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Training your puppy not to bite and nip

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

“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.


One appropriate way to tire a puppy out would be recall training. If there’s two of you, call your puppy back and forth down the hallway, always giving treats for coming to you. If you’re by yourself the Toss a Treat Recall is a great game to play. With this game you show your puppy a treat, while they are watching you toss it a short distance away. After they eat the treat that you’ve tossed, call your puppy to you patting your legs, and give your puppy a treat when they get to you. Repeat this up to 10 times, most very young puppies will be tired after running around like that.


Another way you can tire your puppy out is by playing with toys. Get a toy that your puppy really likes, and you can drag it around on the ground in front of them doing figure eights and let them chase it. Periodically allow your puppy to actually grab it so they won’t get frustrated. To get the toy back you can either trade with a treat, or grab another toy and play with the other toy. Most puppies will think your toy is better and drop the toy that they’re holding.


This is all great way to introduce the concept of giving you something that they have, so when the grab a sock you’ll be more easily able to get it back. It’s also a fantastic way to prevent resource guarding since your puppy will learn if they give up something they have you’ll give them something in return. And learning that biting on items instead of your skin is a great lesson as well.


After they’ve been tired out a bit it’s a great time to pet and cuddle with your puppy. Some puppies might get mouthy with touch either because it gets them revved up, or because they are self-soothing. If this is the case you can actively work on training your puppy to accept handling without putting their teeth on your skin.


First of all, think about how you are petting. Fast petting is very stimulating. Slow, firm petting is relaxing. Make sure that you aren’t doing the type of petting that is getting your dog hyped up.


To train your puppy not to get mouthy when being petted or cuddled, get some treats your puppy likes. Initially you may have to hold treats against your pup’s mouth without feeding. As your puppy is licking the food you’re holding, with your other hand you’re going to pet once or twice, and then release the treat into your puppy’s mouth. Repeat this over and over. Over a period of time you’re going to stop holding the treat against your puppy’s mouth, and to deliver it after the petting so that the puppy learns not to mouth even if they’re not licking a treat. Additionally you’re going to increase the number of pets before the puppy gets a treat. You don’t have to do this forever, at some point your puppy will learn to accept petting without getting wound up and biting, and at that point you can drop out the treats for petting.


Another thing to do if you want to cuddle your puppy but don’t want to work on training with treats, is to make sure that as you’re snuggling with your puppy they have something to chew on. It could be a food stuffed toy like a Kong, a bully stick, or anything else your puppy likes to chew on.




If your puppy bites when petted


One note about this section:


Some puppies are prone to growling and snapping over food or objects. If your puppy is doing this, seek professional help as soon as possible. Never force yourself on your puppy when they're eating by petting them or playing with their food. This can be turned around, but if handled incorrectly can be made worse.


If your puppy does growl and attempt to bite over food, do not use the training method outlined below.



If your puppy tends to be nippy when being petted, keeping the mouth busy will be something you should do when other people are petting your puppy. Because you always want to make sure the puppy is consenting to attention, never hold your puppy in place while somebody else pets them. Always make sure that it is the puppy's choice to get that attention. Giving choices is an important part of proper puppy socialization. Forcing a puppy to accept interaction with strangers can very well backfire and create a fearful puppy.


The way you can determine if the puppy is seeking attention, is to have the other person stand at a distance and see if the puppy goes to them. If the puppy approaches, it is likely that they are curious and Interested. If the puppy stays put or seems fearful, it can do more harm than good to force a puppy to be petted. Always allow your puppy to leave the interaction if they want.


Assuming the puppy is asking for attention, if you have visitors to your home, or encounter people out in public who would like to pet your puppy, get those treats or chewies out to keep your puppy’s mouth busy while they’re being petted. Part of changing behavior is to prevent it from happening. So being proactive with the food or chew toy to prevent the practice of biting other people will go a long way towards stopping puppy biting. Additionally, it will help your puppy learned to love interacting with people that don’t live with them.


Consistency is really important in initiating behavior change. This means that every member of the family should be on the same page as far as making sure they follow the rules around the puppy. This also includes non- family members. Don’t let other people engage with your puppy in a way that makes them mouthy. If non family members cannot follow your rules, it may be time to remove your puppy from them so that they aren’t getting conflicting messages.



Puppy bites children too much


Many people get a puppy because their kids want one and they think that it would be a great experience for the children. And this can definitely be true. But what most children don’t realize until the puppy is in the home, is that puppies have sharp little teeth and they like to bite. It’s the parent’s responsibility to ensure that the children feel safe around the puppy, and that the puppy doesn’t practice biting the children.


Puppies and young children should never be left unsupervised. You may have the best kids in the world, but kids are kids. Your child may inadvertently do something that triggers biting. If you aren’t there to see it you cannot intervene and prevent the biting from occurring. Again, consistency is really important and you cannot rely on your children to train the puppy not to bite.


Children should be taught to respect the puppies need for resting, chewing and desire to not engage. Just because a child wants to play or pet the puppy, it doesn’t mean the puppy is interested. Puppies are more likely to develop positive relationships with the children when their boundaries are respected.


Children oftentimes want to hug and kiss puppies. The problem is that this can get a puppy wound up and it is not uncommon for a puppy to see a human nose, ear or hair and want to put their mouth on it. Tell the children that if they want to show love there are other ways such as training with your puppy, and petting with adult supervision. Children can help with petting training. The adult would hold the treats or the chewy, and the children would pet.


Puppy training is a great activity in which to get your children involved. Even very young children can help with training simple behaviors like sit and down using lure reward training. If the puppy takes treats too hard, the parent can do the luring and the child can say “sit” or “down” and praise the puppy. In any case teach children to deliver treats to the dog with the flat of the hand with the hand about chest level of the puppy. This will prevent the puppy jumping up to get the treat and from grabbing fingers.

Additionally, a lot of children and puppies get into trouble when children are running around and screaming. Dogs are predators, they like to chase other animals that are running and screaming. There should be a rule when a puppy is very young that interactions with the puppy should be with the children being calm and not running around. It’s not realistic for children to always be calm, they need to run around too! If your children need to get their energy out, that would be the time to put the puppy in a crate or take the puppy to another room so that the children can run around without worrying about getting chased and bit. The more positive interactions the children and puppy have, the better the bond between them will be.


mother child and puppy


Puppy who bites more at certain times of the day

It's not uncommon for puppy owners to report that their puppy is more bitey at certain times of the day than others. How you handle it will depend on the circumstances.


If your puppy is more bitey in the evening when you come home from work and they've been confined to a crate for some time, then this is the time to help them get their energy out. You don't necessarily need to take your puppy for a walk, doing recall training or playing with a toy will suffice.


If your puppy has already had enough exercise and should be tired out, it's possible that they're overtired and need to be put in a crate for a nap. This is just like a toddler who throws a temper tantrum because they didn't have their afternoon nap.


puppy sleeping in crate


Conclusion

Puppies bite as a part of their normal development. Stopping this behavior from happening is not going to happen overnight, and requires consistency and patience.


Teaching appropriate behavior is a key component to helping your puppy understand not to bite human skin.


Management through the use of crates when you cannot train your puppy, or when your puppy needs to calm down is a great tool to use, but in itself will not prevent puppy biting. Crating should not be over-used; it’s not fair to confine a puppy in a crate the majority of the day.


Appropriate reactions to biting are also important to help a puppy understand that biting human skin is not a way to interact with us, and will prevent other behavior issues from developing.



 

Do you need help training your dog? I offer virtual consultations for separation anxiety resolution, as well as for other behavioral issues or training needs.


I also offer in-person training within a 30 minute drive of Ixonia, WI.


I would love to work with you and your dog!







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