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Training your puppy not to bite and nip

“My puppy is about 4 months old. Sometimes if the kids are running around she chases them and bites their clothes and jumps on them. She gets pretty aggressive about it too almost like growling but it seems playful.”

“We have a 3 month old female cockapoo and the biting is getting out of control.”

“I have a 10 week old puppy who WILL NOT stop biting me and others every time you touch him. I can’t tell if it’s a mean way or he’s teething but it hurts really bad and he draws blood.”

If you’ve said something similar to one of these quotes, it means you have a normal puppy! Puppy biting is one of the top concerns with new owners, probably in a tie with housetraining!

It’s amazing that something that’s so adorable and cuddly looking can have shark like teeth. And I think that’s what surprises new puppy owners who expect some mouthiness, but not overt biting that can sometimes draw blood.

Unfortunately, most owners want their puppy to stop biting them asap. And who can blame them when they’re living with a mini shark that bites hard enough to hurt and sometimes draws blood? Parents with young children in particular are eager for this phase to end as they wanted the puppy and the children to be pals, and now the children are afraid of the puppy, or at least want nothing to do with them.

Puppy biting fingers

A puppy who bites is normal!

What dog owners should understand is that puppy mouthing is completely normal. If you watch two dogs play with each other, you’ll see them use their mouths on each other quite a bit, gently biting down playfully. Additionally, since dogs don’t have hands that used to explore their world, dogs tend to use their mouths quite a bit too figure things out. And puppies who haven’t been alive very long have a ton to learn about!

It’s a bit unrealistic to believe that you can eliminate puppy biting within a few days. You’re trying to change a natural behavior, so this is going to take some time. Ideally your dog would stop the puppy mouthing by the time they’re about five months of age. If you have a dog who is older than that and is still mouthing you, your best course of action would be to consult with a professional trainer who could work with you to resolve that issue.

There are several things that are sometimes recommended for puppy mouthing, that should be avoided.

  • Clamping the puppy’s mouth shut as a consequence to biting seems to make sense. But it can make some puppies frustrated or frantic and as a result making mouthing worse. Additionally, it can teach a puppy to avoid people who are reaching their hands towards the puppy.

  • Refrain from using physical punishment of any kind, including soft smacks or slaps against the face. Again, puppies may learn to avoid hands reaching towards them, or even learn to be fearful of people.

There are many responses to biting that will help your puppy learn that they can’t bite humans the way they do with another dog. Keep in mind that this won’t eliminate mouthing right away. It will start to diminish over many weeks until it’s completely resolved.

Full disclosure, I play a game with one of my dogs I called bitey face. I make my hand into a claw and tell her “I’m going to get you”, and then she reaches up and gently mouths my hand. I do not have a problem with these types of games with adult dogs as long as they are gentle with their teeth.

I would not advise playing these types of games with puppies. They don’t yet know how to inhibit the pressure of their bite, and they also may not understand that this is a game they can play with one person but not with others. If you enjoy these types of games, wait until your puppy has stopped puppy biting before starting to play them.

In the mean-time, make sure that all interactions with the puppy include a toy. Of course, playing with the puppy will include a toy, but it’s a good idea to have toys close at hand whenever you engage with your puppy. You will want to redirect those teeth off your skin and onto the toy and be consistent with it.

Puppy biting another puppy's ear

What to do when your puppy bites

One thing to try is to yelp or yell “Ow” as soon as you feel those little puppy teeth on your skin. The sound should be short and sharp, and fairly loud. Most puppies will immediately freeze or take their teeth off your skin altogether. Wait a second or two to praise your puppy for responding to your painful response, pick up a toy and try to engage your puppy on the toy by moving it around. When your puppy goes after the toy and starts biting on it, praise your puppy for using their teeth appropriately!

If redirecting to a toy doesn’t work, you can also use timeouts. When those puppy teeth touch your skin yell “Ow”, get up and leave the room, closing the door behind you. This is the point where new puppy owners get nervous about this advice because who knows what trouble your puppy will get into when left alone! But don’t worry, you’re literally only going to be gone for a few seconds (which is a loooong time to a puppy), and then you’ll come back in, pick up a toy and try and get your puppy engaged with the toy instead of your skin.

This reaction can work because it’s the opposite response to what they want. Leaving when they want to engage with you sends a big message that their actions have consequences.

puppy grabbing on to toy

Preventive training for mouthy puppies

One of the times that a puppy is likely to get mouthy is when you are reaching for their collar, or trying to attach a leash to it. For many reasons it’s a great idea to train your puppy to allow and even look forward to having their collar grabbed. With proper training you can teach your puppy to keep their mouth off of you as you’re reaching for the collar, but in addition allowing you to grab their collar could be life-saving. Many times puppies learn that having their collar grabbed equals having the fun end, or being punished. Training your puppy to look forward to having their collar grabbed will be beneficial if your puppy ever gets loose and you’re trying to grab their collar before they run into the street.

To train your puppy to enjoy collar grabs without getting mouthy, you’re going to need food treats that your puppy really loves! Choose a time when your puppy isn’t very hyper, since it will be easier to teach this with a calm puppy. Placing a treat in front of your puppy’s mouth, hold it so that your puppy is licking it, but isn’t able to eat it. As you are doing that with one hand, you’re going to gently put your other hand underneath your puppy’s collar, and then feed your puppy the treat. Repeat this five or six times, and do this exercise a few times a day.

After your puppy is starting to look forward to the treat and the collar grab, you can start holding the treat away from the puppy’s nose, grabbing the collar, and then bringing the treat in to give to your puppy.

Once your puppy has learned to look forward to collar grabs, you can use collar grabs as a way to help calm your puppy down. Just like kids, puppies can get overstimulated and lose their brains! When this happens you can gently grab your puppies collar, firmly hold the back half of their body against your leg if you’re standing, or your hip if you’re sitting, and wait until you feel their body completely melt and relax. At this point you’re going to praise your puppy and release.

What to do with a puppy who bites when excited

Sometimes puppies get mouthy because they have too much energy and don’t quite know how to appropriately let it out. If you want to quietly pet and cuddle with your puppy but they’re too hyper, you’ll need to first tire your puppy out.