How To Stop Your Puppy From Biting
So you finaly got your new puppy home and one of the first things you’re going to ask yourself (trust my i know 😂😜) - “why is he/she biting so much?” Well either that or “what in the hell have I gotten myself into bringing that fluffy pirana home?!” Trust me, you’re not alone. Puppies are a handful, and their constant biting can be extremely frustrating.
Training your puppy to stop biting is not a fun or quick process. I’m not going to sugarcoat it🥴. It takes a lot of patience and CONSISTENCY, and some dogs take longer to train than others (my personal worst was 13 months of nibbling😟😕). But don’t worry — there is hope for all owners and puppies. And no just getting your new puppy to chew on something appropriate (like an awesome, in your not puppy’s opinion, kong toy), won't stop him/her from using your limbs as a chew toy. You will need to teach your new bundle of joy about what is appropriate to chee and what's not. Without that teaching moment (well quite a few of them, remember consistency), your puppy won't know the difference. I’ll let you on a breere’s secret - Puppies Are Jerks — That’s Why They’re So Cute 😜
First, let's look into WHY DO PUPPIES BITE SO MUCH anyway?
Well, puppies are just like babies in a few ways; they’re curious, they can be fussy, and they’re just starting to learn about the world around them. And guess what they use to explore this new world? Yep, those sharp little teeth of theirs (if you have a two-legged little one of your own you would know that's the first place where anything and everything found or got into those little munchkins' hands would be their mouth-the most sensitive and full of nerve receptors part of the little body). Puppies bite everything, and they bite a lot, and some breeds tend to bite more than others. It’s their way of exploring and learning about the people and things that surround them. While it might be funny for a minute it gets old pretty quick, especially if you’re the one on the receiving end.
Sure their littermates and mom (and maybe a dad here and there as well) taught them a few things, but now it’s up to you to continue the teaching process. And that includes teaching them not to bite humans. Because in the puppy world slaughtering your needle-sharp teeth on your brother or sister’s tail was fun! Not so much with mom’s tail as a mom, no matter how patient she is, will let the pup know right away what's appropriate and what's not by snapping right back at them (here you go that's the dog family teaching moment).
So teaching your puppy not to bite would be one of the first things you’re going to want to work on, especially if you have small children (nibbling puppy and crying baby or toddler in tantrums is not fun at all, I know I've been there 🥴). I will be very bland with you here- training a puppy isn’t on my list of fun and enjoyable activities. IT’S A LOT OF HARD WORK and as I said puppies are jerks (yes really I do mean it). There’s a reason why puppies are so cute and that sole reason is to keep us from harming them. Rings a bell? Yup just like babies. I can tell you that as a mom of three most wonderful and handful full daredevil kids. But once again trust me here, It doesn’t take long for the cuteness of a puppy to wear off as you find yourself constantly prying their mouth off of everything.
Ok, so you made it through my post intro! 🥳 Let's chat dog science terms (well at least one)-BITE INHIBITION
Bite inhibition is a learned response where your puppy or dog consciously inhibits the force of his/her bite. In the dog training world, bite inhibition is defined as a dog’s ability to control the pressure of his mouth when biting, to cause little or no damage to the subject of the bite.
Puppies start learning this behaviour at a young age from their litter mates and mother, but now you have to fill in the gaps.
Your puppy already has a decent foundation of this behaviour as puppies initially learn bite inhibition while still with their mom and littermates, through negative punishment: the pup’s behaviour makes a good thing go away. If a pup bites too hard while nursing, the milk bar is likely to get up and leave. Pups learn to use their teeth softly, if at all, if they want the good stuff to keep coming. As pups begin to play with each other, negative punishment also plays a role in bite inhibition. If you bite your playmate too hard, he’ll likely quit the game and leave. But now that you are your puppy’s new family and he/she has no idea how to behave around you and what are the appropriate bounders as those boundaries aren’t set and reinforced. So you have to work from scratch (I told you its a lot of work right?😎) and teach your puppy the wanted or desired behaviour. Ideally, you want to teach your pup not to exert pressure when mouthing by the time he/she is five months old, just as his/her adult canine teeth are coming in, and before he/she develops adult-dog jaw strength. So the good news is that biting behaviour isn’t permanent, the bad news is that it’s not always easy to train your puppy (or any puppy) out of their biting behaviour (not to mention how much those puppy teeth hurt 🥴😖). Word of experience, with us humans children, each puppy is different, and some will require more consistency to break this nasty habit than others.
Three Steps To Teach Your Puppy Not To Bite
I told you that I'm not gonna sugarcoat this — teaching your puppy not to bite takes a while. Your pup won't gonna catch on in one day and be done with it. And you better make sure your whole family is on board with the training process. Don’t let dad rough house with your pup and then expect him/her to calm down and be on his/her best behaviour immediately afterwards. Teaching your puppy not to bite takes consistency and patience from everyone involved.
When your puppy bites hard enough to cause you pain, say “Ouch!” in a calm voice, gently remove your body part from his/her mouth, and take your attention away from him/her for two to five seconds. You’re using negative punishment, just like the pup’s mom and littermates. If he/she continues to grab at you when you remove your attention, put yourself on the other side of a baby gate or exercise pen. When he/she is calm, re-engage with him/her.
Puppies (and adult dogs, and humans) learn through repetition. It will take time, and many repetitions of Step #1, for your pup to learn to voluntarily control the pressure of his bite. Puppies do have a very strong need to bite and chew, so at first you’ll “ouch and remove” only if he bites down hard enough to hurt you. Softer bites are acceptable -for now. If you try to stop all puppy biting at once, both of you will become frustrated. This is what is called a “shaping” process.
At first, look for just a small decrease in the pressure of his teeth. When he voluntarily inhibits his bite a little -enough that it’s not hurting you -start doing the “ouch and remove” procedure for slightly softer bites, until you eventually shape him not to bite at all. By the time he’s eight months old he should have learned not to put his mouth on humans at all, unless you decide to teach him to mouth gently on cue.
Your pup wants good stuff to stick around. When he discovers that biting hard makes you (good stuff) go away, he’ll decrease the pressure of his/her bite and eventually stop biting hard. This works especially well if you remember to reinforce him/her with your attention when he bites gently. It works even better if you use a reward marker when he/she uses appropriate mouth pressure. Given that your hands are probably full of puppy at that particular moment, use a verbal marker followed by praise to let him know he/she is doing well. Say “Yes!” to mark the soft-mouth moment, followed by “Good puppy!” praise to let him/her know he/she is wonderful.
You probably are well aware that there are times when your pup is calmer and softer, and times when he’s more aroused and more likely to bite hard. When your puppy goes to bite your hands or pant legs and it's pretty much inevitable as a moving target it’s even more exciting, redirect his/her attention to another object like a toy. This one you can even turn into a game! The one that will go like this: When your puppy bites you give him/her a toy instead. Move it around, make noises; do whatever you have to do to make that toy more exciting than biting those yummy fingers of yours.
It’s always a good idea to have soft toys handy to occupy your pup’s teeth when he/she is in a persistent biting mood. If you know even before he/she makes contact with you that he/she is in the mood for high-energy, hard biting, arm yourself with a few stuffies or chewing toys and offer them before he/she tries to maul your hands. If he/ she is already made contact, or you’re working on repetitions of Step #1, occasionally reinforce appropriate softer bites with a favourite squeaky toy play moment.
If your puppy won’t take the toy ignore him/her (kinda the same idea as the first step above☝️). And by ignoring him/her I mean to be still in this case because puppies like to chase stuff that moves — including your pant legs or hands. Now I know it sounds fairly simple, but resisting that urge to pull away quickly is tough. But those quick actions tend to get puppies even more riled up and excited, which leads to even more biting. The down part of this redirecting game is that you not teaching your puppy the bite inhibition itself as you are unable to control the bit strength. However, by using redirection you are teaching your puppy the difference between appropriate and not appropriate objects to play with.
A WORD OF ADVICE FROM A MOM OF THREE LITTLE CHILDREN 😎🤗
If you have children at home with a mouthy puppy, it’s imperative that you arm them with soft toys and have toys easily available in every room of the house, so they can protect themselves by redirecting puppy teeth rather than running away and screaming -a game that most bitey pups find highly reinforcing.
Lastly it is possible to SUPPRESS a puppy’s hard biting by punishing him/her when he/she bites too hard. That might even seem like a quicker, easier way to get him/her to stop sinking his/her canine needles into your skin. However, by doing so, you haven’t taught him/her to bite inhibition. If and when that moment comes where he/she really does feel compelled to bite someone, he/she is likely to revert to his/her previous behaviour and bite hard, rather than offering the inhibited bite you could have taught him/her.
Teaching Bite Inhibition Takes Patience! Don’t be completely discouraged if your pup is a bitey jerk, it’s just the way puppies are. Their one defence is their teeth so they’re going to use them.
If you praise enough when your puppy is behaving well and ignore him/her when he/she plays rough he/she’ll catch on. Trust me your puppy will start to understand the proper way to interact with his/her new human family (one that doesn’t involve sharp puppy teeth😜).
‼️What to NEVER Do if Your Pppy Bites‼️
Lots of new dog oners might think “no alpha-rolls” goes without saying by now, but I still see people with mouthy puppies who have had their trainers, dog walkers, dog-owning friends, veterinarians tell them to alpha-roll their bitey pups. Don’t do it. You are likely to elicit a whole lot more biting — truly aggressive biting — as your frightened pup tries to defend himself.
This might surprise you. It’s often suggested by positive trainers, some of whom I respect greatly, but I don’t recommend it. I used to practice it myself 🥴. But with new evidence and research, the theory that a high-pitched yelp makes you sound like a puppy in pain and communicates to your puppy in a language he understands cannot stand its grounds.
The fallacy with this theory is that we think our feeble attempt to speak “puppy” with our human yelp might really communicate the same message as a real puppy yelp – like trying to speak a foreign language by mimicking what we think the sounds are, without actually knowing any of the words. The high-pitched yelp is as likely to incite an excited biting puppy to a higher level of arousal (and harder biting) as it is to tell him he bit too hard and should soﬁen his mouth. Don’t do it. A calm “Ouch!” sends a much more consistent, useful, and universal message, which is simply, “That behaviour makes the good stuff go away.”
Hold the Dog’s Mouth Closed
Another classic bad idea. What self-respecting puppy wouldn’t struggle and try to bite harder with this inappropriate restraint? All the while, you’re giving your pup a bad association with your hands near his face, which isn’t going to help with grooming, tooth-brushing, mouth exams, or even petting. Don’t do it.
Push Your Fist Down His Throat
Seriously. For the same reasons as in the prior two suggestions, this is a really bad idea. Don’t do it.
Push His Lip Under His Canine Tooth So He Bites Himself
There really is no end to the inappropriate ways people can think up to try to change behavior. This is another one that has a strong possibility of causing your pup to associate hands near his face with pain. Don’t do it.
Bite Your Puppy Back
Yep, some folks actually recommend this. I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will anyway: Don’t do it.