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Posted on Thu, Sep 9, 2010 : 12:56 a.m.

Chewing, biting behaviors in puppies explained; solutions offered

By Lorrie Shaw


flickr photo courtesy of emutree

Recently a client adopted a young puppy, and the client is still, weeks later, very excited: the new puppy smell, the cute factor, the prospect of a new life in the house. What my client isn't thrilled with: chewing, biting and stealing of the client's stuff.

My client's story isn't unusual. In fact it's one of the chief complaints that I hear from people. I know that anyone with a puppy or a dog who's never been trained to not to chew things besides appropriate chew toys can totally relate. Am I right?

The questions I get asked time and time again are, "Why does my puppy chew and bite on everything - including me?" and "Pup is constantly stealing my belongings, like shoes and socks. How do I get him to stop?"

One word comprises my mantra with regard to ending this maddening behavior: diligence.

To clarify this harrowing topic, I enlisted the assistance of Dr. Camille Ward, M.S. Ph.D. CAAB - an animal behaviorist and dog trainer here in the Ann Arbor area. 

Ward begins by saying: "I think that one of the big mistakes owners make is that they expect not to lose anything valuable. No matter how well we puppy-proof our homes, chances are, our dogs will end up getting a shoe, a Kleenex box, a sock or something. It's normal for puppies to want to chew; it's how they explore the world."

Chewing also relieves stress and eases the difficulty of teething. Teething is without question a difficult period for both human and pup. It can be made a little less taxing by ensuring that said puppy has the right chew toys to keep her busy and the right amount of exercise to burn off that extra energy.

Exercise is an essential area of puppyhood that, time and time again, I see underestimated. Playing outdoors is a great venue for puppies to hone their exploring skills while they are supervised, of course. Play fetch (with a puppy toy), run - figure out what your pooch likes to do and engage him. A bit of mental exercise and physical activity is essential, so keep it fun and interactive. A reasonably tired puppy is a satisfied puppy - and less inclined to get into trouble with things like chewing and stealing your things.

To address chewing, be sure that your pup has the right chew toys to indulge his needs. If he begins chewing on something he's not supposed to, simply redirect him to a chew toy.

There is one rule to abide by before entering puppyhood - puppy proof your home before you bring your furry friend home. Really see your house for what it is: a curiously exciting environment that holds lots of new experiences, and possible trouble for a tiny, four-legged fur ball.

  • Consider household chemicals and medications (two of the leading causes of poisoning in pets). Those should be locked up safely. Ward recommends the use of baby safety latches, since some pups can be quite good at opening cupboards with their paws or nose.
  • Do you value your clothes? Don't leave them hanging in reach. Remember: razor teeth.
  • Tuck away electrical cords, out of reach.
  • Employ the use of a chew deterrent, like Bitter Apple or a product Ward has had success with called Boundary, made by Lambert Kay. Apply on what I call "puppy magnets" like furniture legs, cabinets, etc. to act as an additional tool in keeping those razor-sharp teeth from destroying your things.
  • Of course, loose strings, tassels, earbuds and ropes are attractive, yet dangerous to our young furry friends. Keep them up and out of sight.
  • Toilet tissue is a fast, easy target for puppies. Avoid a mess, and possible ingestion. Keep it up high, along with any trash cans.

The best advice regarding chewing and getting into things? Keep an eye on puppies. When you can't, crate them. Expect situations to arise, and don't take the behavior personally. It takes time for dogs to learn the rules.

Many puppy owners comment that biting is a problem. The good news is that it is common, as Ward explains in her handout, "Bite Inhibition":

Biting and mouthing in puppies is part of normal canine behavior. Puppies use their mouths in playing with littermates and for exploring the world around them. However, in order for puppies to adapt and live in the human pack, we need to teach our dogs bite inhibition.

The recommendations outlined below are a basic primer to help address the annoying biting behavior:

No painful bites. When puppies play with their littermates, they get constant feedback about their play. If one puppy plays too rough, the other puppy yelps loudly, and the play stops. The puppy learns that if he bites too hard, the fun ends. We can teach our puppy the same thing when he plays with us. The next time your puppy bites down hard, yell “OUCH!” to communicate that when he bites you it hurts. You can also show him what he should be biting on by redirecting him to an appropriate chew toy.

What if you yell “OUCH!” and nothing happens? Or worse yet, the puppy gets worked up and starts biting harder? If plan A doesn’t do the trick, there is always plan B. With plan B, you simply say a word like “finished” and then take the toy and leave the room for a two-minute timeout. Come back in the room and let your puppy know that you still love him; it’s his biting that you don’t like. Tell your puppy to come and ask for a sit. You’ll need to repeat this as often as necessary until your pup gets the picture that when he bites, the fun and games stop.

One word of caution when using plan B that’s vitally important. Make sure that when you walk out of the room and leave your puppy behind that he doesn’t find other things in the room to have fun with. The point of the exercise is to teach him that when he bites hard, good things stop. If you walk out of the room and he has a rip roaring time chewing up your socks, the exercise becomes self-defeating. Work this exercise in a room without other distractions, where the only thing interesting is you.

Ward notes that taking things a step further and teaching pups to minimize the force of all bites, then to stop mouthing all together is key. The next logical step is to maintain using a "soft mouth" - this is especially important throughout the dogs life, for example - when they are given treats.

One of the best ways for a young dog to learn the rules of engagement regarding play and to firm up her skills with bite inhibition, is to give her lots of chances to play with other dogs that are well-matched. This way, she gets to exhibit the kinds of play behaviors that she can't with humans and to learn what's acceptable and what's not in a language that she immediately recognizes.

With a fair amount of diligence, you can navigate through the phases of puppyhood with a little more finesse and sanity while teaching your pooch to live within a human family unit.

Dr. Ward is founder of About Dogs, LLC  in Ann Arbor and author of Relationship Training for a Well-Behaved Dog. Ward recently recieved certification as a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) - of which there are less than sixty in number, worldwide.

Excerpts taken from "Bite Inhibition" and "Puppy Proofing Your Home", Copyright About Dogs LLC. All rights reserved.

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting as well as a regular pets contributor on She also blogs frequently on More Than Four Walls and enjoys researching solutions regarding pet wellness and behavior, as well as social issues related to pets. She can be reached via e-mail.



Thu, Sep 9, 2010 : 8:09 p.m.

Thanks for a concise and practical article! As the mother of an "adolescent" Golden-Irish, common sense and calm discipline definitely works best (as it does with human kids).


Thu, Sep 9, 2010 : 6:53 p.m.

I swore by Bitter Apple when our Sasha was a pup. It got sprayed on everything we didn't want her to chew - which was pretty much everything but her chew toys. And boy! did we go through a lot of chew toys! But it worked and she's been the greatest dog ever.