Dear Sarah,

Out 12 week old puppy bites us – a lot! We are so worried that she’s going to be aggressive when she grows up. Is this likely?

Barbara J

Hi Barbara,

This is a great question – as many new puppy owners have exactly the same concerns. But in actual fact, at 12 weeks of age, puppies are supposed to be biting a lot. And there are 4 reasons why.

  1. They are teething. And at 12 weeks, things really start ramping up in that department. Unlike humans who get one or two (or if you’re unlucky, three) teeth coming through at once, puppies have ALL of their puppy teeth falling out and being replaced by adult teeth, all at the same time. Their gums are sore, and a great way for them to relieve the soreness, and help those new, stronger (and thankfully, less sharp) adult teeth cut through the gums is by chewing.
  2. They are investigating their environment. And as dogs use their mouths like we use our hands, a great way to investigate things is to sniff it first, and then have a chew…
  1. They are developing jaw strength, and building up the muscles around their jaws. They therefore need to chew to build those muscles up.
  1. Finally, they are learning “bite inhibition” – which is all about learning the difference between a “play bite” and a “kill bite”. It sounds really dramatic, doesn’t it? But it’s at this age that puppies learn how hard is “too hard”. Mostly they learn this through playing with other puppies (have you ever noticed that one puppy will yelp when the other one bites too hard?) – they are providing valuable feedback about the pressure of the bite. Most puppies when they play with each other will use their mouths, and so they naturally assume that they do the same with us during play.

So what can you do about it?

Firstly, understand that this is a natural, and necessary part of your puppy’s development, and that it is not a precursor to aggression is really important. Secondly, doing a high pitched “yelp” like an injured puppy and then diverting your puppy onto more appropriate toys and chewing items can give them an outlet for this natural behaviour. And finally – remembering that puppy biting usually stops around 6 months (all by itself!) when your puppy has finished teething – which can help you to see the light at the end of the tunnel.