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There’s nothing cuter than watching a little puppy figuring out how to play. But there’s one thing that comes with all that adorableness that’s much less cute — the puppy biting phase.
While it’s completely normal for puppies to bite, nip or mouth everything around them as they figure out the world, it’s a behavior you should train them out of early (those razor-sharp baby teeth are no joke).
Luckily, this phase will pass quickly once you teach her some better ways to get her energy out.
Why you should train your puppy not to bite
“If nipping or mouthing behavior is allowed to continue, it can become more dangerous as they become larger, and can also lead to more aggressive and concerning behaviors down the road,” Dr. Meghan Carlton, a veterinarian at DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland, Oregon, told The Dodo.
So while you might be tempted to laugh or shrug it off when she’s little, nipping the nipping phase as soon as it begins will make sure she grows up to be a polite and happy pup.
How to stop your puppy from nipping
According to Dr. Carlton, it’s important to provide your puppy with lots of different toys to safely chew on. Doing this will help her learn to mouth things in a safe and gentle way.
“Be wary that puppies are also notorious for eating things, which can lead to surgical emergencies if they become stuck in the intestinal tract — so only providing toys that are large enough that they cannot swallow, and sturdy enough that they cannot destroy, is vitally important,” Dr. Carlton said.
Here are some of Dr. Carlton’s tips on stopping your puppy from biting:
Redirect her focus
When you’re playing with your puppy and she goes to nip or mouth you, give her one of her toys so she can focus on the toy instead of you.
Let her know when she’s too rough
If your puppy does nip or mouth, let her know that she’s being too rough (try shouting “ouch!”) — and then immediately stop playing.
“This helps your puppy learn that she should not mouth or nip and needs to be gentle, and also that if she does nip then the fun playtime stops,” Dr. Carlton said.
Don’t play with her unless she’s calm
According to Dr. Carlton, you shouldn’t play with your puppy unless she’s calm and ready to play in an acceptable and polite way.
As you get to know your puppy better, you’ll be able to see when she’s becoming too excited, and at risk of escalating to nipping or mouthing, and then stop play before she reaches that point.
Enroll her in puppy pre-school
Putting her in puppy socialization classes can let you discuss management of mouthing and nipping with other owners, as well as give your puppy the time to get her energy out with other puppies at the same stage as her.