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Bringing home a new puppy or kitten can be a fun and exciting experience. However, the learning and development process for puppies and kittens can be challenging. Biting is a common issue for young pets and needs to be addressed properly.
Why Do Puppies and Kittens Bite?
Biting, in which a dog or cat actively and purposefully bites down with their teeth (although not necessarily to break skin) is a common behavior in puppies and kittens. Mouthing, which is a general term for dogs or cats that put their mouths/teeth on people and other pets, sometimes in a chewing manner, sometimes in a nipping manner, is also common in puppies and kittens and tends to occur for the same reasons as biting. Biting and mouthing are normal behaviors in young, developing dogs and cats and are rarely associated with aggression.
Reasons for biting include:
Consequences of Biting
Biting and mouthing may be normal for puppies and kittens, but continuing to bite into adulthood can lead to issues. Normally, young animals learn to stop biting during play when their mother and siblings correct them with yelps or distancing themselves. When siblings and parents are not available to teach a little one how to behave in the family, human owners must step in. Long-term consequences of biting vary depending on the cause. For example, biting out of fear, frustration, or to avoid something can teach bad habits if not prevented. When biting achieves the desired result of getting a human to stop an action (such as biting while having nails trimmed), the youngster could potentially learn that biting to get what he wants as an adult is acceptable. The same goes for biting because of attention seeking. If a puppy or kitten is mouthy as a means to get you to play with them and give them attention, rewarding this behavior with any kind of attention (to some pets, even corrections are attention) could mean continued mouthing or attention seeking behaviors as an adult. Even mouthing because of teething can lead to bad habits and continued mouthing well beyond the onset of adult teeth if not corrected.
Regardless of why a youngster bites, biting should never be encouraged because it can lead to continued biting into adulthood, and as adults dogs and cats that bite can inflict serious damage and/or result in a poorer quality of life for themselves and their owners.
How to Manage Biting
Below are some suggestions for discouraging and preventing biting and mouthing. Remember that this is a learning process for everyone and that some suggestions will not be as effective as others depending on the reason for biting, such as play biting vs fear/avoidance.
Punishment for Biting
Do not punish a puppy or kitten for biting. Punishment, especially for a normal behavior, can prevent a puppy or kitten from learning normal skills like play biting to hone hunting skills. It can also affect the bond between the pet and humans and may even lead to fear, aggression, and/or anxiety. Punishment does not serve to teach an appropriate behavior. The best solution is to stay consistent with your training methods and be patient. Use management tools that encourage better actions and provide good outlets to meet the needs of both you and your young pet.
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