How to stop your puppy biting: biting is a natural canine habit but puppies need to learn their jaws can inflict pain and how much is appropriate. There are several things you can do to help reinforce this...
- Biting is a natural canine habit and usually happens during teething.
- Puppies are learning how their jaws can inflict pain and how much is appropriate.
- Biting may be reinforced by a reaction that the puppy sees as rewarding.
Play biting is a natural canine habit puppies demonstrate as they learn what’s appropriate social behaviour. Puppies need to learn their jaws can inflict pain and how much is appropriate. Puppies often ‘mouth’ and nip because they are teething and, unlike us, they have no hands, so they investigate the world using their mouths. What usually reinforces the nipping is that it produces a response! We often yelp, move quicker, and so engage with the dog, and any attention can be rewarding! Ideally, when this occurs, you must freeze and appear boring to your pup. Although it can be pretty tricky because those teeth can hurt, you want the dog to think: ‘nothing great happens when I nip my owner’ — attention ends!
Removed from mum and the rough and tumble of life in the litter, your puppy needs you to take on the role of trainer. For these juvenile behaviours, rather than basic training it’s often advised to focus on management. Set up the dog’s environment so the unwanted behaviour (nipping/grabbing) can’t occur, thereby preventing the need to correct and react after the event. Change your routine so he has a dog chew in another room, or pop him in a playpen with a favourite toy when you make his dinner or get his lead.
The best person to teach a puppy to stop biting is usually another, slightly older dog, as most of them won't tolerate a bite which causes pain. Their reaction is probably going to be a lot less rewarding that you dancing up and down making it a wonderful game.
There are several other things you can try:
- Squealing in pain, which works well with puppies up to about nine or 10 weeks, rarely works with slightly older puppies.
- Immediately stopping what you're doing and freezing often does help.
- Transferring their attention on to a ragger or other legitimate chew toy is useful.
- Immediate isolation to an indoor kennel, another room, or the garden without interacting in any way may help.
Basically, your puppy needs to learn that putting teeth on human skin isn't acceptable and that there's a consequence. As soon as you feel teeth, all fun interacting with the puppy stops, only resuming after a short time out. It won't stop immediately. You must make available legitimate objects to chew such as toys and bones. But it should reduce the pain over time!
Puppies bite! Thirteen weeks is a typical age for puppies to increase their biting. There are two good reasons for this. Firstly, your dog is right in the middle of teething and needs to bite something. Secondly, as she doesn't have any bite inhibition at present it means that she hasn't yet learned to control the strength of her bite.
Some breeds have more of a tendency to nip and can take longer to train. Terriers, for example, use their mouth to find out about their environment and will grab and scrag a variety of items, but remember that adult dogs don’t want to injure one another.
Dogs naturally live in tight social and supportive groups, so play biting must be dealt with by the puppy owner as it can degenerate into becoming a far more serious problem — and no one wants an adult dog, complete with adult teeth, gnawing away painfully on their arm.
Play biting can also occur in the heat of the moment during a particularly exciting game. If it happens don’t shout at him, shake or smack him, or tap his nose — these are likely to make matters worse as he may just follow your hands and nip them more. Use some of the tips we shared with you earlier.
Puppies should also be dissuaded from mouthing hair and clothes. Both may not be sensitive, but an over-exuberant bite of the hair could inadvertently catch an ear or face. Puppies will also nip in an attempt to get us to play. In this case, ignore their efforts, turn away, or shut them in another room.
Without trying their teeth they cannot learn how much bite is too much! Watch a litter of young pups leaping and rolling on each other, mouths open, nipping without aggression. When play gets too rough, and there’s one nip too many, the injured party yelps loudly and instinctively the assailant lets go and backs away. There’s usually a few seconds delay before play restarts but this time significantly more gently.
The puppies have learnt an important social skill — they can’t just nip all the time, uncontrollably, as it causes pain. The hard guy has also learned the power of his bite and that he can control it. What he’s actually learned is bite inhibition.
Each time play biting happens repeat your training and your puppy should learn both to limit the strength of his bite and that nipping and mouthing is counter-productive as an attention-seeking device. Play biting is just one of the reasons why you need to supervise children playing and handling the puppy as they may not be aware of what to do when he nips. It’s all too easy for a young puppy to misinterpret a child’s rapid movement away as further play and the invitation to nip some more.
Never initiate play fighting and wrestling games. These are for other puppies and one of the reasons why you should socialise your puppy with other dogs (as much as vaccination programmes permit). Ask your vet for details of puppy parties.
As bored puppies play bite for attention you may need to reconsider your puppy’s routine and find more time for regular play and exercise sessions to keep him occupied. Most puppies grow out of play biting in weeks. If problems persist speak to a behaviourist and consider using chew deterrent on your hands while your puppy learns it’s unacceptable to gnaw fingers.
Get your puppy used to having his gums handled and teeth touched to encourage him to accept you and others feeling his mouth without the urge to chew. He should also learn not to grab treats from your hands. Start when he is young, and after meals when he’s not hungry, so that with regular practise he becomes gentler in his mouth when taking treats. This can also be the ideal time to start to introduce the leave command.