Having a puppy in your home can bring such joy. But there are a bunch of dagger-like puppy teeth hidden behind those precious little faces. And they don’t realize just how painful their “play biting” can be when you’re in the middle of some roughhousing or a good snuggle.
According to the American Kennel Club, biting isn’t just a normal part of teething and puppy development, it’s absolutely necessary. And—with just a few simple steps—it’s also something you can train away.
Why Do Puppies Bite?
A puppy’s mouth has about 28 teeny-tiny razor teeth. And they mouth and bite a lot for the same reasons human babies do. Biting is a puppy’s way of exploring the new world around them. They also bite because they are teething and their little gums hurt like crazy.
Puppy bites can be extremely painful, but punishing them or telling them “no!” doesn’t solve the problem. There are ways, however, to manage their behavior and teach them that biting everything in sight is a no-no.
Teaching your puppy bite inhibition is important because not only will it protect your fingers and toes from painful, unwanted bites, but it will also make your fur babies less likely to grow up into adult dogs who bite.
Just like any training exercise, teaching your pup bite inhibition is a process. It can’t be done in one afternoon. If you have the time and knowledge to give puppy training your full attention, you can do it on your own. However, if you are looking for help, Pupford has some great training classes available that can be tailored to individual needs.
Their 30 Day Perfect Pup with Zak George program is free. And the course is a game plan for a well-behaved dog. One of the topics he covers is biting and chewing, so you can get tips from a professional dog trainer on how to deal with your pup.
How To Stop a Puppy From Biting
1. Being Gentle
While the ultimate goal is to train your puppy to stop mouthing and biting people, the first step in the process is to teach him that people have sensitive skin. Therefore, he must be gentle when using his mouth.
As the ASPCA explains, bite inhibition refers to “a dog’s ability to control the force of his mouthing.” Dogs who haven’t learned bite inhibition don’t recognize the sensitivity of human skin. Pups end up biting too hard, even when they play.
When pups play with other pups, they learn bite inhibition. If you watch a group of puppies playing together, they will chase each other and wrestle. They also bite each other a lot. But when one bites too hard, the victim will yelp and stop playing. Taken aback by the yelp, the offender will also stop playing. But pretty soon, they’ll be back at it again.
Since puppies can learn from each other how to be gentle, they can also learn the same lesson from their human. When you are playing with your pup, you should let him mouth your hands. But as soon as he bites too hard, give out a high-pitched yelp to indicate that you are hurt, then let your hand go limp. This will startle your puppy and he will stop, at least momentarily.
When your pup stops, give him verbal praise (and a treat) for doing so and then get back to what you were doing before. If your pup bites you again, repeat the process. But, don’t do it more than three times in a 15-minute period.
Some pups won’t respond to yelps, so you can try a stern voice or a time-out procedure. Time-outs are essentially ignoring your dog for about 10 or 20 seconds. If he bites, make a loud noise, remove your hand, and then ignore.
If your puppy keeps biting, get up, and move away for the time out. Then, return for more playtime. It’s important to teach your puppy that gentle play keeps going, but painful play stops.
2. Biting Gets Nothing
If your puppy tends to bite you when playing, he has to understand that biting means “game over.” Teach your pup that biting gets him nothing by stopping play completely when he bites, with no exceptions.
Yelling or physically punishing your pup is known as negative reinforcement, which doesn’t work. If you take this route, your puppy will learn that biting gets a reaction from you. It can also make them afraid of being handled.
Dog trainer and AKC Family Dog columnist Kathy Santo suggests a specific stopping motion to let your dog know that playtime is over when they bite. She says to turn around and tuck your hands into your armpits.
“It’s actually a calming signal and a minor form of attention withdrawal,” she says. “And be careful not to roughhouse with your young pup in ways that only encourage them to lose control and bite you.”
3. Chew Toys
In anticipation of biting behavior, it’s a good idea to always keep plenty of puppy chew toys on hand. When your pup starts to nibble, offer them a chew toy so they know it’s okay to bite and chew. They also learn that your fingers and toes aren’t an option.
If your puppy continues to nip though, continue to practice the first two steps. If you’ve been working with your pup on other things—like learning to sit—you can redirect them when they bite. Stop playing, command them to sit, and reward them with a chew toy or treat.
When it comes to choosing the right toy, an appropriately-sized firm rubber chew toy is ideal for a teething puppy. You can also find toys that can be thrown into the fridge or freezer so the cold temperature can help relieve your puppy’s sore gums.
If your puppy continues to bite even after using these steps, just keep at it. Sometimes, your puppy is tired and needs a nap or a potty break. Other times, he might be hungry or thirsty. Or, he needs to run around and burn off some energy.
The most important thing to remember is to positively reinforce the behavior that you desire. Let your puppy know he’s a good dog when he follows commands. But never, ever hit or punish your pup when he messes up.
If your dog seems to be biting out of aggression, or if you haven’t been able to moderate your pup’s behavior by the time they reach six months old, consult with your vet or a dog trainer to get help managing your puppy’s behavior.
Teaching your puppy to stop biting might seem like a big challenge, but it can be done. Just remember, patience and consistency are the keys to success!