How to Get Your Puppy to Stop Biting
Biting is a normal part of canine development, and normally puppies receive feedback from other members of their “pack,” including adult dogs, which teaches them about bite inhibition. Allowing puppy biting to go unchecked can lead to behavioral problems in adult dogs; a cute nip in a 10-pound new puppy can turn into a serious bite in an 80-pound adolescent dog.
If you or members of your family are in physical danger or are fearful of the puppy, seek the help of an experienced Certified Dog Trainer or Applied Animal Behaviorist immediately.
Understand Puppy Biting Behavior
1. Know how puppies learn not to bite.
Young puppies often do not know how hard they are biting, and so they bite playfully without understanding how it affects others. Puppies usually learn that they're biting hard by playing with other puppies or adult dogs. Puppies will nip and bite each other playfully until one puppy or dog is nipped too hard and gives out a high-pitched yelp. The victim will stop playing, and the puppy that bit the victim is taken aback and also stops playing momentarily.
- Next time the puppy plays, if she bites too hard and gets the same reaction, she begins to realize that her bites can actually hurt other puppies and people. The puppy uses this evidence to modify her behavior.
2. Understand the dynamics in a dog group as puppies age.
Adult dogs tolerate the (sometimes naughty) behavior of young puppies reasonably well, but they become less tolerant as the puppy ages. It is as though the adult dog thinks that the puppy “ought to know better.” Hence, as the puppy ages, the severity of the correction from an adult dog changes from a mere change in play to a quick message that may include a growl or a snap.
- In more extreme cases of correction, an adult dog will jump on a puppy and pin it down on its back to really teach her a lesson; in most cases, this should not be replicated by human owners unless under direction and supervision of an experienced trainer.
- Due to this natural progression, puppies generally learn from adult dogs that biting is unacceptable before they are old enough to cause harm to other dogs or people.
3. Use good judgment when training.
When selecting a training technique for your puppy, keep in mind the amount of time you are able to spend on the training and the appropriateness of the training method for your situation.
- If you have children, it is important that the puppy understands not to bite them, but it may not be appropriate for the children to participate in the training.
Teaching Bite Inhibition
1. Play with your puppy until your puppy bites you.
When she does, give out a high-pitched yelp, imitating the yelp of a dog. The sound should be loud and sharp, like a dog’s yelp would be. Stand up to stop playing with the puppy to further reinforce that her behavior was not acceptable.
- If you are clicker training the puppy, click as soon as he withdraws her mouth from your hand or lets up the pressure.
2. Let your hand go limp when your puppy bites you.
Jerking your hands back in pain, while certainly a natural response, may actually encourage your puppy to play harder and continue biting. When your hands move, you are encouraging the puppy’s prey drive, which will make her want to continue biting you. A limp hand, on the other hand, is very little fun to play with.
3. Play with the puppy again.
If she starts to bite again, let out your yelp or stern rebuke and withdraw from playing again. Repeat these steps no more than 3 times in any 15-minute period.
- Overwhelming the puppy by trying to train too long won't send a clear message. Your puppy won't learn to stop biting and her behavior will just continue.
4. Reward positive interaction.
Between biting incidents, if your puppy licks you or tries to comfort you, praise her and/or give her a treat. She should be rewarded and encouraged to offer positive feedback that does not involve biting.
5. Add a time-out to your reaction if the yelp alone doesn’t work.
When your puppy bites you, yelp loudly and remove your hand to signal that playing has stopped. Then ignore the puppy for 20 seconds. Physical isolation from the pack sends a strong message to the puppy that she has acted incorrectly. If the puppy bites you again, get up and leave for 20 seconds.
- After the 20 seconds are up, go back and start playing your puppy again. You want to communicate that gentle play is encouraged and rough play is discouraged. Play with your puppy until the same sequence happens again and repeat the ignore/withdraw steps.
6. Lower your tolerance for bite strength.
If you begin communicating that hard bites are unacceptable, your puppy may try giving softer bites. You want to continue giving feedback that moderate bites are also unacceptable. Continue discouraging your puppy's next-hardest bites, and so on, until she can play with your hands gently and control the pressure of her bite.
7. Be patient and persistent.
This process can take quite a long time, particularly with puppies that have a high prey drive. The method should work effectively, but you may receive many bites along the way.
Teaching Good Habits
1. Encourage your puppy to play with other friendly puppies and dogs.
Playing with other vaccinated dogs is a normal part of your dog's puppyhood. And just like your own childhood, this is a time for exploration and learning lessons. Regular play with other well-mannered dogs, who don't need to act to teach bite inhibition, will encourage her to play nicely around other dogs and you.
- Consider enrolling your puppy in a puppy training class, where your dog can learn essential skills while having fun.
2. Substitute your puppy's favorite bone or chew toy for your skin whenever she bites you.
Take out a toy or bone and let her bite on it. This will teach her that her teeth belong on a toy or bone instead of on your skin.
3. Engage in other forms of play.
Playing rough with your hands is plenty fun, but it might be giving your puppy the wrong idea. Encourage other forms of play that don't involve your puppy nipping at your fingers, hands, ankles, and toes.
- Learn how to play fetch with your dog. Stick to the same rules every time you play.
- Learn how to play tug-of-war with your dog. Stick to the same rules to encourage your puppy to stop mouthing if she gets close to your hands.
- Provide plenty of interesting and new toys so that you keep your dog engaged. A bored dog is a lot more likely to seek attention from you by biting. Cycle out your toys so that your dog is less likely to get bored.
4. Use a taste deterrent to keep your dog from biting.
Before you start playing with your dog, spray a taste deterrent on areas of your body and clothes that you dog likes to play rough with. When your dog starts biting you, stop all movement and wait for her to react to the taste deterrent. Praise her and continue playing with her when she lets go.
- Some options for taste deterrents include bitter apple, vapor rub, tea tree oil, or white vinegar. Alternatively, you can spray breath freshener spray (such as Binaca) into the puppy’s mouth as both a taste and sound deterrent at the moment of a bite.
- Spray the taste deterrent on your body and clothes (if it is fabric-safe) for at least two weeks. After two weeks, your puppy will likely have developed a strong distaste for your hands and ankles.
5. Make sure your puppy is getting plenty of exercise.
A well-exercised puppy (exercised to the point of being tired) will not be as rough when playing with you. This will help avoid forming bad habits in the first place. A tired puppy is often a well-behaved puppy.
6. Don't treat like with like.
It's sometimes tempting to want to physically punish your puppy by slapping, hitting, or waving your fingers in her face. The problem is that these responses can do one of two things: they can encourage your puppy to continue playing rough, or they can encourage your puppy to act out with real aggression. Avoid other methods of physical punishment that might scare or intimidate your puppy.
- If you are contemplating this sort of retaliation, you should contact a professional dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist for assistance.
7. Don't discourage normal forms of play.
You might not enjoy being bitten every time you go out to play with your puppy, but you do want to forge a real bond between you and your puppy, and playing is partly how you do this. Don't give up on play time just because your puppy doesn't yet know how to play gentle. Teaching her the difference between right and wrong, not abandoning play altogether, will be best for both of you.
Avoiding Play Biting
1. Take your dog on daily walks.
Discuss the status of your puppy’s vaccinations before taking your puppy to walk in public areas that are shared with other dogs. Be sure to keep your puppy on a leash for her own safety.
2. Replace your hands with chew toys.
Give your puppy the opportunity to chew on an appropriate chew toy. Praise her for taking and playing with the toy.
- If your puppy seems unsure about the chew toy, try putting a little tuna juice or peanut butter on it to make it more enticing.
3. Give the puppy a timeout if she gets to rough in her play.
If your dog begins playing too roughly, you can give her a “time out” from playing for a while, even before a bite occurs.
- Professional help can be sought if the methods above fail to result in any material changes.
- Adult teeth begin to erupt around 4 months of age. It would be best to complete training before this time, as adult teeth can cause more harm than puppy teeth.
- Small breed dogs can inflict damaging bites as well; do not neglect to train your small breed puppy just because she will always be small.
- Allow well-mannered adult dogs to correct puppies on their own. Though an adult dog correction can look harsh to humans, adult dogs are quite adept at teaching puppies appropriate behavior.
- Supervised puppy “preschool” playtimes can be a good opportunity to address puppy biting in a controlled setting.