Teething Puppy Or Land Shark?
Teething is one of those stages that ALL puppies go through. Their gums swell as baby teeth get pushed out by bigger permanent teeth. Teething lasts from about 5-6 weeks of age when all the baby teeth have erupted until about 6-7 months when the permanent teeth take their place.
Because puppies don’t speak HUMAN, and we don’t speak LAND SHARK, there is a natural disconnect between you and your new puppy. In addition to saving money on Band-Aids, your goal over the next few months should be to close that gap while building a loving, symbiotic relationship with your rapidly growing puppy.
The following are 5 TIPS and 5 MUST HAVE PRODUCTS that will help preserve your sanity, and your fingers, during this trying, teething time.
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5 Tips For Surviving A Biting, Teething Puppy
1. Do NOT Punish Your Puppy For Biting!
The word “punish” is used in a broad sense. Punishment here can include any form of hitting, slapping, yelling or otherwise punitive methods against a puppy for biting.
I have heard trainers recommend holding the puppy’s mouth closed while yelling “NO” as a way to curb a teething puppy from biting. This is not only cruel, but it is actually reinforcing the very behavior the so-called trainer is trying to inhibit.
In modern dog training, these aversive methods are considered a negative reinforcement. A negative reinforcement actually reinforces the behavior by adding a punishment (hitting, yelling) when the puppy bites and then taking the punishment away.
Worst of all, puppies do not pair their biting with your punishment. They pair your punishment with YOU, or your kids, or your friendly neighbors.
Puppies do not pair their biting with your punishment. They pair your punishment with YOU, or your kids, or your friendly neighbors.
2. DO Ignore the Behavior.
Ignoring is considered a negative punishment. A negative punishment reduces behaviors (biting) by taking away or withholding something good (YOU).
This really is a critical point that bears repeating. Remember, YOU are the one your puppy wants. YOU are the center of his new universe. This is why ignoring your teething puppy when he bites can be so powerful. It sends a non-verbal, non-physical message to the puppy that when he bites, YOU (his most favorite person in the whole world) leave or stop playing with him.
3. DO Reinforce Better, Incompatible Behaviors.
This is my absolute favorite technique for all sorts of unwanted behaviors; barking, biting, begging at the table. That last one is particularly key when you have a dog who can rest his head on your table while slobbering over your steak.
With this one, you do have to be a little careful. I have heard new puppy owners say “oh, when my puppy bites I just hand him a toy and tell him to chew that instead.” While this is close, unfortunately, handing the puppy a toy just after biting is reinforcing the unwanted behavior of biting by rewarding it.
The key is timing. Here is a quote from one of my favorite positive trainers, Pamela Dennison, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant in her book, You Can Train Your Dog:
“My rule of thumb is this: if the dog does something great, reinforce within one-half to one second of the behavior. If the dog does something less than desirable, wait for a full five to ten seconds after he stops doing the unwanted behavior, redirect to a better one, and then reinforce.”
With a teething puppy that is biting, try something like this: puppy bites, you withhold attention (stand up, walk away, turn around so the puppy is at your back). After a full five to ten seconds, hand your puppy a safe chew or toy, and then praise the puppy for chewing his things.
4. DO Prepare BEFORE You Bring Your Puppy Home.
I am always perplexed when new puppy owners act surprised that their teething puppy is biting. All puppies bite. Some more than others. But they all do it. As I stated earlier, it is a phase that all puppies go through.
It is best to have a plan BEFORE you bring your new puppy home on how you are going to handle this phase. Ensure that your entire family, kids included, are in agreement with exactly how you want to train your puppy during this stage. This consistency will be key to ensure the puppy doesn’t get mixed messages causing confusion.
Here are a few of my absolute favorite books for new puppy owners. I highly recommend you get, at the very least, The Puppy Primer BEFORE you bring your new puppy home. From teething and potty-training to beginner obedience and fun games for puppies, The Puppy Primer should be in every big dog owner’s library.
5. DO Have Patience With Your Teething Puppy.
Remember your puppy is just a baby. If you have ever watched two puppies or two grown dogs play, they bite. I compare my two mastiffs to walruses; mouths open, biting necks, head butting, and all out body blows are common place and just a part of the way dogs play.
When puppies are young, they need to learn that you are not another puppy. That association takes time. What often delays the timing of that correct association is the fact that the puppy is teething.
During the teething stage puppies are rewarded every time they bite, whether it’s your pants leg or his toy, because it soothes their gums. The way you can combat against this inadvertent, yet constant, reinforcer is to make sure you have plenty of appropriate items on hand to redirect your puppy to.
Here are my top 5 recommendations for appropriate large breed puppy chews, toys and products to help you through this trying, teething time. It is important that you ensure both the size and quality of the product will stand up to the more aggressive chewing of a large or giant breed puppy.
5 Must Have Products For A Teething Puppy
For giant breed puppies (Great Danes, Mastiffs, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds) I would go straight to the XL Black Kong. For large breed puppies (Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, Pointers), you could get away with starting your puppy out with a smaller one.
Consider buying two so that you always have one filled in the freezer ready to go. In addition to providing wonderful mental stimulation, a frozen Kong serves to not only provide relief to your teething puppy’s aching gums, but it also prolongs how long the puppy is occupied while licking it out.
My go to Kong- filler is peanut butter, but you can fill them with just about anything that is safe for dogs to eat; yogurt, bananas, apples, carrots, pumpkin, cheerios, biscuits. Get out your Vitamix and go to town!
3. Tug Toys, Balls, & Other Fun Stuff
Honestly, I could feed a small village in Africa on how much money I have spent on stuffed animal toys for my dogs over the years. Read 22 Reasons Why My Big Dogs Are Proud To Live In America where I lament this topic further.
Suffice it to say, heed my warning and save your money. Stuffed animal toys, while adorable, are generally not a great choice for a teething puppy. Unless, of course, your objective is to see how far you can expand your squeaker graveyard.
Here are a few more prudent choices for a teething large breed puppy:
4. Bully Sticks
Bully sticks can be found many places, though I usually buy the ones at Costco.
Keep in mind bully sticks, while delicious, are very high in protein. They should only be an occasional treat so as to not throw off the nutritional balance of your rapidly growing puppy.
One word of caution is that I do not let my dogs consume bully sticks. I am vigilant when my dogs chew them and I take them away before they pose a choking hazard.
5. Play yard
If you have been to any dog show, you have seen these play yards, also referred to as exercise pens. Junior was my first puppy raised in one and I honestly don’t know how I survived puppy hood with my other dogs without it.
I set up my play yard in the center of our main living area between our kitchen and family room so that Junior would always be right in the center of all of the action in the house. Because his crate is the size of a studio apartment, moving it around the house was just not feasible.
The play yard enabled me to confine Junior without having to move his crate out of my bedroom. In A Bomb Proof Big Dog Starts With A Socialized Puppy I list 30 examples of socialization activities that you can and should do with your new puppy during the critical window between 8-16 weeks.
The play yard facilitated numerous exposures that would not have been possible had Junior been confined in his crate in the bedroom.
With as great as these are, please keep in mind that your puppy should NEVER be left unattended in a play yard. This includes when you leave the house for work or other reasons or at bedtime. Your puppy should be crated anytime you are not home or not awake and able to watch him.
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So, now it is your turn. What tips or advice would you add to this list? What are some of the products that have helped you survive a teething puppy (a.k.a. the dreaded sharp-tooth land shark) in your home?
I would love to hear from you! Leave me a comment below.
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