How to Survive Your Puppy Teething Stage
So, you’ve brought your little fluff ball home and everything is perfect. They are adorable, healthy, bright-eyed and ready to be your best friend. Right now, they love to mouth on you and explore everything around them gum-first. At some point, that adorable habit of gentle mouthing will become a full-fledged craze, leading you to lock up shoes, couches, and electric cables in an effort to keep the gnawing at bay.
Puppies are known for their destructive chewing, and with good reason, but surviving this stage of your partnership can be a trial for even experienced trainers. Whether you are preparing to bring another pup home at some point or you are in the middle of battling the sharp-toothed puppy year, here is some information to get you through the worst of it:
Why Do Puppies Chew Everything:
Dogs go through developmental stages as they grow, the same as humans. When they are young, a large part of their life is devoted to exploring and learning to interact with their surroundings. Just like with babies, puppies learn best by sticking everything in their mouths. Also, just like babies, the behaviors puppies learn during this period are the habits that are most likely to stay with them for life. By sticking things in their mouths, puppies learn a lot about an object: what it tastes like, what it does when interacted with, if they are encouraged to chew an item they will learn that it is something to be rough with, and they will remember to prefer that texture. By chewing, puppies are learning.
Most puppies have their first experiences with bite etiquette when with their siblings in a litter. They learn that chewing other living creatures (their brothers and sisters) often results in high pitched squealing and sometimes bites or pushes when they are too rough. As a very young puppy, typically from birth to ten to twelve weeks, they are learning how to interact with others and how to moderate their bite and playfulness. Many puppies separated from their litter too soon or who were not well-socialized from a young age will learn to bite humans and other animals without restraint. Sometimes, new human families encourage this behavior by allowing the puppy to bite their fingers when they are young because it is considered cute, but don’t realize puppies will continue to bite long after their teeth get sharp and their bite gets too hard. This is just another reason to remember not to adopt a puppy who is too young as they won’t have learned to moderate their bite, and to keep in mind that all dogs grow up with behaviors they learned in the playpen.
Another consideration to take into account for this time period is that puppies also lose their baby teeth around four months of age. Chewing is often a reaction to the pain of new teeth coming in, and an unconscious effort to encourage old teeth to loosen. While puppies won’t just chew at four months of age, the worst of it is likely to happen then.
How Long Will It Last:
Puppy chewing is often only associated with the very young, typically when they are less than six months of age. Those who have had a few dogs around know, though, that dogs’ bodies can look very mature when they don’t quite have all the mature inhibitions of their adult counterparts. While a dog may look grown on the outside, they will keep their puppy behaviors and lack of impulse control for up to a year and a half, depending on the breed. The stages of puppy chewing can be determined by the development of their teeth:
Birth until four months: Puppies will get their milk teeth at two to three weeks of age, during this time and lasting up to four months, puppies will be intent on exploring but not necessarily able to do much damage. While puppy teeth are very sharp, they typically don’t have the jaw strength to do much damage to hard objects. It is during this time that most puppies learn social etiquette for biting from their siblings and are taken home to their human parents to be introduced to their new home.
Four months to eight months: Starting at four months, puppies begin to lose their baby teeth and start to grow their adult teeth. Just like with babies, this can bring on poor temper, drooling, and an obsession with putting things in their mouth to help with the pain of a new tooth coming in. This changeover in pearly whites does take time and marks the peak of their destructive chewing age.
Eight months to twelve months: this stage marks the most exploratory chewing of a dog’s life, when they are learning how to interact with their world around them. Some veterinarians also think this stage is partially driven by the pain of teeth changing a dog’s jaw-bone, so they choose to put pressure to scratch an itch, but there is very little research behind this.
What to Do to Make It Through:
While it might seem impossible to cut down on the number of shoes who die a drooling death due to a teething session, it is possible to keep your puppy from causing too much damage during this time. Most of the success of this first year comes down to four techniques:
Limiting the opportunity: While a lot of training techniques rely on changing a dog’s habits and behaviors, sometimes it is important to just not provide the opportunity for misbehavior. Just like you wouldn’t leave a peanut butter sandwich on the floor and not expect it not to get eaten, you should not leave items lying around that are prime objects for chewing. Locking up shoes, putting up baby gates to close off areas of the house, and starting a crating routine in order to cut down on chewing opportunities while you aren’t around, all of these actions will both save your possessions and will save your sanity. After all, no one can be everywhere at once!
Providing appropriate toys: There’s a reason all pet stores have an entire wall of chewing toys everywhere you go. Your puppy is unconsciously pursuing a way to scratch the itch, your couch’s legs are just the best object around for doing it. By providing a variety of textures, densities, object size, and sometimes even temperature of appropriate objects to chew on, your dog will learn to both prefer these items over those that are harder to get to (and may come with an unhappy person, to boot) and to choose them over any other with time. For the first year of life, your dog can literally not have enough toys or enough variety.
Training to instill good behaviors: Habits learned during this first year both set the tone for your relationship together and will instill the types of behaviors your dog will learn to enjoy. Most important, when your dog is just learning to explore their surroundings, they should not have you yelling, smacking, or isolating them when they do something they didn’t realize was wrong, but to be gently corrected and to enjoy spending time with you.
Not over-reacting to destructive tendencies: From the first day together, your dog will be learning from you what to expect from all humans. They will be anxious when you make loud noises or behavior roughly with them and will be overjoyed when you spend time playing with them. Especially if they are the only dog in the house, they will learn to base their behavior on you. While our response as humans is often to yell and physically correct dogs when they do something wrong, this can leave a poor impression on your dog and will often cause more problems down the line.
When you come home and find that your dog has chewed through the leg of your kitchen table, it might be tempting to smack and yell at your dog in an effort to correct the behavior and to release a little frustration in the process. Instead, this will only make your pet more anxious and afraid of you, rather than preventing the chewing. Whenever you see your pet starting to chew something inappropriate, gently take them over to a toy that you want them to chew and play with them while they do it. They will stop choosing objects that you discourage and will start to prefer ones that they remember you playing with naturally. The shouting and yelling may feel good to you but will not encourage your dog to seek you out for companionship in the future.
The chewing may be an unwelcome stage in your pup’s development, but it is a necessary process of learning how to interact with our world. How you respond to it and guide your friend through this time will have a lasting impact for both of you, so choose wisely how you react if you are going to build firm ties of mutual respect instead of fear.
By Lauren Pescarus