escalating play biting in 21 week old puppy

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Jess's picture
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First time Doberman owner here! My boy Hobbes is nearly five months now and an absolute sweetheart, but we are still having serious problems with play biting and are beginning to worry that if we don’t nip it in the bud soon it will become a serious problem as he continues to get bigger and his hormones soon start to kick in. 

I know from exploring the forums here that Dobermans tend to be mouthy puppies, and that’s fine, I’ve had puppies before and they all went through bitey phases and turned out just fine. To a certain extent puppy biting is normal, but I’m beginning to wonder when it starts becoming a real problem.

Hobbes is a very sweet boy most of the time and although he still has a ways to go we feel like we’re making good progress in most areas of his training. The biting, however, seems to be getting worse rather than better. We have learned how to handle it and can recognise when play needs to stop because he is getting too wound up and will soon become bitey, but there are periods of the day where he just goes nuts no matter what we do. He always has a burst of crazy energy when we get back from the evening walk, even when we go for a long, looong walk and he has the opportunity to be off leash and run. We can handle the fifteen minutes of zoomies but the biting has gotten so bad that we have to leave him alone in the backyard for a “cool down” period when we get home, because nothing we do seems to deter him from biting and jumping up and the more we engage, the more worked up he gets. 

When we first brought Hobbes home we started trying to teach him bite inhibition by yelping and stopping play anytime he put his teeth on us, but that didn’t work. We moved on to using a stern “no bite” and again stopped play/petting/whatever and moved away. That was equally ineffective, so we began locking him in a separate room (bathroom, kitchen, whatever room was closest that had a door we could use to separate him from us for a brief “time out”). Ultimately, that didn’t have much affect either. At the advice of our vet we tried scruffing him like the mother dog would, but after the initial surprise wore off he just seemed to get more worked up when we scruffed him. We also tried closing our hands around his snout (just firmly enough to keep him from continuing to bite) and that was effective for a couple of days until again he became used to it. Any use of physical force, even done calmly and assertively, seems to elicit defiance rather than submission as soon as he is released.

We have also tried redirecting alongside all of this, but it is rarely effective unless we have something like a bully stick that will hold his entire focus.

We are at the end of our rope now and the only way to stop him biting is to simply remove ourselves from the situation entirely. As soon as he starts biting we give him a stern no and then leave, or put him outside. This works, but only as long as we are separated. He will often resume biting as soon as we let him in/rejoin him. 

I should clarify that we take him for two or three walks a day of about an hour in length along a forest trail where he can be off leash and meet up with other dogs, and have a back yard that he can wander freely in and out of throughout the day. He is getting plenty of exercise, and while managing his energy levels with lots of walking and avoiding games like chase or tug of war helps to reduce the amount of time he spends biting us in excitement, he has begun biting outside of play as well.  

However, my main concern is that Hobbes now seems to be using biting as a means of getting his way, or even perhaps asserting dominance. For example, when he jumps up on the couch and we have to push him off, he will bite. Not hard enough to break the skin, just the same way he does when play biting, but it concerns me that he is using the biting in this manner. He also bites when we try to put his leash on, and sometimes if we have treats that he knows are for him that we aren’t giving him yet he will jump up and mouth at us. 

We always react immediately with a strong “no bite” (and “off” if he is jumping up) but when it comes to the biting, we really have little to no control over him, and I am getting more and more worried as he gets older and bigger and we continue to have no success in breaking or even improving this habit. 

I am wondering if any of you have been through anything similar, and/or if you have any tips. Any advice would be much appreciated!

Hi , he will get better .... But you are going to have to be tough .... 1) play with a ball with him , let him run off lead & chomp on the ball to take out his frustration .. Run him till he is tired on grass ...you can walk them for hours but it's not enough , they need to burn that energy .. Learn training tricks etc . Tire him out ...... Mina us 2 & this morn out of frustration she used her front teeth to nibble my wrist. !! It's gotta bruise .... Get him by the scruff and do a firm "NO"  I had to as she was a horror , now we have a great girl but boy does  it take patience ,  as soon as you make boundaries the biting will stop . Tell him "kisses" to stop biting then lick u instead ? Your not alone , dobes are hard work ..worth it though xxxx

Sorry read that you tried scruffing ... Try again but mean it & have him knackered ..... I was desperate at 5 months ... Mina was demonic!!!!! Cruel she was .... Change your thought & be firm but fair .... Good luck xxx 

Atticus's picture
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I had a lot of trouble with Atticus when he was a pup. I had such scratched up arms and his play biting had me in tears a couple of times. That's how I found this great forum. But before I found the great advice here, I read from a vet to grab their muzzle and while firmly saying "no bite" slap your arm.  Not them of course.  Slapping enough to make a slap noise.  I was at my wits end and tried it.  Which I'm not sure if it was the surprise factor because he'd back up & look at me like I was insane to hit myself.  But it only took a few times and he quit doing it.  I'm not saying get even close to hitting him though.  But it just seemed to work for us.  I tried the turn your back on them and the ignor them stuff, but he was like so wired and just jumped around me like crazy totally ignoring that I was trying to ignor him.  

becky g's picture
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Joined: 2014-04-30

I had a dobe pup about 15 years ago, Dutch.  From early on, he would get very worked up and jump and bite when excited.  We had bruises and bite marks all over our arms, plus ripped clothes!  I do think that this is something that just happens at this age of a puppy so I don't think there is anything to be too worried about yet.  At this age they are so focused on what they want, it can be really hard to get their attention and they don't realize how powerful they are.  Dobes are sensitive to shouting and body language so I do think that just giving him some alone time when you are irritated is an excellent idea.  You may feel silly doing it, but when he bites, really ham it up!  I used to yell "OUCH!!!!" really loud and then hold my arm and pretend to cry and act really sad and hurt.  This used to get our pup's attention and get him to stop.  Also, putting a few pennies in a pop can and skaking it helped get his attention.  They are especially effective when someone else shakes the can and the puppy's startled by the sound.  You could also use a bike horn or whistle.  Back then, I had a book called "Civilizing Your Puppy" or something like that.  I'm not sure if this technique is still used but that book recommended when the puppy is biting at you, hold your fingers straight out and tap the dog on the lower jaw in an upward motion with the tops of your fingers.  Not a slap but enough to get their attention.  The book said to make sure the puppy couldn't tell you were doing it.  It was another technique to get the pup's attention, not a punishment.  We tried it and it did work to get his attention.  IIn my experience, I think it was a combination of working with my dog and his getting older that stopped that behavior.  Good luck and keep us posted!   

Katopup's picture
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Our pup is the same age they are teething their adult teeth, lots of chew toys, beef bones, frozen kongs, ice cubes etc should help and work on training, exercise is not enough.

Our dog too runs laps after an evening walk and gets difficult to handle we put ours to bed in his crate and sure enough it's because he's tired, acts just like my 2 1/2yr old granddaughter when she gets tired lol.

As far as the biting firm consistent corrections never just ignore it doesn't work for most dogs and make sure he has items like I mentioned above to chew on.

Good luck this stage is a bugger I know we're dealing with ours challenging us right now but we're not letting him win! Lol

Jess's picture
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Thanks for all the helpful comments, guys! We've been persevering with immediate reactions of a firm "no" and then removing him from our company for a brief period to calm down. We also do our best to redirect him with toys or something else to chew when he shows signs of getting bitey, and to simply remove ourselves from play when he gets worked up. This is all helping and although he's still bitey we are having a bit more success preventing it and nipping it in the bud when it begins. I know that to a certain extent this is normal puppy behaviour that he will outgrow as he matures and finishes teething. In the meantime we just want it to be manageable and to avoid forming any longterm bad habits.

He mostly gets bitey when he is overstimulated, which happens when he hasn't had enough exercise but also, as some of you mentioned, when he gets overtired. We have taken to giving him a "cool down" period alone in the backyard for a couple of minutes when we get home from walks and that has helped him get rid of the zoomies without taking them out on us. Once he's had his exercise he settles down pretty well as soon as he has had a chance to wind down.

We are also making sure to work on training exercises with him every day as well, so that he is getting mental stimulation as well as physical. We have started looking into exercises that help him focus when he gets the crazies so that he can learn a little self control and we can channel his excess energy in a more positive way. To help us get on the right track with the training side of things, we are setting up a one on one session with the trainer who taught his puppy kindergarten class and are hoping that will better equip us to manage his puppy crazies the best way for him and for us.

Katopup's picture
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Definitely don't feel alone it's the age ours has been a bugger the last 2wks choosing not to listen and wanting to have many barking sessions driving us crazy at times lol 

We've really had to step up the training and take some of freedom away to I still that he's not our boss lol

We realized puppies are more work than kids lol!

JLuC Dante's picture
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I'm going through the same thing except Dante is 10 weeks. He thinks trying to bite hands and arms is a game. And with my mother, her feet(she cant bend down to grab a toy to redirect so she bunts a tennis ball with her foot and he sees her foot at a toy). 

I've tried grabing his muzzle and slapping my arm while telling him "no bite", I've tried redirecting(which he sees past the toy and starts at my hand), I've tried ignoring him, which he is so big now that he can reach my hair and goes for that now, and I have tried teaching him to lick instead. Everything has not worked but I'm sticking with the redirecting as it is starting to work more now that I've found a toy he really likes. Also, he loves treats and has learned a lot of commands so far for his age. We work on them almost every day. It depends on if he keeps his focus on his toys or if he wonders the house looking for stuff to chew on. However today while I was training him, he didnt want to listen and he kept pawing and biting my hand so I had to end the session or he would have really hurt me. 

I would try to teach him that if he wants something, he has to work to get it. I taught Dante how to sit early on. Now when he wants something, I tell him to sit and he wont get it until he does. If he wanders away, he cant have it. (Of course its different if he has to potty but I still make him wait at the door until I give him the ok to come outside.)

 

katopup, 

dante has been having more bark sessions too. He is catching on to the fact that if I say hush and he doesnt stop barking that he gets a time out. When he calms down, he can resume playing.  

Puppies are tough work. And I thought he was the only one having separation anxiety. I always look forward to clocking out of work.