While bouncy puppies receive a lot of behavioral training from their human owners, the process generally starts much earlier for them, when they're still living alongside their canine mothers and siblings. If you ever notice a female dog gently but assertively biting her puppies (or seemingly threatening to bite them), you're seeing her strong motherly instincts coming through, via discipline.
Biting During Weaning
Female dogs typically begin to wean their puppies when they're around 4 weeks old, and sometimes even a bit earlier than that. When they do this, they discourage their little ones from nursing, or at least from nursing as frequently. If a puppy attempts to nurse during this period, his mother might react by biting him, or by at least making a show of biting him. This frequently occurs when puppies are between 5 and 7 weeks in age or so. When mother dogs do this, they're trying to teach their youngsters how to do things on their own, more independently.
Muzzle Biting and Discipline
Mother dogs sometimes use biting as a technique for general discipline, too. If a puppy is acting too aggressively with the rest of the litter, his mother might bite him on the muzzle to get him to cut it out. If he's asking for too much of mama's attention and time, pushing the other siblings out of her way, she might do the same.
Bite Inhibition Training
Although mother dogs occasionally bite their puppies, a big part of their job involves teaching the little guys about bite inhibition. If a puppy gets too mouthy during nursing, his mother might show him that she doesn't approve of it by simply getting up and moving away from him. When this happens over and over again, puppies learn their lesson. Puppies also learn bite inhibition from their littermates. When a puppy bites his sibling too sharply during playtime, the "victim" might stop playing immediately, giving the first one a crucial education in not biting too hard.
Other Disciplinary Methods
Biting is not the only way that mother dogs discipline their youngsters. Other common canine maternal disciplinary methods include barking, growling, snarling and staring intently. Mother dogs typically start out by growling deeply at their puppies. If the puppies ignore the growling and don't stop whatever it is that they're doing wrong, the mother dogs generally move on to snarling and staring. This type of training is especially crucial for young pups who display especially dominant, assertive and forceful temperaments.
Not all "biting" by mother dogs is related to discipline. Like mother cats, mother dogs frequently use their mouths to transport their young offspring from one spot to another. When they do this, they pick the little ones up from behind their necks and then go on their way. Mother dogs typically lift their puppies as a means of taking them to more secure, quiet locations.
By Naomi Millburn
How to Listen to Your Dog; Carlotta Cooper
The Dog - Its Behavior, Nutrition and Health; Linda P. Case
Puppy Love; Liz Palika and Sheri Wachtstetter
The Dog Bible; Tracie Hotchner
Partnership for Animal Welfare: Bite Inhibition - An Essential Part of Socialization
Do Dogs Dream?; Stanley Coren
How to Raise the Perfect Dog; Cesar Millan and Melissa Jo Peltier
About the Author
Naomi Millburn has been a freelance writer since 2011. Her areas of writing expertise include arts and crafts, literature, linguistics, traveling, fashion and European and East Asian cultures. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in American literature from Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo.