When puppies bite the brush, puppy owners are often frustrated by this behavior. You want brushing your puppy to be as quick and effortless as possible, but a puppy who won't stop biting the brush may turn into a chore that can be time-consuming too.
Working on this issue requires often identifying why your puppy bites the brush in the first place, and trying a variety of astute strategies.
An "Odd" Activity
Grooming is something that makes sense from a human standpoint, but puppies and dogs may never get to fully grasp its purpose.
Sure, dogs groom themselves on their own, licking and removing any foreign particles such as burrs or matted hair from their fur using their small front teeth (incisors) but they may not understand the function of combs, brushes and hairdryers.
Puppies may therefore react in different ways to these foreign items that we pass on their coats. Many of them will snap at brushes or even persistently bite them, turning the grooming session into an annoying chore.
This can just be a puppy's way of reacting to something they are not familiar with. Puppies are oral creatures, and they will want to mouth things that they want to explore and learn more about. Or perhaps, they perceive brushes as a foreign thing that doesn't belong on them.
Of course, until puppies can talk, this is just speculation. Following are several other possible reasons why puppies may react this way.
A Fun Game
Many puppies will want to grab anything that you have in your hands just because they want to play with it. The game becomes even more enticing if, what you have in your hands, keeps moving and touching him.
Soon grooming transforms into a fun game of "catch the brush!" and your puppy can be very persistent and determined in catching it!
Here's the thing; anything that is in motion can stimulate your puppy's prey drive.
Puppies will want to chase a ball when it's tossed and puppies will want to bite your feet and hands as you walk.
Puppies are basically after anything that moves so that brush is something that attracts him and becomes irresistible.
The accompanying signs of a playful puppy may include the following:
- High-pitched barking
- Play face
- Relaxed, wiggly body
An Enemy to Annihilate
On the other hand, sometimes pups may actually bite the brush because they perceive it as an enemy to remove.
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Their biting is therefore a way to remove something they are not comfortable with and perceive as unpleasant.
Such puppies are often puppies who haven't been used to being touched, handled in any way or groomed. They dread the experience and will do anything to get out of it, and this may include trying to wiggle away, cowering and even biting the brush or hands in hopes of stopping the interaction.
The accompanying body language is different from a puppy being playful. It may include any of the following:
- Growling in low, guttural tone
- Lifting lips
- Tense body
- Flattened ears
- Whale eyes
It's therefore important for dog breeders to invest some time in getting their puppies used to being handled and groomed.
Starting this from an early age will help pave the path towards a more collaborative puppy once the puppy is in his new home.
Making the grooming pleasant and rewarding, is the perfect recipe for a puppy who doesn't dread being groomed, and therefore doesn't show stress or discomfort, shying or jerking away, or even worse, growling or biting at the brush or even hands!
Now That You Know...
As seen, puppies have their own reasons for wanting to bite the brush that grooms them.
Never scold or punish your pup physically (squeezing his muzzle, tapping on the nose, alpha rolls, scruff shakes) as this will make your pup defensive and may cause him to dread being touched even more!
How To Groom a Puppy That Bites
Based on the underlying causes discussed above, here are several options to reduce this behavior.
For Playful Puppies
The key is to schedule grooming sessions at times when the pup may be less hyper and providing some type of distraction.
- Wait for your pup to chill. Try scheduling the grooming sessions when your puppy is calmer. For instance, after he has played and looks more relaxed.
- Keep the mouth busy. Give your puppy something to lick from one hand as you brush him from the other. I like to use what I call the "Hand-Made Kong."
For Uncomfortable Puppies
The goal is to create positive associations with grooming so that the pup no longer dreads it.
With time, your pup may willingly jump on the couch in anticipation of being groomed!
Keep tasty treats in one hand, while you brush your puppy with your other hand, or have a helper feed the treats as you groom.
- Create positive associations. If your breeder hasn't acclimatized your puppy to being groomed, not all is lost. As a new puppy owner, it will be your job introducing your puppy to the ABCs of being handled groomed. This should be started as soon as possible, preferable starting at 8 weeks of age.
- Sight of Brush= Treats. So turn the presence of the brush into something wonderful. Hide the brush behind your back and then present it to your puppy. Feed a tasty treat when your puppy looks at it or sniffs it. Then, once your pup has finished eating the treat, hide the brush again behind your back and rinse and repeat the sequence. This will communicate to your puppy that treats happen only contingent upon the brush being present!
- Placement of Brush= Treats Next, start placing the brush on your puppy's back (or any area he doesn't seem to mind much), and feed a treat as the brush makes contact, brush touch/treat, brush touch/treat, brush touch/treat. Repeat several times, until your puppy looks forward to being touched with the brush.
- Passage of Brush= Treats Next, start passing the brush with a small stroke, and simultaneously feed a treat. Once done eating, stop the brush stroke. Rinse and repeat until your puppy seems comfortable with that. Then, move on to brushing different areas while you feed treats.
- Warning: careful with the tail as many pups struggle with that, be very gentle and feed treats as you pass the brush and once done, stop the treats.
- Keep sessions short and sweet. Pups do better with briefer grooming sessions versus long, tedious ones. So split the grooming into several segments.
- Watch for signs of tension. As you unfold the above exercises, it's important to always monitor your puppy to ensure he remains calm and relaxed and that you progress gradually going at your pup's pace. If your puppy at any time shows signs of struggling, take a step or two back in the process and work more at those levels. Always keep you puppy under threshold!
- Ask your groomer to keep doing the work you have been doing. If your pup goes to a groomer, supply him/her with some goodies to keep that mouth busy. Give your groomer something to provide your pup to lick from one hand as he/she brushed your poodle from the other. I like to use what I call the "hand-made Kong" discussed earlier. If your pup is used to eating from a Kong and has a gentle mouth, this can be an option. Practice at home, place some tasty treats or dog -safe foods (even soft like peanut butter or Kong brand spray to stuff toys may work) and let him work on getting it out.
- Other licking options. Another option is to provide your groomer with what's called a Lickety stik which is sort of like a tube that your dog can lick or a Lickety Mat which is a mat that one can place some soft canned food or peanut butter on that the dog can lick.
- Tackle the issue early! I feel it's important to tackle this issue early as we don't want our pups to come home from the groomer repeatedly stressed. I suspect that such repeated exposures may lead to dogs who dislike being touched and restrained overtime, and it may then generalize to vet visits and hand shyness with strangers who may be trying to pet them.
- Seek a fear-free groomer. If your puppy is coming home stressed despite this, it may be worthy seeking a groomer that is certified by the Fear Free Groomer Certification Program, a program that aims to take away the stress from groomer visits. Under the fear free certified professional search bar you may find one near you: https://fearfreepets.com/resources/directory/