Potential dog owners, especially those with young families, should ask questions about the track record of any breed of dog that is going to be a household pet. The cavapoo has an excellent reputation for gentleness as it enjoys the company of children as well as adults. Both the Cavalier King Charles spaniel and the miniature poodle, the types of dog used in the breeding of the cavapoo, are likewise normally friendly and companionable. “Normally” is, however, the operative word.
Puppies bite and chew. This is not merely natural but an essential part of their development. At two to three weeks, when puppies’ eyes begin to open, the first – or “deciduous” – teeth emerge. Using them enables the pup to explore the world and its textures, and to acquire experience. There are 28 teeth in the first set as puppies do not need molars in their early days. They are suckling, then feeding on relatively soft foods. A glance around the pet store will reveal that even puppy treats, foods and toys may be recommended for dogs over four months.
To help with the emergence of these teeth, and the 42 adult teeth that Fido will be cutting when he is between six and nine months old, he needs to chew. As in the human baby, there is some discomfort involved, and biting relieves pain as well as releasing endorphins, opiate-like chemicals that promote calmness and euphoria. In other words, when Fido sinks his teeth into your Regency secretaire or satin cushions, he is visiting his own personal opium den.
A pup’s first teeth are needle-sharp to compensate for the fact that the jaw is not as heavy and powerful as it will be in adulthood. He can do plenty of damage to your home. He will also try those teeth on family members, but this playful nipping can be extremely painful, and may frighten a child and be mistaken for aggression.
Normal biting may include inadvertent biting because your dog or pup is trying to grab a toy rather than to bite you. If he has become over-excited, move away from him. Genuine accidents, in which your dog is not playing but manages to mistake you for a bone, are rare. I might add that your dog is often as sorry about hurting you as a person would be.
Do not stop your puppy from biting and chewing. Of course, destroying your home and unintentionally hurting people whilst play-nipping are both unacceptable. Prepare to divert the chewing by having a wide variety of toys and age-appropriate chews. Offer them to Fido as an alternative to your, or your child’s, fingers. Rope toys are particularly appreciated, as are old towels. It can help to place ropes and rags in the freezer so that they offer more of a challenge and provide soothing coolness to offset inflammation as adult teeth emerge. Rubber “kong” tops stuffed with treats will entertain your puppy, as long as they are softer than the adult variety, and my four dogs thoroughly enjoy “lucky dips”, in which I wrap treats in kitchen paper, intersperse them with tight balls of newspaper and jam them into a carton. Permissible destruction is the name of the game!
Exercise, training and interaction reduce the risk that your puppy will chew out of boredom as they, too, increase the level of endorphins. If your puppy is nipping family members, this is how he would interact with litter siblings, and exaggerating your cries of pain (which is what a sibling would do) should alert Fido to the fact that he has become too rough.
Oh – don’t bother with the tempting dog beds you see on sale. You picture Fido pillowing his jowl in that floral fleece as he slumbers in innocence, but you are likely to find it in shreds. Cardboard boxes and old woollies or cheap fleece blankets are warm and comfortable. Save your money; wait until the chewing phase is over before you order Fido that four-poster.
Aggressive or dangerous biting
At feeding time, your pup may feel the need to protect his bowl of grub. Keep your children away as he might interpret a pat or stroke when he is trying to feed as an attempt to take his food. However friendly and tolerant he is when playing with them, he is now in survival mode. Some trainers advocate interrupting a pup whilst he is eating and rewarding him for accepting the interruption. Consult your trainer. Beware: the best-behaved dog may react unexpectedly when he is guarding a bone.
Accidents in which your dog has been injured and is in pain can result in a serious bite. I had this happen to me when I approached a strange dog that had been hurt by a car. Golden retrievers are highly popular because they are usually placid, tolerant dogs, but she felt frightened and threatened, and accordingly dealt a painful bite.
The good news with this sort of bite is that it is a response to an event which is unlikely to be repeated, and after recovery, your dog should revert to his usual good-tempered behaviour.
Females in season may be moody and behave out of character. If you do not intend to breed from your bitch puppy, spaying (once the growth hormones have done their work) is in my opinion a kindness as it eliminates the risk of certain cancers and unpredictable behaviour.
Rescue dogs and biting
Rescue dogs, even puppies, may have been badly mishandled. We are not talking about a dog that has become homeless because a perfectly good owner has died. These dogs may have been reared in a puppy farm and neglected – and so inexperienced in interacting with people – or conditioned by kicking, electric shock collars or burning with cigarettes. Ask for as much information as you can before you make a commitment, especially if you have children. It may be that a single adult with plenty of time is going to be a more suitable owner. Any responsible rescue centre should assess a dog’s temperament and limit ownership to exclude families from adopting any dog that could pose a risk.
Some dogs are perfectly all right with most people but will react to certain groups. A friend had to rehome her dog as he would attack men and boys, including her own gentle husband and her little grandsons, all of whom were used to dogs. It was suggested that he had been mishandled by men at the puppy farm where he was bred. (As from 6th April 2020, changes have been introduced in Britain to outlaw puppy farming.) Some dogs become frightened in the company of children because their boisterous play has resulted in scolding and punishment. It takes time, commitment and the help of a really good dog therapist to retrain abused dogs, and they may never be fully dependable.
If you have made a commitment to a dog with behavioural problems, a muzzle will be your friend in public places, a crate when you have visitors to the house, and these days, a collar and lead bearing information such as “Reactive Dog” that warns people on walks to stay away.
What to do if bitten by your dog
If you or a family member is unfortunate enough to be badly bitten, seek medical treatment immediately as tetanus injections or antibiotics may be necessary. A small flesh wound in which puppy teeth have punctured the skin can normally be treated at home by a good wash and an antiseptic ointment.
Humans have teeth, and their bites top the list for causing infectious wounds, but we do not scurry about our pavements and fields in the expectation that we will be bitten. It is much the same with dogs; a well brought up dog is normally courteous, empathetic and gentle.