Why does my puppy keep biting my older dog? The simple answer is because that's what puppies do. Puppies are full of boundless energy, they explore the world with their mouths and all they want to do is play. Your older dog is therefore the best playmate ever, especially when there's nobody else to play with. Too bad your older dog doesn't seem to agree.
A Strong Need for Play
For many new puppy owners, a puppy's insistence to play with an older dog may look quite rude and excessive. Yet, to better understand this behavior, it helps taking a look back into what your puppy was doing when he was living with the breeder along with his litter mates and mom. Since you cannot travel through time, here's just a brief rundown of how life was back then.
Once your puppy's ears and eyes opened at around 2 weeks, a whole world ready to explore unfolded. His mobility gradually improved and between 3 and 5 weeks he started spending a good part of his time engaging in play with his mom and litter mates along with learning to be a dog.
Now, puppies don't play with dolls or play-doh like children do. Instead, they engage in very physical wrestling games and things often get rather rough. They bite ears, they bite feet, they bite tails. Often, they hurt other puppies. It is therefore not unusual for puppies at this young age to yelp in pain and withdraw from play in surrender.
As much as this sounds unpleasant, this sort of play is ultimately constructive: it paves the path towards bite inhibition. Indeed, rough-playing pups are taught a valuable lesson this way: when puppies deliver hard nips, they risk losing their playmates.
Therefore, rep after rep, these rough-biting pups learn to gauge the pressure of their jaws if they wish to keep on playing. Fortunately, by the time the puppies are ready to go to their new homes, most have learned to play gentler among each other, or at least, pay attention when things are getting too rough.
Now, switching back to present day, it's quite natural for your young pup to want to pester your older dog. Indeed, before going to their new homes, on top of playing rough among themselves, puppies were often pestering their mom, which would use avoidance behaviors such as walking away and showing other body language meant to tell the puppies to back off.
So when puppies are welcomed to our new homes, they miss their litter mates and mom. They not only miss their warmth at night (puppies sleep piled up at night) but they also miss their games.
A Lack of Social Skills
Puppies are pretty socially-illiterate beings, sort of like human toddlers. They'll try to bite your older dog's ears, tails and legs as he tries to walk away. The good news is that some good adult dogs will give young puppies some leeway when they misbehave, granting them what is known as a "puppy license."
However, enough is enough, and sometimes older dogs' patience will run low and they'll feel the need to give out some "lectures." Mother dog may have already imparted some of these lessons herself, but puppies may just "try" with older dogs.
So after the older dogs try to walk away unsuccessfully, their teachings may go up to the next level involving growling and showing the teeth.
In most of these cases, the aggressive display is mostly ritualized. Ritualized aggression in dogs takes place because dogs are natural conflict-solvers. This is because, in the wild, so much energy is required for hunting, reproducing, and basic survival, that there is little energy left to waste on fighting. To prevent conflicts, dogs therefore should instinctively rely on their body language, which is ultimately a way to prevent true fights from occurring.
Now, many pups may get the lesson and may therefore understand that big Molly is not in the mood for play. They may stop pestering, walk away with their body low or even deliver an apology, by rolling over their back, and possibly, urinating submissively to prove their innocence.
However, some pups can be quite persistent and may not get the message clearly. When this happens, this may lead to the older dog further escalating into something along the lines of: "What part of my signals, do you not understand?" I said back off!" This may lead to the older dog snapping or even delivering a (hopefully!) soft, inhibited bite to make the point.
Sometimes, puppies at this point may yelp or whimper, but in most cases, fortunately these pups are not hurt, they are just startled and telling the adult dog to please not hurt them. It's important though to keep an eye and make sure the young pups don't appear emotionally traumatized.
A Puppy's Bullying
In most cases, young puppies are just biting the older dog out of play, however, as puppies grow, they may start becoming quite pushy and may even act as little bullies.
Often, this takes place as the puppy matures and reaches five to six months of age peaking once the puppy is 10 months old. At this age, the older dog may revoke the puppy license and may become more intolerant about certain behaviors. Puppies are expected to act as mature dogs at this point and certain infractions may not be easily forgiven.
At the same time though, puppies at this age are becoming young adolescents. The dog adolescent stage as it happens among humans, can therefore be a trying time and there may be conflicts among dogs sharing the same household starting at this time.
Considering Other Factors
Most puppies bite older dogs out of play, but sometimes there may be more to it. Important is to see in what context the behavior occurs. Sometimes, puppies can be possessive over things and they may attempt to bite to tell the other dog to stay away from their food bowls, bones and toys.
At other times, the puppy may be biting the older dog to correct him for doing something that the younger, bully-wanna-be dog finds unacceptable. Perhaps, the puppy doesn't like that the older dog went out from a tight passage first or maybe he doesn't like that he gets more attention from you.
Dogs may get in some competitive situations as times, and it's important paying attention so to know what exactly may be going on.
Now That You Know...
As seen, there can be various reasons as to why puppies keep biting older dogs. Now that you know what dynamics may be at play, here are some tips.
- See a dog behavior professional. Interactions among dogs can be quite complex at times. Because there may be several dynamics at play, it's best to have a dog behavioral professional come take a look to better assess the situation and suggest an individualized program to help your dogs gets along.
- Avoid putting your dog adult dog into the position of being repeatedly harassed unnecessarily. For instance, remove the puppy when your older dog would like to nap. Erect baby gates so each dog has its own space. Always supervise all interactions and take steps to prevent pestering.
- Make sure your older dog has a place to retreat to when he needs a break from your pups' constant need to play.
- Set your pups up for success. Introduce your pups to your older dog after they have been exercised and played so that they may be a bit calmer.
- Avoid scolding your adult dog for correcting the puppy. Your adult "Nana" dog is trying to teach your pup some boundaries just as grandma may scold a child for pushing her or doing something naughty.
- Train a cue to redirect your dogs. Practice it with your your pup and older dog at first separately, and then try to introduce it when they are together. I like to use a smacking sound with my mouth which means that a tasty treat is coming. The goal is to get your dogs to pay attention to you and move towards you when you notice the first signs that things may be starting to escalate. If you're too late, both dogs may be too focused on each other to listen. Once your dogs come towards you, feed each a tasty treat (if they are not prone to food guarding) and redirect them to some other activity such as spending some time in the yard sniffing, going on walk or giving each dog a Kong to work on.
- Create positive associations. Expose your dog to the pup from a distance in a place where he feels safe and the pup can't reach (couch, behind a baby gate). Feed him tasty treats every time he sees or hears your puppy so that he starts looking forward to hearing/seeing him rather than dreading his presence.
- Engage your dogs in bonding activities. Take them on walks and car rides. Praise them for getting along and acting as best buddies.