It seems cute and harmless, at first, to let a puppy bite during play. But for the long term, if you treat your puppy’s play-biting as fine and cute, the dog will grow up to believe that biting, nipping and mouthing at you is … fine and cute.
So, in this article, I’ll explain how to stop a puppy from biting for the long term.
Nipping and biting during teething is normal. Puppies need to exercise their teeth by chewing on things. They need to do this. However, you need to work during this period to teach them to inhibit the strength of the bite so they aren’t bearing down, and to redirect some of this habit on to their toys.
First, let’s start with a few of the basic principles that come into play with all behavioral problems, including the problem puppies biting and mouthing people, and the wrong objects.
- Biting and nipping are perfectly natural behaviors for a puppy who hasn’t learned otherwise yet. Your dog wasn’t born knowing the rules. Be patient, and don’t be disappointed in yourself or your dog.
- It all starts with laying the proper groundwork for socialization, and when you stop a puppy from biting, that’s part of socialization. Your puppy will grow up knowing there are social consequences of their actions, which they deserve the chance to learn.
- When dealing with a puppy who won’t stop biting and mouthing you, never strike your dog – not even softly, because soft slaps can be mistaken for play.
- In all dog training, encourage the right behavior, rather than discouraging the wrong behavior. The best punishment if your dog bites you, is to simply stop interacting immediately. On the other hand, if he does not bite you, reward that with continued play and praise.
- While figuring out how to stop a puppy from biting, avoid certain types of play. Don’t take part in any play that can be misinterpreted by your dog as a game of aggression or dominance-and-submission. That will lead to the temptation to bite.
- Make sure during the period when you are actively training your dog to stop biting, that everybody who comes into contact with the puppy is aware of that training process and knows what to do if the puppy bites or nips.
Another possibility is that biting may be an attempt to challenge your authority or establish their own sense of self. Just like any adolescent, this challenge is common during a phase of early life. If your dog is biting you to assert dominance and replace you as the alpha of the pack, deal with that immediately.
There are two goals here: First, you want to discourage your puppy from biting hard, and later, discourage your puppy from biting people and animals at all. During teething, you might choose to only respond when the puppy bites hard. Later, after teething, repeat the same process anytime they bite you at all.
If you want stop a puppy from biting even during teething, that’s fine. I encourage waiting until teething is over, but it’s no big deal. Since you are the alpha leader, the puppy assumes their teething bites are “no problem” – the alpha is strong enough to ignore a teething pup. It’s your call.
- Respond to a bite with a squeak or yelp, or a firm “no” or “stop,” or some other consistent (and instant) response. Then, replace your hand with a chew toy or an ice cube.
- As part of socialization, it is very appropriate to yelp or complain when your puppy bites you. Even if it doesn’t hurt, act like it does. Your puppy’s instincts will kick in, and he will regret hurting a pack member. This method borrows a training advantage from the litter’s instincts. The puppy’s litter-mates would yelp when they’re in pain, and that is usually enough to stop the bite. Just let out a loud, sharp noise of pain the instant you’re bitten. Then, stop playing or socializing with your puppy for a short period of time in order to reinforce the fact that the bite was not good. After a bit of repetition with this technique, your puppy will realize that biting you will harm his social life.
- If you already have a “problem biter” puppy who is going beyond gentle nips and actually does hurt you, there are other things to try. This is a mild “punishment and prevention” technique that will stop their enjoyment of biting you. Place your thumb inside the dog’s mouth under their tongue and grasp the bottom of their jaw with the rest of your fingers. The puppy’s tongue will be forced between your thumb and his upper teeth. This is very annoying to the dog, and establishes your position as the commander of the situation, and forces them to bite their own tongue in order to bite you.
- Keep a bottle of water nearby with a spray nozzle at all times, and spray your dog with water any time he starts nipping at you. Alternatively, keep some kind of annoying noise-making device (not so loud that it hurts your puppy’s sensitive hearing) and create the unpleasant noise the instant you’re bitten. Accompany all these suggestions with a verbal command, such as “stop” or “no.” Make sure you provide the response instantly so that the simple-minded creature can’t inadvertently confuse your feedback as being related to something else. It only takes a few seconds for the puppy’s mind to wander.
If the above techniques aren’t working after a few weeks, you may have a puppy that’s more aggressive than normal. At this point, you might need to consider a professional dog trainer who’s more equipped to deal with serious behavior problems in dogs. In these cases, keep in mind that waiting for any length of time before taking the appropriate steps, can bring a risk that the behavior will be harder to train against.
In all cases, the basic tools of puppy training apply. All of the feedback, both positive and negative, needs to happen instantly during or within a few seconds after the problem occurs. Also, every manner of behavior control in dogs works best if it’s based on a solid foundation of positive training and socialization, so that the puppy trusts you, and expects to be trained.
I don’t really like these two options, but they’re worth mentioning because, in the end, they are relatively humane alternatives for puppies who are just plain mean about biting.
- Coat a glove in something non-toxic but which tastes horrible. Play with your dog using the other hand, but when he starts to bite you, present the stinky, yucky-coated glove to teach your dog that biting you “equals yuck.” This technique may or may not work for the long term, since a dog is smart enough to realize when you are, or aren’t, wearing that glove. It may end up thinking that you only want to discourage biting when the glove is on.
- Finally, the most extreme technique, which, to be honest, I don’t recommend anybody ever do: You might fit your puppy with a choke collar and give it a firm (but forgiving!) yank when biting occurs. This should only be used in cases where the dog is not responding to other, more-appropriate methods of training. Prolonged use of a choke collar can harm your relationship with your dog.