Welcome to the wonderful world of owning a puppy! Especially a German Shepherd Puppy. Let's get into why puppies bite and how to stop it.
To find a solution to a training issue, oftentimes it's important to find the root cause. The "why" of the behavior. "Why" starts when puppies are about 4 weeks old and begin to play with their littermates. When puppies play, their games are more on the gladiatorial side of things. They push each other around, wrestle, jump on each other and bite one another. They also chase one another in games that resemble chasing prey.
Why would they play such games? Because dogs are the descendants of hardwired hunters. This is practice, this is fun, and this is a way of life ingrained in them at birth. This is also about pack structure and learning where they fit in with their littermates.
When you bring your puppy home, it will treat you like its littermates because it has known nothing else but its littermates. That's why it's extremely common for puppies to chase and bite and try to play with their new human family members.
That's why puppies bite at hands, socks, shoes, pant legs, and kids. They don't know how to be social in any other way, I mean, how could they? I've had so many people ask, and I've seen even more people post about how their puppy who is 8-12 weeks is "aggressive" and hurts the kids. Their biting is not about aggression. It's about the games of pack establishment and practice for hunting. It is play.
A puppy wants to play with its new friends using the same old ways they have only ever known. So, it's our job to teach puppies how they're supposed to play with their human family.
How do you distinguish prey/play drive from aggression? If a dog likes to chase things like toys and pant legs, that's prey drive. If you, for instance, tried to pull your dog by the collar to lead it outside or to a crate and you get bitten: that's aggression. Fear aggression, a serious dog who doesn't respect you, whatever the issue is going on inside that dog's head, that's aggression!
That out of the way, a driven puppy who plays rough has tiny little daggers for teeth, and those things do not feel good on your skin. I've been in an x pen with 6 or 7 working line puppies and left with ripped jeans and bloody ankles on several occasions. Most people with a litter of highly driven pups that age laugh it off and make "land shark" jokes, but that little overused quip doesn't mean it doesn't hurt.
At some point in time, you'll get tired of making quips and that means it's time to start training. Our goal in training puppies not to bite is to ideally teach them that biting is fine if they're biting a toy and not us. There are 3 ways you can do this:
1: Do what other puppies do. When a puppy hurts another puppy, it will scream and that's the international puppy signal for "DUDE! Chill out, that really hurt!" I'm not saying to scream, although... it would probably work. I simply say "ow, that hurt!" Most of the time, that works. Afterward, I prefer to use a treat to reward them for stopping, and then give them an appropriate toy. If you praise your dog for stopping, don't overdo it. No high pitched, excited voice and vigorous petting. All you're going to do is reignite their prey drive and they'll be right back to biting you. Make it seem like a somber event, a little, muted praise, and a treat, followed by giving them a toy to play with instead.
2: Redirect the puppy. If you don't always keep a soft, plush-type toy on you and a treat bag on your belt when you're raising a pup, reconsider. Immediately. Training goes so much smoother and quicker when you have access to reward your puppy immediately on the spot. I worked at my desk quite a bit when raising my last puppy. I would have the loop of the leash around the toe of my shoe to keep my puppy from wandering off to chew on furniture or sneaking off to use the bathroom around the corner and out of sight (the best way to break bad habits is to never let them form).
Oftentimes, even with a plethora of toys, my pup might go after my shoe or pant legs. No problem, I would pull out a plush toy... a toy I would never, ever leave with him to play with on his own because he'd just destroy it and probably eat it, but this was my redirection toy. When he'd go for me, I'd wave it around and toss it a foot or two away. When I wanted it back, I'd trade a treat for the toy before he could destroy it. You should always keep toys and a treat bag on you.
3: Do what mom does. When mom gets tired of a puppy's shenanigans, she'll grip him with her mouth and make a lot of scary noises. This is why puppies elect to play with each other and rarely play rough with mom. Don't go biting and growling at your puppy... although, again it would probably work. But it's probably better to do it my way. Just grab the puppy with your hand firmly, don't snatch the puppy up or squeeze him. Grab him enough to make him immobile. Then tell him no in a stern voice.
Puppies absolutely hate being still. Holding them still for 5 seconds is almost as bad as stealing a cupcake from a small child. Again, you will need to create a sense of seriousness around the issue where they pause and think "Well, that was awkward and unpleasant. I don't think I'll continue doing that." I prefer the other 2 methods because they're more positive, but some hard-headed, driven pups just won't stop! And the Golden Rule of dog training always has been and still is this: if what you're doing isn't working, you're almost always doing it wrong and think you're doing it right. But if you are doing it right, and it isn't working, do something else.
I hope this article helps some poor souls with little red bite marks all over their arms and ankles. Be strong, we've all been there. With training and patience, we all make it through these dark puppyhood days! Please leave a like and share to get this out to everyone who needs it, because somebody is on their last nerve with their little land shark as you read this, guaranteed! Thank you.
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