Q&A with Pet Expert Arden Moore
For Pets Best Insurance
Q. After my husband of 59 years died, I decided to adopt a new born puppy. Buddy fills my house with joy and happiness. He makes me laugh and I feel safer having him here. Unfortunately, Buddy likes to nip my hands and arms to get my attention. He isn’t biting aggressively, but his playful nips cause bruises and occasionally, his teeth break my skin. My hands and arms are sore. I tried spraying Bitter Apple on my hands and arms, but Buddy actually likes the taste! What can I do to stop him from being so mouthy?
A. Sounds like you have one spirited and loyal puppy. Mouthing is a very common behavior for puppies, who have very sharp baby teeth that are falling out to make room for adult teeth. Depending on the breed, this teething period and the desperate need to chew to soothe the gums can last up to a year. I’m not sure what type of dog Buddy is, but a lot of herding dogs, such as Border collies, tend to use their mouths when they’re playing. They have been bred to herd cattle and sheep by nipping at their heels. Some hunting dogs, like Labrador retrievers, are also particularly mouthy.
Whatever breed he is, the nipping and mouthing is still painful. Bitter Apple spray is usually effective because most dogs can’t stand the taste. But there are always exceptions like your Buddy. An effective alternative is breath freshener spray. The minty taste is far from being a canine favorite. You might also try dabbing your hands and arms with pickle juice. The juice contains a very sour additive called alum, which keeps the pickles crisp but is also a good dog deterrent – if you can stand the smell yourself!
It is more important, however, to train Buddy not to nip than to rely on repellents. He is bonding with you and needs to know that his nipping hurts. Around eight to 10 weeks of age, puppies in litters learn about bite inhibition. When one puppy bites too hard, and his sibling helps, he learns to soften his play bite. So, when Buddy mouths you too roughly, you need to yelp loudly. In addition, you need to stand up, turn your back on him, and walk slowly away. The message is: “You are not fun right now, and playtime is over.” Buddy wants to play with you and when you walk away, he will learn that mouthing ends good times.
That said, Buddy is at an age when he needs to chew. When he gets in a mouthy mood, offer him some suitable chew toys as substitutes for your hands and arms. When you play with him, use thick rope toys or rubber tugs that provide something safe for Buddy to put his mouth around while protecting your hands and arms. Please resist smacking his muzzle or holding his mouth closed, as these punitive tactics can backfire and cause him to bite more, and harder.
Confounded by your canine? Frustrated by your feline? Relax. Pet expert Arden Moore is here to deliver the real truth about cats, dogs…and you with her column appropriately called, “Oh Behave!”
On a regular basis, Arden will unleash excerpts from her two award-winning books, The Dog Behavior Answer Book (named the top training and behavior book by the Dog Writers Association of America) and The Cat Behavior Answer Book (named the top training and behavior book by the Cat Writers Association). Learn more about Moore, who hosts the “Oh Behave!” show on Pet Life Radio (www.petliferadio.com) – the No. 1 pet podcast in the world — by visiting her Four Legged Life website (www.fourleggedlife.com).