Farm Dog 101: Teething and Chewing

The first puppy teeth to emerge are the canines, followed by the incisors and then premolars. Puppies have 28 deciduous (puppy) teeth which will be lost and replaced by 42 teeth in the adult dog starting at about 12 to 16 weeks. By 16 to 20 weeks, the deciduous premolars have been replaced and by 20 to 24 weeks, the permanent molars have started to erupt. What many people do not realize is that chewing actually increases (and becomes more destructive) from about six to twelve months, until the molars have completely erupted.

Fix, like many young puppies who have been raised with their litter to at least 8 weeks of age, has a soft mouth. His litter-mates (and the adult dogs in his household) taught him that biting down too hard during play was not acceptable. While some puppies “unlearn” this lesson after being removed from the litter (or if removed from the litter prior to 8 weeks, never learn this lesson), there are several good reasons why it is important to continue to teach bite inhibition as opposed to a prohibition on putting teeth on a person at all. IMO, it is critical that a young dog learn how much pressure to use with its mouth and how to regulate that pressure because if a pup does not learn this by 4 months of age, it cannot be taught. In those instances one has to simply rely upon teaching a “no teeth” rule and then hope that the dog is never put into a situation where it bites. The likelihood of a serious bite occurring if the dog has learned to inhibit its bite is much less than if the dog has simply been taught not to put teeth on a person.

Fix has been allowed to continue gentle mouthing while being taught bite inhibition. However, now that he is teething, that pressure has increased in an attempt to decrease the uncomfortable feeling. Given the needle sharpness of his puppy teeth, it is now time to start teaching him that teeth do not belong on human flesh.

In addition to teaching puppies bite inhibition, it is critical to also teach puppies what is, and is not, acceptable as a chew. Without the use of hands to manipulate objects, puppies use their mouths to investigate and learn about their world. All too often, owners provide lots and lots of toys and chews and then wonder why the pup is more inclined to chew on that table leg, wailing that the pup has plenty of toys to chew on. In reality, the more toys and chews laying about, the greater the likelihood that the puppy is actually learning that everything is his to chew on. It is far easier to teach a puppy what are appropriate chew items if the number of acceptable items is limited. I try to provide three different types of chews – something fabric, something of hard rubber (such as a Kong®) and a real (not processed) bone. If I notice that Fix seems to be attracted to a particular thing, I try to provide a suitable substitute made of a similar material.

Teething is one of the most trying stages in a young puppy’s development and requires considerable supervision and redirection. But by being consistent in how this stage is handled, both Fix and I will emerge without me losing anything of value and with Fix having learned to moderate the use of his mouth.

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