Dog and Puppy Biting, Mouthing, Teething

Biting and mouthing is common in young puppies and dogs especially in play and while teething. It's up to you to teach your puppy or dog what is acceptable and what is not.

Biting dogs are generally loving, sweet, adorable, affectionate and wonderful 99% of the time. Only 1% of the time does something specific happen that makes the dog bite. This article will discuss the causes of biting and what you can do to prevent your dog from biting.

Inhibit Biting

First of all, dogs must learn to inhibit their bite before they are 4 months old. Normally, they would learn this from their mother, their litter mates and other members of the pack. But, because we take them away from this environment before this learning is completed, we must take over the training.

Socialization Prevents Biting

By allowing your puppy to socialize with other puppies and socialized dogs they can pick up where they left off. Puppies need to roll, tumble and play with each other. When they play, they bite each other everywhere and anywhere. This is where they learn to inhibit their biting. This is where they learn to control themselves. If they are too rough or rambunctious, they will find out because of how the other dogs and puppies react and interact with them. This is something that happens naturally and it is something we cannot accomplish. It can only be learned from trial and error. There is nothing you can say or do to educate them in this realm. They must learn from their own experience.

Another major advantage of dog to dog socialization besides the fact that it will help your dog to grow up not being fearful of other dogs is that they can vent their energy in an acceptable manner. Puppies that have other puppies to play with do not need to treat you like littermates. So the amount of play biting on you and your family should dramatically decrease. Puppies that do not play with other puppies are generally much more hyperactive and destructive in the home as well.

Lack of Socialization Causes Biting

A major cause of biting is lack of socialization. Lack of socialization often results in fearful or aggressive behavior. The two major reactions a dog has to something it is afraid of are to avoid it or to act aggressive in an attempt to make it go away. This is the most common cause of children being bitten. Dogs that are not socialized with children often end up biting them. The optimum time to socialize is before the dog reaches 4 months. With large breed dogs, 4 months may be too late, simply because at this age the puppy may already be too large for most mothers of young children to feel comfortable around. For most owners, the larger the dog is, the more difficult it is to control, especially around children. If there is anything you do not want your dog to be afraid of or aggressive towards, you must begin to socialize your puppy with them before it is 4 months old.

Trust and Respect Inhibits Biting

There are many other reasons your dog will bite and you will have to take an active role in teaching them. However, before you can teach your dog anything, there are two prerequisites that are essential. They are trust and respect. If your dog doesn't trust you, there is no reason why he should respect you. If your dog does not respect you, your relationship will be like two 5 year olds bossing each other around. If your dog does not trust and respect you, then when you attempt to teach your dog something, he will regard you as if he were thinking, "Who do you think you are to tell me what to do?"

Use of Reprimands and Biting

Never hit, kick or slap your dog. This is the quickest way to erode the dog's trust in you. Yes, he will still love you. Even abused dogs love their owners. A unique characteristic of dogs is their unconditional love. You don't have to do anything to acquire your dog's love. But you must do a lot to gain your dog's trust and respect. Another area where we destroy our dog's trust in us is when we scold or punish them for housesoiling mistakes and accidents. When housetraining your puppy, there is never an appropriate time to punish or reprimand. If you catch your dog in the act, just head for the towels and cleaner. You have no right to scold him, because if he is going in the wrong place, it is your fault, not his. If you find an accident after the fact, just clean it up.

Summary Tips on Biting

Back to Top

Just a few tips:

1. Reprimand alone will never stop biting.
2. If no respect exists, the biting will get worse. If you act like a littermate, the dog will treat you as one.
3. If trust is not there, the dog may eventually bite out of fear or lack or confidence.
4. Inconsistency sabotages training. If you let the dog bite some of the time, then biting will never be completely eliminated.
5. Don't forget follow up. The dog must understand that it is the biting that you don't like, not the dog itself. Make up afterwards, but on your terms, not the dog's.

Crate Training Your Dog or Puppy

Crate training is one of the most efficient and effective ways to train a dog. The single most important aspect of dog and puppy training is that you reward and praise your dog or puppy each and every time she does the right thing. For example: praise her when she chews her own toys instead of the couch or eliminates outside instead of in the house. The more time you spend with your puppy or dog, the quicker and easier it will be to train her.

The key to house training is to establish a routine that increases the chances that your dog will eliminate in the right place in your presence, so that she can be praised and rewarded; and decreases the chances that your dog will eliminate in the wrong place so that she will not develop bad habits.

It is important that you make provisions for your dog when you are not home. Until your dog is house trained, she should not be allowed free run of your house. Otherwise, she will develop a habit of leaving piles and puddles anywhere and everywhere. Confine her to a small area such as a kitchen, bathroom or utility room that has water/stain resistant floors. Confinement is NOT crate training.

What is Crate Training?

Crate training can be an efficient and effective way to house train a dog. Dogs do not like to soil their resting/sleeping quarters if given adequate opportunity to eliminate elsewhere. Temporarily confining your dog to a small area strongly inhibits the tendency to urinate and defecate. However, there is still a far more important aspect of crate training.

If your dog does not eliminate while she is confined, then she will need to eliminate when she is released, i.e., she eliminates when you are present to reward and praise her.

Be sure to understand the difference between temporarily confining your dog to a crate and long term confinement when you are not home. The major purpose of confinement when your are not home is to restrict mistakes to a small protected area. The purpose of crate training is quite the opposite. Short term confinement to a crate is intended to inhibit your dog from eliminating when confined, so that she will want to eliminate when released from confinement and taken to an appropriate area. Crate training also helps teach your dog to have bladder and bowel control. Instead of going whenever she feels like it, she learns to hold it and go at convenient scheduled times.

Crate training should not be abused, otherwise the problem will get drastically worse. The crate is not intended as a place to lock up the dog and forget her for extended periods of time. If your dog soils her crate because you left her there too long, the house training process will be set back several weeks, if not months.

Your dog should only be confined to a crate when you are at home. Except at night, give your dog an opportunity to relieve herself every hour. Each time you let her out, put her on leash and immediately take her outside. Once outside, give her about three to five minutes to produce. If she does not eliminate within the allotted time period, simply return her to her crate. If she does perform, then immediately reward her with praise, food treats, affection, play, an extended walk and permission to run around and play in your house for a couple of hours. For young pups, after 45 minutes to an hour, take her to her toilet area again. Never give your dog free run of your home unless you know without a doubt that her bowels and bladder are empty.

During this crate training procedure, keep a diary of when your dog eliminates. If you have her on a regular feeding schedule, she should soon adopt a corresponding elimination schedule. Once you know what time of day she usually needs to eliminate, you can begin taking her out only at those times instead of every hour. After she has eliminated, she can have free, but supervised, run of your house. About one hour before she needs to eliminate (as calculated by your diary) put her in her crate. This will prevent her from going earlier than you had planned. With your consistency and abundance of rewards and praise for eliminating outside, she will become more reliable about holding it until you take her out. Then the amount of time you confine her before her scheduled outing can be reduced, then eliminated.

Mistakes and Accidents During Training

If you ever find an accident in the house, just clean it up. Do not punish your dog. All this means is that you have given her unsupervised access to your house too soon. Until she can be trusted, don't give her unsupervised free run of your house. If mistakes and accidents occur, it i s best to go back to the crate training. You need to more accurately predict when your dog needs to eliminate and she needs more time to develop bladder and bowel control.

Back to Top

Food Allergy in Dogs

Food ingredients most commonly responsible for allergies are beef, chicken, fish, eggs and milk. The tendency to develop allergies is genetically determined. Dogs with other allergies like inhalant allergies or atopy may be at increased risk for developing a food allergy.

The clinical symptoms of food allergy resemble those of other types of allergies. These two disorders may have the same clinical symptoms and the same distribution of itchiness or pruritus over the dog's body. In some cases, it is impossible to differentiate between inhalant allergy and food allergy by clinical appearance alone.

Food allergy should be ruled out first because it is the easier of the two disorders to control by eliminating the offending food ingredient from the dog's diet. Food allergy is ruled out by feeding a diet consisting solely of food ingredients to which the animal has not been previously exposed – an elimination food trial. This trial should be performed before considering expensive tests for other types of allergies.

What to Watch For:

- Itchy (pruritic) skin, especially around the face, paws and ears
- Bad skin odor
- Excessive scaling
- Red bumps or papules
- Ear infections
- Self-inflicted skin trauma resulting from severe itching
- Diarrhea and vomiting, although most dogs with a food allergy only develop skin problems


Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize food allergy and exclude other diseases that may cause similar symptoms. Tests may include:

- A complete medical history and physical examination. Your veterinarian will examine the skin closely and inquire about your dog's dietary history. However, most animals that develop food allergy have not had a recent change in diet and have been eating the same food for a long period of time.

- An elimination food trial. This test consists of identifying a diet that contains ingredients to which the pet has never been exposed and strict feeding of this food alone for 8 to 12 weeks. Food allergy is considered a possibility if the itchiness and scratching subside and your dog does not develop relapsing skin or ear infections during the food trial.


Treatment for food allergy may include one or more of the following:

- Avoidance of the offending food or food ingredient
- Antihistamines to decrease the itching
- Treatment of secondary bacterial or yeast infections

Home Care

New food allergies can develop over time. If your dog was diagnosed previously with food allergy and has been well controlled with a special diet but once again is showing signs of allergic skin disease, he may have developed a new allergy. Under these circumstances, consult your veterinarian to determine whether a new allergy has developed or whether another disease is present.

Another elimination food trial may be necessary to make this distinction. Patience and determination are important for the success of an elimination food trial. You and your family must be strict and be certain that no one “breaks” the food trial by giving the dog treats or table scraps. Strict compliance with the trial is essential for proper interpretation of the results. This means no treats like milk bones, rawhide bones or pig ears, no flavored medications (Heartgard Plus), and no flavored vitamins during the trial.

Back to Top

Preventative Care

A genetic predisposition seems to exist for food allergy. Based on their genetic constitution, some animals seem to be predisposed to development of food allergy. However, since the cause of food allergy is unknown, the disorder cannot be prevented.

Barriers in the gastrointestinal tract prevent adverse responses to ingested food in most individuals. These barriers include both physiologic and immunologic protective mechanisms. Abnormalities in the gastrointestinal defense mechanisms (mucosal barrier failure with increased antigen absorption, defective immunoregulation) may predispose your dog to the development of food allergies. Which of these mechanisms is important in the pathogenesis of food allergies in dogs presently is unknown.

The pathogenesis of food allergy in dogs has not been established. Type I hypersensitivity (mediated by a type of antibody called immunoglobulin E or IgE) may be involved. In this type of hypersensitivity reaction, mast cells in the intestinal tract degranulate and release inflammatory mediators.

Foods contain many proteins that can act as allergens. Allergenic foods tend to have high protein content. Complex proteins contain many sites that may act as antigens and thus are more likely to stimulate the immune system than are smaller proteins. Offending proteins must be large enough to link two IgE antibodies and trigger mast cell degranulation.

The foods most commonly incriminated as allergens in dogs are beef, dairy products and wheat and account for 66 percent of suspected cases of food allergy. Chicken, lamb, soy, eggs, pork, and preservatives account for only 22 percent of reported cases according to a recent survey of veterinarians in North America.

Reactions to food additives frequently are suspected, but little objective information supports this perception. Additional studies are needed to confirm the role of food additives in adverse reactions in dogs.

Related Symptoms or Ailments

Food-responsive dermatoses are uncommon in dogs with a reported incidence in small animals of one to 20 percent. Food allergy can occur in animals of any age, including young animals less than six months of age. Thus, food allergy should be considered in any itchy dog less than six months or older than six years of age.

Initially, food allergy causes non-seasonal pruritus. The onset of clinical signs usually is not related to a change in the diet. In fact, it is a common misconception that food allergy occurs shortly after changing an animal's diet. Most animals diagnosed with food allergy had developed allergy to a food that had been fed for many years often more than two years. Food allergy can develop in response to virtually any ingredient of the diet.

Clinical Signs of Food Allergy in Dogs

- Muzzle, paws, armpits, groin, rump and ears are commonly affected areas of the body.
- Localized or generalized pruritus (itchiness)
- Otitis externa, or inflammation of the ear canals. Ear inflammation sometimes may be the only clinical sign of food allergy.
- Recurrent moist dermatitis
- Pododermatitis, which is inflammation of the paws including the skin between the digits
- Recurrent skin infections including superficial bacterial infection (pyoderma) and yeast infection (Malassezia dermatitis)
- A variety of primary and secondary lesions. These include papules (small red raised lesions), generalized redness of the skin, excoriations (moist lesions resulting from self-trauma), hyperpigmentation, epidermal collarettes (“bull's-eye” lesions), and seborrhea. The clinical signs and distribution of lesions may be indistinguishable from those found in dogs with atopy.
- Diarrhea may occur in 10 percent of cases, but is not common.

Secondary infections should be identified and treated appropriately. Skin scrapings or ear swabs should be examined under the microscope to investigate the possibility of Malassezia dermatitis as a contributing factor for pruritus or itchiness. The diagnosis of superficial pyoderma is based on the presence of papules, which are small raised red lesions; pustules; epidermal collarettes, also known as bull's-eye lesions; and evidence of bacteria inside inflammatory cells on microscopic examination. All affected dogs should have skin scrapings performed to rule out the possibility of demodectic mange.

Back to Top

Diagnosis In-Depth

The diagnosis of food allergy is made from the history, clinical signs, exclusion of other pruritic diseases, and positive response to a food trial. Serology testing and intradermal skin testing are not useful in the diagnosis of food allergy. The positive predictive value of serology testing for food allergy is only 40 percent and that of intradermal skin testing is only 60 percent. These disappointing results arise as a consequence of false positive reactions.

Although proteins are the most likely offending allergens, carbohydrates also contain small amounts of proteins that could serve as allergens. The most effective trial diets are those that contain only one source of protein and one source of carbohydrate with minimal additional ingredients.

Some commercial diets advertised for use in the diagnosis of food allergy are designed on the basis of the molecular size, so that antigenicity is nearly impossible. However, small peptides can aggregate together, potentially causing cross-linking of IgE and an allergic response. Allergy to hydrolyzed formulas has been reported in children and a similar situation is suspected to occur in dogs.

The Food Trial

An ideal food trial consists of feeding a small number of highly digestible proteins to which the animal has not been previously exposed. Only a novel source of protein should be used for the food trial, and it is best to use only one source of protein. Cross-reactivity among foods is poorly documented in animals, and it is not known if hypersensitivity to foods closely related to one another like chicken and turkey occurs.

Food trials can be carried out using homemade or commercially prepared diets. No diet is inherently hypoallergenic, and this fact is important to remember when conducting a food trial. Food allergy may develop with any food if it is fed long enough.

A homemade diet is preferred, but commercial diets are commonly used due to the inconvenience of preparing homemade diets for the duration of the food trial. Client education is important, and the success of the food trial depends on the choice of diet and the compliance of the pet owner. If a homemade food trial is attempted, it is important to feed a nutritionally balanced diet, especially to young dogs. Non-flavored vitamins and supplements should be added.

If commercial diets are chosen, it is important to remember that they often contain a large number of ingredients in addition to those advertised on the label. Chewable medications and flavored toys also should be discontinued during the food trial. Non-chewable and non-flavored tablets should be used for heartworm prevention.

The food trial should be continued for 2 months. Pruritus and recurrence of skin infections are monitored during the trial. A tentative diagnosis of food allergy is made if marked improvement in clinical signs occurs during the trial. However, challenge is necessary to confirm the diagnosis. Challenge with individual ingredients is preferable in order to identify the specific offending food. Worsening of clinical signs may take several hours or up to 7 to 10 days to occur.

The elimination diet is used as the basic diet and the dog should be challenged with one ingredient at a time for two weeks. If no worsening occurs, challenge with the next ingredient on the list should be done until all ingredients in the original diet have been evaluated. If clinical signs recur, the offending ingredient should be discontinued and the animal fed only the elimination diet until symptoms disappear. When symptoms resolve, challenge with the next ingredient may be carried out.

Elimination trials are complicated by the fact that many affected animals have other hypersensitivities, in addition to food allergy. Such patients respond only partially to a food trial. For this reason, it is important to control flea exposure, consider the possibility of concurrent inhalant allergies (atopy), and challenge patients with isolated food ingredients at the end of the trial.

Commercial diets commonly used for food trials include:

- Innovative Veterinary Diet® and Nature's Recipe®
- Exclude DVM Diet® contains hydrolyzed chicken, liver and casein. The size of the molecules used is very small.
- Purina HA® diet is soybean based, and the protein molecules used also are quite small.
- Eukanuba® kangaroo and oat diet contains canola meal and undefined “animal fat” which makes it a less desirable choice. Omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids have been added to the diet in a ratio of 5:1 to minimize the production of inflammatory precursors.
- Eukanuba® fish and potato contains herring meal, catfish, animal fat and potato as the main ingredients. The presence of animal fat makes this product a less desirable diet for a food trial.
- Eukanuba® lamb and barley is a “clean” diet and could be considered for an elimination trial.
- Hill's® Canine D/d comes in dry and canned formulations. The canine dry D/d may contain duck and rice, salmon and rice or eggs and rice. Canned canine D/d may contain whitefish and rice or lamb and rice. These are “clean” diets suitable for a food trial.

Treatment In-depth

Avoidance is the best therapy. About 80 percent of food allergic patients can be managed with commercial diets. A small percentage of food allergic animals, however, may require homemade diets and in those animals it is important to insure that the diet is balanced and nutritionally adequate. When avoidance is not feasible, cortisone-like drugs (corticosteroids) may be used. Some food allergic animals, however, respond poorly to corticosteroids and, as a general rule, the efficacy of this type of therapy tends to decrease over time.

Although rare, new food allergies can develop over time. These animals require re-evaluation with new elimination diets. Response to antihistamines and fatty acid supplements usually is limited. Hyposensitization or allergy shots is not an effective form of treatment for food allergy.

Back to Top