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Mandi's Blog

Puppy Raising, Preparation, Training, and More!
  • Writer's pictureAmanda Venturino

Baby Shark Phase

Updated: May 10

The number one most common complaint I get from new puppy pawrents is puppy biting, also known as the Baby Shark Phase. This is one of the most frustrating stages of puppy development. Most of the time you feel like you're taking one step forward and two bites back! But there is some good news: Baby Shark Phase doesn't last forever.

In this post, we'll discuss some behaviors that we unknowingly do that cause this stage to last longer and some steps that can be taken to mitigate this stage.

Puppy Behaviors

All puppies are mouthy. Puppies explore their world with their mouths. Its their way of tasting everything and figuring out what it is. Is it a toy? Is it edible? What does this taste like? And mouthiness is also associating with biting, chewing, and teething behaviors. Some puppies are mouthier than others. It is dependent on individual puppies but it can also be influenced by breed. Golden retrievers are known for being a mouthy breed. Luckily, golden retrievers are also known for having a soft mouth, so they don't tend to bite hard. Inevitably, this mouthiness trait transfers to goldendoodles. This trait is largely undesirable for pawrents, especially those with kids, so it's very important that as soon as puppy comes home, we establish boundaries. Mouthing doesn't just apply to our bodies, but to other things in their environment we don't want them to taste or chew.

What are some things we don't want puppy to mouth?

  • Our hands and other body parts

  • Clothing

  • Sticks and rocks

  • Furniture

Training Techniques for Baby Shark

Let's first take a look at the most common suggestions provided by trainers and puppy experts.

  1. Never play with bare hands. This is especially important for children. ALWAYS have a toy in your hand when playing with puppy, otherwise, your bare hands are inviting puppy to play with them instead which will encourage biting. I know this is hard for adults because many of us love rough-housing and playing with our dogs' mouths. We love to get them riled up and interacting with us. But don't worry! There is plenty of time for that when puppy gets older! Establish the boundary now so you have a soft mouth later. Remember: the puppy phase is short, having a well-trained reliable companion is the long game we should strive for.

  2. Keep a variety of toys on hand. Different textures, different shapes and sizes encourage exploration and play for your puppy instead of your skin. Soft toys, firmer toys, squishy toys, balls, etc. all provide enrichment and excitement for your puppy. Check out my Recommendations page for examples of my favorite toys. Don't forget the chewy toys in preparation for teething. My dogs are a big fan of Nylabones and Benebones. Beck was introduced to them from the very beginning and always had something available to teeth on.

  3. Bite Inhibition Training: Puppies need to learn bite inhibition, which is the ability to control the force of their mouthing. This may seem counterintuitive, but when playing with your puppy, allow them to mouth on your hands just a little bit. If they bite too hard, let out a high-pitched yelp to indicate that it hurt, and stop playing immediately. This mimics the natural feedback puppies receive from their littermates during play and teaches them to be gentle. I do not suggest allowing your kids to interact with puppy this way since they won't be able to understand the nuances of this exercise.

  4. Positive Reinforcement: Reward your puppy for non-biting behavior. When they play gently or chew on their toys instead of your hand, give them plenty of praise and continue playing. This positive reinforcement encourages good behavior and helps them understand what is expected of them.

  5. Avoid Physical Punishment: Physical punishment can be counterproductive and may lead to fear or aggression. Also, don't use the crate as a form of punishment either. This will negatively impact how your puppy perceives his crate. Instead, focus on redirecting the behavior and rewarding good behavior to build a trusting relationship with your puppy. If puppy needs a time out, you can walk away, consider putting him in an X-pen. if the crate is the only tool you are using, don't make it a negative time out. Instead, offer some treats after making your puppy work for them. Make him sit, down, or use your 'touch' command. Then guide your puppy to his crate so you can take a break too.

Pro Tips

The tips above are all the tried and true tips you'll find from most dog trainers. And you say to yourself, 'yes I'm doing all those, but it's still not getting better.' You're frustrated. You think you're doing a good job, and rightfully so, but these cookie cutter answers aren't helping to stop the biting. So, let's talk about some tips that are more nuanced and may be inadvertently impeding your success with puppy biting.

But first, let me say it again: this is a phase and it will pass. It's tough raising a puppy, but the hard work now means incredible, rewarding behavior later.

  1. Intermittent Reinforcement. We think we're doing a good job. We think we're doing everything right, but we slip once, twice, a handful of times and inadvertently reinforce poor behavior. This is simply the product of novice dog ownership. It happens, and don't beat yourself up. You may find that a seasoned dog owner and/or trainer will also have a baby shark phase, but it won't last as long as a novice dog owner. It doesn't mean that you won't also get there with your puppy, it just might take a little longer.

  2. Giving Treats with a Flat Hand. This is especially important for children. Holding the treat between your fingers when offering it to your puppy can encourage them to use their teeth more to grab the treat.

  3. Flinching. When you're working with and training your puppy, especially early on in training, you will inevitably have a moment when you have something in your hand puppy wants, and they lunge for it. Most notably, it's a treat, and you're teaching your puppy to sit or perform a command. They get too excited, they see your fingers holding a tasty morsel and they move to grab it. What happens next? You flinch, and pull the treat back right as your puppy's mouth opens to inhale that snack. So, what is happening here and what is puppy learning? You just intermittently reinforced your puppy to use their teeth to get what they want. You moved that treat away at a key moment and he thought it was for him! This is why it is important to not dangle the treat near your puppy's face when training a seated command, but to hold it close to your body. You don't want to encourage puppy to lunge. When luring your puppy, you need to expect that puppy will try to mouth on your fingers. In both situations, don't flinch! And don't release the treat until puppy has performed the command.

  4. Redirection. When I say redirection, I don't mean just in that moment when puppy is biting. I mean before it gets to that point. Consider when puppy is completely riled up, super excited to play. Grab the bag of treats and make him work. Sit, Down, Touch, Stay, Place, etc. Get him running around the room and interacting with you in a different manner. This changes what your expectations are and builds your relationship.

  5. More Training, Less Playing. The more time puppy has to run amok in the house is more time for him to get into trouble, chew on furniture, chew on you! Play time is so important for their growth and development, so structure it in such a way that they are given boundaries to enjoy the time. Feeding time is an excellent opportunity to integrate a good training session. Food is highly motivating, especially for doodle puppies. Using feeding time is a structured opportunity to teach puppy some new commands, reinforce the ones they already know, and prevents puppy from getting chunky by using training treats for training. Using their food first for motivation establishes their food as a basic treat level, so when they get a higher value treat, they're very excited!

And the last tip: Patience. Go easy on yourself, especially if this is your first puppy or your first puppy in a very long time. I know this is a frustrating time, hang in there! it will pass! I hope these tips and tricks are helpful for you during this exciting time of puppy raising. I cannot reiterate enough: putting in the work now will lead to an amazing four-legged friend later. Adulthood is a much longer time in a dog's life than puppyhood.

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