Puppy Play Biting

Why is my puppy nipping and biting family members?

Although often thought to be a teething behavior, nipping, mouthing and biting in young dogs is generally a form of social play. Teething is more likely to involve gnawing or chewing on household objects. The first thing you must do is to provide a regular daily routine that includes ample opportunity for play.  Social play with people could involve controlled chase and retrieve games, as well as long walks or jogging. Although wrestling and tug-of-war games can be fun, for puppies that already have a problem with excessive play biting, these games may lead to play that is too rough or rambunctious. In controlled circumstances however, these games may be acceptable (see below). Puppies need to learn to inhibit the force of their bite, commonly known as bite inhibition. This is something they start to learn while with their littermates. It is one reason that puppies should not go to new homes until 7 – 8 weeks of age and they have had time to practice social skills with other dogs. However, even after puppies have been adopted into the new home, it can be extremely beneficial for the puppy to have regular interactive social play periods with other dogs or puppies in the home or in the neighborhood. (See our handout ‘Play and exercise in dogs’ for additional information).

How can I stop play biting?

Provided the dog is receiving adequate play, attention and exercise, you can turn your training to bite inhibition. One of the things that puppies need to learn is how much pressure from their jaws causes pain. Without this feedback, a puppy does not learn to inhibit the force of its bite. Because all dogs can and will bite at some time, this lesson is vital for human safety.

How is this lesson taught?  When puppies play with each other, if one puppy bites another too hard, the bitten puppy will yelp, and may also stop playing and leave. This sends the message to the puppy that its bites were too hard and if it wishes to continue to play, it needs to be gentle. However, people often do not send this message to their puppy. In the beginning, they might allow the puppy to chew and bite on them without reprimands and the puppy assumes that the behavior is acceptable. Children appear to be most vulnerable because their attempts at stopping the biting may not be properly timed or sufficiently abrupt to stop the puppy from biting. In fact a child’s response is often seen by the puppy as an invitation to increase its level of chase and play. Adult supervision or a head halter for training (discussed below) should help to insure more immediate success.

The message people should send is that mouthing and chewing on hands is painful. All family members must consistently follow the rules for the puppy to understand and learn what is considered desirable behavior and what is not.  However, regardless of the technique, you cannot expect the play biting to cease until you first insure that you are giving regular and sufficient opportunities for play at times when the puppy is not play biting.  If the puppy begins to play bite or chew and tug on clothing, then ignoring the puppy or walking away may be sufficient.   If all family members are consistent in their responses, the puppy should quickly learn that play biting actually leads to inattention rather than play.  In fact, all forms of play and attention soliciting behavior should be ignored, as these can quickly escalate into more intense biting.  You should be the one to schedule and initiate play sessions and not your puppy.  If you teach your puppy to sit or lie quietly before each play session, you should soon have your puppy trained that these behaviors, and not play biting, will be rewarded with a play session.

If ignoring the puppy or saying “off” and walking away does not stop the biting, then you will need to work on discouraging the behavior.  Begin by teaching each family member to emit a sharp ‘yip’ or ‘ouch’ as soon as biting begins so that the puppy backs off.  Cease all play and attention immediately.  This sends the message to the puppy that the bites are painful and that biting will cause play to be terminated. Another option is to use a sharp ‘off’ command while briefly pushing forward with the hand to back the puppy away (no hitting).  Alternately, a sharp ‘off’ and quickly backing away can be effective.  Most important is that the play should cease. The command ‘off’ followed by the immediate removal of play can act as a form of punishment with the word ‘off’ soon teaching the dog that if it continues to bite, play will be withdrawn. This training usually works for those family members that are a little more forceful and assertive, and who are immediate and consistent in their training. If the puppy persists, chases or immediately repeats the behavior, closing a door and walking out of the room can help to teach the puppy that nipping leads to immediate inattention.

What if yelping does not help?

Other techniques are often suggested for play biting. Some involve harsh discipline, like slapping the puppy under the chin or forcefully holding the mouth closed. Remember, pain can cause aggression and cause the puppy to become anxious, fearful or perhaps more excited. These techniques also require that you grab an excited puppy; not an easy thing to do! Some puppies may even misinterpret the owner’s attempts at punishment as rough play, which in turn might lead to an increase in the behavior. Physical methods are therefore not recommended. Owners, who cannot inhibit the puppy with a yelp, could consider a shaker can, water or air spray, noise alarm, or ultrasonic device, as soon as the biting becomes excessive.  The loud noise or spray is used to startle the puppy, who will likely back up and stop biting.  When that happens the puppy should immediately be praised and gentle play and interactions resumed.

The use of a head halter with a remote leash attached allows the puppy to play and chew, but a quick pull on the leash can immediately and successfully close the mouth and stop biting without any physical force. By simultaneously saying “no biting”, most puppies will quickly learn the meaning of the command. As soon as the puppy stops and calms down, the owner can allow play to resume, as long as biting does not begin again. This is one of the quickest and most effective approaches to stop the biting and get immediate control of the muzzle and mouth, and is useful for owners that are not gaining sufficient verbal control.

Remember that play biting is a component of play behavior in puppies. Play is a form of social interaction. Realize that your puppy is trying to play with you even though the behavior is rough. To ensure that you are in control, be certain that each play session is initiated by you and not the puppy, and that you can end each session whenever you choose. One effective strategy when the play gets too rough is to immediately end the play session and leave. Social withdrawal can be a very powerful tool. Leave the puppy alone long enough to calm down. If upon your return the wild playing begins again, leave again. Although it is tempting to pick the puppy up and take it out of the room, this interaction may be interpreted by your puppy as additional play and the biting may continue as you carry the puppy to a confinement location.  Keep track of which types of play seem to get the puppy too excited and these should be avoided to help prevent biting behavior.

Can I play tug-of-war games with my puppy?

Games of tug and pull can be a good way for the puppy to expend energy while playing with family members.  In this way the puppy can be given an acceptable outlet for pulling, biting and tugging rather than on the clothing or body parts of people.  In addition, the tug of war game provides an opportunity to teach the puppy to give up toys on command.  However, tug of war games are only acceptable if they remain under your control, or if play biting and over exuberant behavior increase.  Select a few tug toys for playing this game and be certain that you are the one to start each session.  It might be best to keep the toy(s) out of the puppy’s reach until its time to play the game.   Throughout the play session, particularly if the puppy gets too excited or begins to grab hands or clothing, have the puppy settle down and give up the toy before allowing play to continue.  Food rewards can also be used at the outset to encourage the puppy to stop the give up the toy.  At the end of each tug session, teach the puppy to give up the toy and reward with a favored chew or feeding toy.  If successful, this type of play provides you with a means of controlled interactive play, as well as teaching the puppy to give up the toy on command.

© Copyright 2005 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license.

Preparing Pets for Back to School

The back-to-school season signals a change in schedules and can be a time of big adjustment for families – especially the four-legged member of the family: the family dog.  One day the house is bustling with activity and the next day the house is empty and quiet. It’s beneficial to prepare your dog for the change.

Dogs are pack animals and are comfortable with routines – they especially like the “pack” being home and with them. When there is an abrupt change in their routine, they can start acting out of character – becoming depressed, destructive, or vocal, for example. It’s important to help your dog through the back-to-school period by preparing them for the change beforehand, and not abandoning them afterward.

Here are some tips for ensuring your pet remains his happy self though the back-to-school season:

  1. Prepare your pooch for the change. Start implementing changes to the routine several weeks before the start of school. Have the whole family leave the house for increasingly longer periods of time so your dog can get used to the quiet.  But remember to keep feeding times constant and the routine as normal as possible.
  2. Ensure continued exercise. Walks, playtime in the yard, and trips to the dog park might be common in the summer months, but drop off when everyone goes back to school. If you don’t have the opportunity for time at home during the day, consider hiring a dog walker or part-time petsitter. You will notice how much happier your dog is after being walked and that happiness stays with him all day!
  3. Invest in educational toys as an enrichment tool. Puzzle toys that encourage your dog to look for hidden treats can work your dog’s mind while also taking up time.  For dogs of all sizes, appropriately sized Kong toys with a small amount of peanut butter dabbed in the middle are great fun.  Remember to clean them well each day.

If you’re having issues with your dog getting used to the new routine of school and family activities, give the staff at Rita Ranch Pet Hospital a call.  We can provide some helpful advice for a smoother transition!


Thank you to our SOURCE: Trupanion Barks & Mewsings, Heather Kalinowski for this great information!

Getting Your Cat to the Vet

Getting your cat ready for the vet can be a challenge in some homes – do you have to fish the cat out from under the bed, try to coax them into the carrier, or listen to them yowl on the way to the veterinary clinic?  This makes for an unpleasant trip for both cat and owner, and sadly, results in cats not getting check-ups as often as they should.

In fact, adult cats kittens to 7-years-old should be seen at least once a year by their veterinarian.  Senior cats, 8-years-old and better, should be seen by their veterinarian every 6 months!  All animals, especially felines, tend to hide illness until it is much more serious.  Regular wellness exams and weight checks can help us pick up on issues much early, and therefore we can do much more to treat them and keep them healthy and happy longer!

Things you can do:

  • Acclimate your cat to the carrier and the vehicle — do this by taking short trips arund the neighborhood with your cat in the carrier.
  • Train your kitten early on — get them used to their carrier by leaving it available to play in and taking short car trips.
  • Make the carrier familiar at home by leaving it in a room where your cat spends time — while not “decorative,” keeping the cat carrier in the garage all year isn’t helping anyone.  Bring it into your cats favorite area, leave it open with their favorite blankets or toys inside an some cat treats.  Soon they will realize its a nice place to hang out, rather than a scary, unfamiliar box!
  • Place familiar soft towels or bedding in the carrier — cats are very territorial and don’t like going to unfamiliar places.  They will truly appreciate the smell of home!
  • Consider a synthetic feline facial pheromone, such as Feliway.  Feliway is a pheromone that imitates a feeling and scent release by happy, relaxed cats.  It truly does wonders for stressed felines.  At Rita Ranch Pet Hospital, we use it all over our towels, blankets, kennels and even the weight scale at the hospital to help kitties feel at ease.  It comes in convenient small spray bottles you can use at home!

Apartment Living with a Large Dog

Many pet owners are reluctant to have big dogs when they live in a condo or apartment.  Small and toy breeds can be problematic too, so what’s a pet owner to do?  As it turns out, larger dogs generally require less exercise than smaller dogs, so there shouldn’t be a problem if they receive regular walks and plenty of enriching activities.

An apartment dog might sleep all day waiting for his owner to get home, but this routine is similar to a house dog’s.  Hopefully, when both get walked, they get to sniff smells, meet new friends, hear sounds and feel enriched.

It’s all about enrichment

If fact, some experts believe that apartment dwelling dog-owners generally tend to spend more time with their pets; the dogs are generally better socialized, happier and more inclined to be better behaved.

Whether it’s scheduled play dates with dog pals, an brisk walk with a pet-sitter, or spending the day at doggy day camp — apartment living can be as fulfilling as living in a home with a large yard.

Tips to make your dog feel at home in an Apartment

People in urban cities are less likely to leave their pets behind nowadays.  Interactive & puzzle toys, dog daycare, and a visiting pet-sitter are also ways that the working pet parent can help keep their pup happy.

If fact, some companies are going dog-friendly and many offer the ability to bring your pet into work on certain days.

Be Neighborly

If you have a dog, you will quickly meet other dog owners in your complex or at your dog park.  You can create a community that goes on walks and trips to the park.  Trusted neighbors can also help keep an eye on your canine if you’re gone for an extended period of time.

Find a pooch-perfect home

Many people believe that small dogs make better apartment companions, but large dogs are less likely to yap at neighbors, are less active indoors and can provide greater security. Exercise with any dog is important, so look for an apartment near a park or walking path and away from busy streets.

Source: petsweekly.com, written by Stacy Mantle

Undescended Testicle in Dogs

What is cryptorchidism?

Cryptorchidism is the medical term that refers to the failure of one or both testes (testicles) to descend into the scrotum.

If the testicles aren’t in the scrotum, where are they?

Most cases of cryptorchidism are the result of the testicle being retained in the inguinal canal or in the abdomen. In cases of inguinal cryptorchidism, the testicle may sometimes be felt underneath the skin inside the groin region. In cases of abdominal cryptorchidism, the testicle can not be felt from the outside. Abdominal ultrasound or radiographs may be performed to determine the exact location of the retained testicle.

What causes cryptorchidism?

The testes normally descend into the scrotum by two months of age. In certain dogs, it may occur later, but rarely after six months of age. Cryptorchidism may be presumed to be present if the testicles aren’t palpated in the scrotum after two months of age. Cryptorchidism is reported in all breeds, but the toy breeds, including toy poodles, Pomeranians and Yorkshire terriers, are at higher risk. Approximately seventy-five percent of the cases of cryptorchidism involve only one retained testicle while the remaining twenty-five percent involve failure of both testicles to descend into the scrotum. The right testicle is more than twice as likely to be retained as the left testicle. Cryptorchidism affects approximately 1.2% of all dogs. The condition is thought to be inherited although the exact mechanism is not fully understood.

What are the clinical signs of cryptorchidism?

This condition is rarely associated with pain or other clinical signs, unless a complication develops. In the event of a complication, such as spermatic cord torsion (twisting onto itself), there will signs consistent with sudden and severe abdominal pain. Most often any clinical signs are associated with neoplasia or cancer.

What is the treatment for cryptorchidism?

Neutering and removal of the retained testicle is recommended as soon as your veterinarian feels it is safe for the dog to undergo surgery.  The procedure normally involves making a second surgical approach over or near the retained testicle. If the retained testicle is intra-abdominal, the second incision will be usually be made along the midline of the abdomen. In effect, your dog will undergo two surgical procedures for neutering instead of one.

What if I don’t want to neuter my dog?

There are two good reasons for neutering a dog with cryptorchidism. The first is to remove the genetic defect from the breed line. Since cryptorchidism is an inherited defect, dogs with this condition should not be bred. Second, if the retained testicle is left in the body, the chances are increased that the dog will develop a testicular tumor (cancer) in the retained testicle. The risk of developing testicular neoplasia is estimated to be approximately ten times greater in dogs with cryptorchidism than in normal dogs. In fact, 53% of all Sertoli cell tumors and 36% of all seminomas occur in retained testicles. Additionally, 36% of all spermatic cord torsions are found in dogs with cryptorchidism.

What is the prognosis for a dog with cryptorchidism?

The prognosis is excellent for dogs that are diagnosed and undergo surgery early. The surgery is relatively simple and the outcomes are overwhelmingly positive. The prognosis for dogs that develop testicular neoplasia is guarded to poor and depends on the specific type of tumor and the dog’s overall health at the time of diagnosis.

© Copyright 2005 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license.