 're-set' moment.
With consistency and practice your puppy will learn to control their play-biting. They usually grow out of this habit anyway, but it is important to teach them early that polite manners gets them better play sessions.