How to Train a Puppy Not to Bite
Does your puppy bite? If so, you'll need to quickly break this cycle without breaking your puppy's spirit. The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to signal that biting needs to stop, all while reinforcing positive behavior in your puppy. Once you train your puppy not to bite, you can move on to more fun things, like teaching him tricks.
Teaching Your Puppy Not to Bite
1. React consistently to bites.
Every time your puppy bites, say "NO!" in a firm voice. Then just walk away and ignore the puppy. Social isolation and time outs can be an effective form of punishment for a pack animal. You can also yelp when your puppy bites too hard. It might seem silly but puppies in a litter will cry out if a sibling accidentally bites too hard. Yelping when your puppy lays teeth on your will give feedback to very young puppies about what is acceptable playing and what isn't.
- Teach children not to shriek, run or flap their hands because this will engage the puppy’s natural prey instincts and add to the problem. Children should remain calm and keep their hands closed and close to their bodies.
2. Use a taste deterrent to keep your puppy from biting.
Before you start playing with your puppy, spray a taste deterrent on areas of your body and clothes that your puppy likes to play rough with. When your puppy starts biting you, stop moving and wait for him to react to the taste deterrent. Once your puppy stops biting, praise him and continue playing. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water to get the material off your hands.
- Taste deterrents include: “Bitter Apple,” “Vicks Vapor Rub,” or white vinegar. Use these on your hands to make them taste unpleasant. Contrary to a previous post, please note that tea tree oil can cause temporary paralysis in dogs; use products that are tested as safe for dogs/animals.
3. Redirect your puppy's attention using teething toys.
When he has calmed down, gently talk to him and stroke him. Keep your hand away from his mouth. Start playing again and avoid getting the puppy excited. This time, use toys instead of your hands to get your puppy engaged. Start playing fetch, so that you are tossing toys away from you and using the puppy’s prey drive for positive fun. Playing with toys can be used as a training reward or break and keeps your hands away from the puppy's teeth.
- Some trainers suggest playing tug-of-war with your puppy. The puppy learns that the game is fun, but is also controlled by you, the human at the other end of the toy. The fun will stop if the rules of the game aren't honored, keeping everyone safe.
4. Play safely while you supervise training.
Never play roughly with a puppy that bites. Rough play will only encourage this behavior and strongly establish it in the puppy's mind. Never use your hands as toys. You should also closely watch children playing around or with the puppy. Kids are not equipped to train a puppy and injuries can happen.
- Don't let children play tug with the puppy unless an adult is present, the puppy fully understands the rules, and only if the puppy’s size does not pose a risk to the child during the game.
5. Use a water spray bottle in severe cases.
In cases where biting is exceptionally strong or persistent, keep a water spray bottle handy. Accompany your firm "NO!" with a squirt of water in puppy's face to interrupt the behavior. Take care to set the nozzle to spray and not jet. You just want to startle the puppy, not harm him. Be aware that the puppy will associate the water spray with you, and this could make him wary of you at other times.
- Never threaten the puppy with the squirt bottle or create fear. You also don’t want to create a situation where the puppy only behaves if the squirt bottle is in your hand.
6. Reward good behavior.
Always praise good behavior with lots of gentle love and cuddles. Use rewards effectively to reinforce good behavior. For example, if your dog successfully responds to your request to drop a toy, say, "yes!," or "good boy!" Verbal rewards work well when you're playing and may have your hands full of toys.
- Remember, you are now the puppy's parent. It's your responsibility to encourage him to become a happy, healthy, well-adjusted family member.
Learning About Puppy Biting
1. Understand how puppies usually learn about biting.
It's normal for puppies to bite as they develop and grow. Usually, they learn about not biting from other members of their pack, including adult dogs. Puppies learn by playing with other pack mates about when to avoid causing serious damaging through biting. If puppies don't learn to control or stop biting, the other dogs will punish the puppy more severely, possibly by biting the puppy to cause injury.
- If the puppy does learn easily from his pack mates, they'll become more forceful and clear about biting behavior until the puppy behaves in a manner acceptable to other members of its pack.
2. Realize the importance of teaching your dog not to bite.
If you allow puppy biting, it may get out of control and your puppy will not learn to control his bite. This can lead to serious behavioral issues when your puppy reaches adulthood. If you suspect your puppy is biting out of fear or anger, talk with an animal behavioral therapist, who may be able to help.
- It is not acceptable for puppies to bite people, or other animals, unless they are in true physical danger and need to defend themselves.
3. Take safety precautions if your puppy bites.
If you're starting a training program with the help of a qualified trainer, consider muzzling your puppy with a basket muzzle. Your puppy will quickly learn to stop nipping or biting with the help of the muzzle, but muzzling is not recommended if you don't have a clear understanding of the training approach and goals. If the muzzle isn't introduced and used properly, your puppy can actually become more dangerous to people, especially those trying to put the muzzle on the puppy.
- Rewarding the puppy by giving it a treat after wearing the muzzle can help the dog associate the muzzle with something good. This makes it less likely to be wary of you or aggressive, and it makes the whole process easier for both you and the dog.
- Never leave children unattended and unsupervised with dogs, even ones that seem “safe”. You may need to isolate the dog and/or crate him when a knowledgeable adult cannot be present.
- Use your attention as a training tool. The most basic way to reward your puppy for not biting is simply by allowing them to continue to play with you. Conversely, you can punish a puppy that's taking things too far by removing access to you as a playmate.
- Communicate these limits through your body language, energy, and verbal communication. This will mimic the natural way puppies would be ostracized if they played too rough within their litter.
- Dogs learn best when we show them what to do instead of what not to do. For instance, try smoothing a little peanut butter on the back of your hand. Present it to the dog, and if they lick instead of using their teeth, mark that as correct with a clicker or a verbal indicator, then give them a treat.
- Build on the previous exercise by adding a command. Once that's consistent, remove the peanut butter and treat for licking, then put a verbal word to the action, like "kisses." Now you have something the dog can do instead of biting.
- Even small breed puppies can cause damage. Do not ignore puppy biting when you have a small breed dog by thinking that it does not matter because they are small. Large or small, this behavior needs to be stopped early on. This will prevent even more serious biting later on.
- If a puppy is removed from its mother too early, he probably hasn't learned when biting has gone too far.
- If you're looking for a great way to deal with puppy mouthing and biting in a controlled setting, consider letting your dog attend supervised puppy “preschool” play times.
- Help your puppy socialize as much as possible. Let your puppy meet other dogs and lots of people in a positive environment. Introduce him to all sorts of new experiences while he is still very young. Enroll the puppy obedience training classes early on and reinforce his place within the family structure.
- Your puppy's adult teeth will start to erupt around four months (16 weeks or so) of age. For this reason, you should manage puppy biting before this age since adult teeth will cause more harm to human skin.
- If you use a spray bottle, your puppy may become frightened of any squirting sounds and/or water.
- If you notice real aggression in your pup, consult your veterinarian, who will check if there is a medical reason for your pup's behavior. Your vet may also recommend your pup sees an animal behavior therapist.
- There are many techniques available for managing biting because not all dogs or people respond to the same method. If you or other members of your family are in physical danger or fearful of the puppy, seek the help of an experienced Certified Dog Trainer or Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (a veterinary specialist) immediately.The longer the behavior continues unchecked, the greater the chance of escalation and injury.
- Be careful when you spray your pet. If it is a blast of water instead of a misty spray, it could really hurt your puppy and aggravate him further.