How to Stop Puppy Biting

Katy Nelson, DVM
Jul 31, 2020
   |    6 min read   |    Share this:

Is your new puppy biting everything they can get their mouths on? Why do puppies bite so much when they are young? Is it normal, or should you be trying to stop your puppy from biting you?

Here’s a breakdown of puppy biting behavior and what you can do to keep your puppy from biting you.

Why Do Puppies Bite?

It’s normal for puppies to use their teeth during play and exploration. Like human babies, it’s how they learn about the world, and it plays an important role in their socialization. And puppies are also going to chew on everything while they are teething.

Here are a few reasons why puppies bite.

Exploring the World

Puppies learn a lot from biting things, including other puppies, their owners, and inanimate objects. They receive sensory information about how hard they can bite that particular object, what it tastes like, and whether they should repeat that behavior or not.

Depending on the taste and consistency of the object, a puppy may continue to bite it.

When puppies explore their new home, you might catch them biting or chewing on furniture, rugs, carpeting, pillows, clothing, shoes, remote controls, window frames, door jambs, their crate, their bed, their food bowl, etc.

What to Do if Your Puppy’s Chewing Your Belongings

Give your puppy a wide variety of puppy toys to chew on, and pick up other household items within their reach that they could chew on.

If you see your puppy biting on inappropriate objects around the house, make a noise to get their attention and then distract them with a toy that they can chew on.

Schedule plenty of play sessions and exercise time with your puppy. If you do not give them enough mental stimulation, they may chew on random items just to keep themselves busy.

Puppy Teething

Adult teeth start to come in around 12-16 weeks of age, and during this time, you may see an increase in chewing on objects or on you. Your puppy’s gums may be a bit sore as they lose puppy teeth and adult teeth come in.

What to Do if Your Puppy’s Teething

Puppy teething toys can be offered when your puppy is old enough to teethe. These teething toys ease sore gums and are typically made with softer plastic so they won’t hurt the baby teeth or incoming adult teeth.

Supervise your puppy when they play with any toys to make sure that they do not chew off small pieces and swallow them.

Play Behavior

Some puppies will exhibit a play bow, and other puppies approach and nip or bite the other puppy’s leg to entice them to play. When puppies bite each other, they learn a very important skill: bite inhibition.

With play biting, puppies learn how much pressure they can apply with their teeth and what happens when they apply that amount of pressure.

For example, let’s say puppy A and puppy B are playing together. When puppy A bites too hard and causes pain in puppy B, puppy B will cry out and refuse to continue to play with puppy A. Puppy B may even move away from puppy A.

Through this interaction, puppy A learns that if he bites that hard, other puppies won’t play with him. So puppy A makes his play bites softer so they don’t provoke pain and cause other puppies to leave.

Some puppies may learn through a one-time process, while other puppies need multiple play sessions with multiple puppies to learn to soften their bite.

Your puppy will try to engage in play by biting you because, to them, this is part of normal dog behavior. When this happens, you will have to teach your puppy not to bite in terms that they understand.

What to Do if Your Puppy’s Biting You to Play

Never encourage your puppy to nip at you by enticing them to chase your hands or toes. Soon enough, your puppy will get older and their teeth will be sharper. The puppy nip that used to be harmless will turn into a bite that is no longer fun and playful.

If your puppy bites to start play or during play, make a high-pitched noise and immediately stop interacting with your puppy. Move away from your puppy or go briefly into another room and close the door – especially if your puppy is persistent in their behavior.

Repeat this every time your puppy bites you, and they will soon learn not to bite. Without this feedback, your puppy will not learn how to temper their bite when playing with you.

Tips for Stopping Puppy Biting

While puppy biting is a normal part of their development, it’s important that you manage the behavior appropriately. You need to be patient, persistent, and consistent. If you are frustrated by your puppy’s behavior, seek professional help from your vet or a vet behaviorist.

Here are some tips for success in stopping your puppy from biting you.

Avoid Harsh Verbal or Physical Corrections

Verbal and physical corrections do not teach your puppy how to behave; they only teach a puppy to suppress a behavior. Using punishment to train your puppy will lead to fear and anxiety.

Give Your Puppy Age-Appropriate Toys

  1. Start off with a good supply of various puppy-safe toys, such as soft rubber toys, a puppy-sized rubber ball, a rope toy, and a stuffed toy with a squeaker.

  2. Encourage your puppy to play by showing them the toy and rolling or moving the toy around.

  3. Whenever your puppy grabs onto the toy, offer plenty of verbal praise.

  4. If your puppy grabs your hand or clothing, do not immediately pull back. Instead, make a yelp and move away.

  5. If the puppy follows you and continues to bite your feet, ankles, or legs, leave the room briefly and close the door. It will send a clear message that every time your puppy bites you, you will stop interacting with them.

  6. Wait 10-20 seconds, then come back out.

  7. When your puppy comes running to you, immediately engage them with a toy.

Pretty soon, they will learn that it’s more fun to bite the toys instead of you.

Redirect Your Puppy’s Attention With Training Cues

If you have started teaching your puppy some basic training cues, you can also redirect your puppy to perform alternate behaviors.

  1. Every time your puppy bites, make a noise to distract them.

  2. When you have a break in the biting behavior, immediately redirect them to perform nonbiting behaviors, such as sit, stay, come, etc.

  3. Offer your puppy plenty of praise and tasty treats to reinforce those behaviors.

Try Puppy Socialization Classes

Attending puppy socialization classes is also a helpful and crucial part of your puppy’s education.

In class, they learn to interact with puppies of different sizes, breeds, and sexes. Puppy classes also provide a controlled environment where they can learn from interactions with other puppies what is appropriate play behavior and what is not acceptable.

Nipping and Biting in Adult Dogs

It is much easier to teach bite inhibition to a puppy whose jaw does not apply a lot of pressure. Otherwise, you will be dealing with a dog that may bite hard enough to cause bruising and abrasions or punctures.

If you do not teach your puppy bite inhibition and provide them with appropriate objects to chew on, they will grow into an exuberant adolescent dog that may be more difficult to manage.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t help them learn bite inhibition when they are older. These same concepts can be taught to adolescent and adult dogs that have not learned bite inhibition as puppies.

If your juvenile or adult dog is biting you hard enough to break the skin, seek the help of a behavior specialist, such as a veterinary behaviorist (a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists or DACVB) or certified animal behaviorist (CAAB).

Featured Image: iStock.com/chris-mueller

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