Specific Puppy Challenges

How to Stop Puppy Biting: The Positive Reinforcement Way

 

 

Have you ever asked yourself this question: My puppy is biting a lot, so what should I do? If you are one of the many people who have, you probably recognize this scenario: You get your new puppy and they’re sweet and love to cuddle. After a few weeks, they are much more awake and want to play. Your pup uses both paws, their body, and their teeth when playing. Although it starts out adorable, it can become harmful if you don’t handle it correctly.

Almost every puppy owner shares the problem of puppy biting. It leaves you with a lot of problems, like:

  • Chewing and nipping can hurt your hands and fingers.
  • What if they bite someone else – perhaps a child or another dog?
  • The worry they will grow up to be an aggressive dog.
  • Even if you know this is just puppy-business, what will others think of your lovely puppy?

Therefore, you need to discover how to stop puppy biting. Most puppy owners have been there. And in 99 out of 100 cases, this is not a serious business, but natural puppy behavior. They bite to learn. It’s their way of exploring this new, big world. And of course, they are growing teeth and it itches, so biting helps.

But as you know, if a dog bites, it can be dangerous, no matter the reason. So, you need to deal with it, not because your puppy is mean and cruel, but simply because it is happening. Read on to get a better idea of why your puppy is biting. This will make it easier for you to understand how to stop puppy biting for good.

As a dog owner and trainer, I’ll also tell you how I get my puppies to be happy and trusted family members, not hairy little beasts nipping and biting everything and everyone.

 

Biting and Nipping: Understanding the Language of Puppies

How To Stop Puppy Biting: The Positive Reinforcement Way

 

It’s important to understand that biting is a part of your puppy’s language. It’s in their basic nature. All small puppies bite and chew. Your puppy nips and bites because they:

  • Teethe just like human babies, so they bite and chew to stop the itching. 
  • Bite and nip when they play.
  • Chew and bite to learn.
  • Mouth and bite you to get your attention (and it works!)
  • Nip and bite when they feel excited.

One puppy out of 100 bites because something is wrong. This pup might be sick or she may have been neglected before you got her. She might not be properly socialized or she might be in terrible pain. If this is the case, see a vet or a behavioral specialist. But remember that for the other 99 puppies out of 100 it’s natural to bite.

As puppies grow up, they normally mature together with their siblings. After the first weeks of their lives, they start exploring their surroundings, and this includes the other puppies. They investigate everything using their mouths and noses – and most of their clumsy little bodies, as well.

When a pup is with their siblings, they explore and play at the same time, using their entire body, including their mouth. The last time I had a litter, I kept two puppies and watched how their playing evolved. At the age of 18 months, they normally play with their mouth open. They seldom bite at each other and if they do, it’s a kind and gentle nip.

But when they were little puppies, they often bit each other hard and fiercely. This was not an act of cruelty, but simply because they didn’t know any better. The fact is, puppies learn by doing, just like human babies do.

Puppies can’t and don’t use logic or think things over. They have their instinct and besides that, they try what is the best thing to do. As a result, they gain experience. And experience together with instincts will guide them in their future.

So, my puppies were not only playing, they were learning. And their biting was a part of playing, but they didn’t know their bite would hurt their brother or sister. But they found out because a hard bite was followed by a loud cry of pain.

Biting helps puppies explore their own strengths and most likely figure out who is the strongest. But, biting is also to learn about other puppy’s or dog’s limits. Because at the same time the bitten one cries, the one biting will let go and look surprised at the one crying. If you get the chance to observe this behavior, it’s obvious pups don’t know how hard they bite. Not in the beginning.

 

What Happens When Humans Interfere

Remember, at the age of seven to eight weeks, your puppy is still a baby. But, they are a baby with sharp teeth and a baby who misses the old family and seeks a new. Your puppy’s new family is you, their humans. And how lucky you are to be that new family.

But this also means you are now the subject of playing and testing boundaries. And the puppy plays with you as they did with their siblings. Puppies explore, investigate, and yes, they bite. At this point, it is important to know that your puppy means no harm. They just play, grow and learn.

Most importantly, your puppy will learn what to do based on how you react – like she did when she bit her siblings too hard. So if you react the wrong way, she’ll learn something wrong. This means that you should NOT yell at or hit your pup because she bites. This policy will only teach your puppy not to trust you, and this knowledge will mark her forever.

As you might know, what puppies learn in their first four months will stay with them for the rest of their lives. So if you don’t react, your puppy will learn that we don’t mind the biting, so your pup will keep biting and even harder. So this is not the right way to react either.  

The lesson here is: Neither pushing your puppy nor doing nothing at all is the way to react. But what then to do?

 

How to Stop Puppy Biting – Doggy Style

How To Stop Puppy Biting: The Positive Reinforcement Way

 

Instead of being angry or doing nothing, you must show your puppy what you will accept. No matter what you do, your puppy will bite or nibble. This is normal puppy behavior, so they can’t help it. This is where you can set the stage and play with your pup by keeping your hand at their body. At some point your puppy will bite – this is how they play, remember? Here’s what to do:

  • When your pup bites you, make a high startled sound, much like a puppy being hurt.
  • Freeze and keep still for a moment – then she’ll let go.
  • To show your puppy that she went too far don’t touch or speak to her for half a minute or so.
  • When you eventually do, be calm and gentle.
  • If she now goes back to playing without biting you must remember to praise her to mark that this is what you want.
  • If she continues to bite, repeat the steps above.
  • You can repeat this exercise three times, but if your pup just keeps biting, she is probably too excitet do learn. Give her a time out and some privacy in her crate or another limited area where she can not reach you.
  • You need to resolve this, so repeat this exercise again the next day until your pup understands you don’t allow her to bite.

Don’t pull your arm or hand away if your puppy has sunk her teeth in you. If you do, it’ll be a contest of who is strongest, and she’ll become even more excited. Your pup will feel as if you are playing a game of tug o’ war, with your arm as the thing to tug, so keep still. At this stage, it’s important to remember that your puppy is not cruel or angry. She is playing with you, testing her strength and boundaries.

Follow these steps, if for any reason your puppy will not let go, even if you cry out:

  • Take her by the collar and hold her still
  • In no terms, should you touch, look or talk to your pup in any way. Just ignore her.
  • Be sure not to hurt or intimidate your puppy. You just want to prevent her from tugging and, most importantly, getting your attention.
  • When your puppy finally lets go, make sure to let her know you don’t want to touch or speak to her – you want to show her that she went too far.
  • This step is the most important. Turn away from your puppy and ignore her. Don’t pay her any attention, as this is probably what your pup really wants. By not giving it to her, you teach her this is not the right way to get your attention. It is crucial to avoid giving your dog any attention, even bad attention.
  • If your puppy is so wound up that you can’t reach her and make her calm down, give her a timeout in her crate or put her outside in the hallway for a short time. Adopting this privacy policy is helpful for training dogs who won’t or can’t calm down easily. Learn more about crate training

Giving your puppy a timeout by putting her in her crate your pup will learn that when she plays this rough, she will have to be isolated. In time, your puppy will choose not to bite because she loves you and you’re her family.

Remember to Give Your Puppy a New Chance

Remember that a timeout is just a short while, so your puppy is not sent to her crate to stay there for long. I believe that puppies (and dogs as well) learn the best if given the opportunity to make a choice and you then react to their choices. Either reward your puppy for good behavior or ignore the bad. Never scold, shout or hit – just ignore. And praise when your puppy gets it right. Give treats, play with her or just cuddle. Reward your puppy in any way you can.

With this mindset, you don’t have to tell your puppy not to bite. Instead, when your puppy bites, you just let her know about her poor choice by staying still. This is the consequence of your pup’s action. If she keeps biting, you let her into her crate for a timeout. She’ll be excluded from the community. This is a severe consequence.

On the other hand, it’s very important to remember to praise and reward your pup when she gets it right. So let her out of the crate when she is calm and give her a new chance to play without biting or to only bite what you allow, like a bone or chew toy. Now reward! It’s important that your pup knows the consequence of all her actions, good and bad.

How to Prevent Puppy Biting Altogether

How To Stop Puppy Biting: The Positive Reinforcement Way

Here is some valuable information to help you prevent puppy biting before it becomes a big problem.

It starts before you get your puppy. Today we often get a puppy when it’s seven or eight weeks old, but your work in securing a healthy puppy should start months before that. If you want to make sure that your animal is sound and well, buy your puppy from a good breeder or a trusted shelter. Find a caring breeder or shelter who is in it for the dog’s sake and not just for profit. Someone who loves the dog and her puppies will take their responsibilities seriously.

If you do not do your job, you could end up with a puppy who has been born in a stable and who has never seen humans or even been outside. For such a puppy, there is so much new, so much to fear – and maybe even a real cause to bite.

Learn to play the game – both of you. If you have done your homework to find your new puppy, your new best friend should be a trusting and loving puppy. Puppies are so ready to be a member of your family, which means playing with you. But if your pup gets too wild, she might not be able to avoid biting. Remember, it’s the way your pup plays and learns. So, always pay attention to her level of arousal.

Puppies learn the best if they are excited, but not overly excited. You must make sure that your puppy is always in the right state of mind for learning and being happy. This is even more important if you have children around your puppy. Although you may want them to get along and have fun, you must also teach your children not to play too wildly with the new puppy.

In my experience, it’ll always end up being the puppy’s fault if something goes wrong and frankly, that’s not fair. So, be careful and wise, instead of being sorry. Be aware that puppies will use their mouth. My puppies use their mouths with me when they are excited, but I never allow them to bite. Does that sound strange? It isn’t.

As mentioned previously, my puppies play with their mouths open without biting down. In the same way, they hold my hand. So, they open their mouths around my hand but never bite – the same way they play with each other. Most dog breeds can learn bite inhibition.

Set your puppy up for success by diverting their attention. When at all possible, set your puppy up for success. Instead of waiting for her to bite, divert her attention. Observe your pup’s actions, so you know how she reacts in all situations. This way you will recognize when there is a danger, and before anything happens, you can calm your puppy either by calming your own body language or asking her to do a sit or something else.

You can also divert her attention with a ball or something else you will allow her to bite. Make it possible for her to be excited and still have success. In my opinion, puppies often bite because they get excited. They simply get so happy and overjoyed, they can’t control themselves.

 My Dog Atlas: A Real-World Example

My dog Atlas is a fine example of this. When I come home, even if I have just been gone for a few hours, he gets extremely excited. He wants to show me in every possible way how glad he is to see me, and how much he wants to be with me. This also happens if we have visitors he knows and loves.

I figured out how to help him keep a bit calmer and never bite or nip.

We have a box full of toys by the door. They are puppy toys we only allow when someone is at the door. So, the toys keep on being super exciting for him. And when I come home the first thing I do is to offer Atlas one of the toys.

He accepts it gladly because he loves it, but also because he wants to use his mouth. And he runs around me, happy and excited, holding the toy in his mouth. Having to concentrate about this toy, he calms down a bit. And I praise him and reward him for not jumping or biting, even though he so wants to get much closer.

See here for yourself – it’s a bit of a show.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuhjlhVbhgM[/embedyt]

So, if your puppy gets excited when visitors come, you can help her learn not to bite. Just have something she can hold in her mouth, such as a ball, squeaky toy or chew toy. You can even make your own dog toys for free.

When someone knocks on the door, let your pup hold the ball in her mouth. This will prevent her from biting while giving her a job to do. Remember to praise your puppy when she succeeds in calming down in the first minutes of the visit.

It’s important and well done, so let your puppy know you approve. You can use a similar approach every time your puppy gets excited. Divert her attention. Make her do a job for you. Make her focus on something else. Help her learn to calm herself.

 

Help Your Puppy to Succeed

How To Stop Puppy Biting: The Positive Reinforcement Way

Oh yes, puppies are one big bundle of joy and they are fantastic. Youngsters should be allowed to be youngsters, but just not the biting thing. But, as long as your puppy is a puppy, she’ll have a ton of energy. And to make sure your pup doesn’t vent by biting you, you must help her learn to let off steam in a positive way.

The key is to be consistent and patient.

Never allow your puppy to bite you. You can accept some mouthing, as I do, but take a stand in this matter, so your puppy experiences the techniques outlined above. In addition to those, here are some additional tips:

  • A puppy needs to get outside. A puppy needs to use her body, and most importantly her head. So, be sure to exercise your puppy. Let her get tired and be sure to use mind games too. They will tire your puppy out just as much as running. Teach your puppy new things, but also train her in what she already knows. Check out this post on how to train your dog to pay attention to you with more than 1,600 social shares.
  • Make sure to walk your puppy as often as you can. You don’t have to walk for a long time, but being outside and experience new things will tire her out. If it is not a pleasure to walk your dog, read my tips on teaching your puppy loose leash walking. These top tips were shared more than 1,100 times and they could make walking your dog thoroughly enjoyable.
  • Your puppy needs time off the leash. Bring her to a place where she can meet other puppies and wrestle with them, but always be careful that no one gets hurt. Meeting other puppies is of course physically hard, but it is also mental work and she’ll be exhausted afterward. 
  • Make a schedule, stick to it and be consistent. Train your puppy every day for five to 10 minutes, two to three times a day. Keep your pup occupied. Keep her focusing on you, learning that you are her trainer and not an equal. If you need inspiration for exercises, check out my article on how to teach your dog to pay attention to you.
  • Exercise your pup’s mind and body at the same time. At feeding time, let your puppy work for her food. If you have a lawn, spread her food on it and let her search and find it. If you do not have a lawn, try hiding the food around your apartment or house. The important point is to combine training the mind and exercising the body when feeding time. It’ll take your dog longer to eat, but it’s good for her digestion and it’ll bring her joy and exercise, which is a win-win.
  • Give your pup exercises she can do alone. Hide treats in a toy. You can buy one, like a Kong, or you can make one. Make sure your dog knows how to handle it and just leave her alone with it. She will not miss you until it’s empty.

 

Can You Stop a Puppy From Biting?

Yes, you can teach your puppy not to bite as she grows up. Sure, all puppies bite, but never to be mean. They are not cruel. Keep in mind that biting is just a part of your puppy’s language and in time she’ll learn not to use that language when she is with you and other humans.

If you always remember why your puppy bites, you’ll know what to do. You’ll know how to help your puppy grow up to be a wonderful, loving and self-confident dog who believes in humans and never wants to bite them.

Use this knowledge to be a good dog owner.

Support your puppy by helping her find other ways to show her enthusiasm. Take responsibility and divert her when she is tempted. Train your pup to let off steam gently with toys and treats, or a job to do.

 

Have You Found Value in This Post?

If your answer is yes, let me know in the comments and share this with a fellow dog owner on Facebook, Pinterest or by email. I spend a lot of time making these posts for dog owners like you and I would be really happy if you in return would give me feedback – it’ll only take a few seconds. I would love to hear more about your experiences with puppy biting in the comments.

 

 

How to Stop Puppy Biting – FAQs

Is it dangerous to be bitten? Yes, even if the bite is not a brutal one. The bad news is, if the dog’s teeth go through the skin, it can be dangerous. You can get tetanus, for example. So, if you buy a puppy, make sure to have an updated tetanus shot. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Is a dog who has been allowed to bite as a puppy more likely to bite as an adult? In my opinion, yes. When we teach our dogs to do something or not to do something, it becomes natural for them. So, if you allow your dog to bite from the beginning, they will have no impulse control at the moment they might want to bite – for real.

How do I know if my pup’s biting is due to excitement or something else? Observe your puppy. Make notes on when and in what situation they bite. If in doubt, talk to your vet.

What can I do if the biting is due to something else? As mentioned before, puppies are not mean. In fact, 99 out of 100 times a puppy bites, it’s because they are excited or simply just “talking.” But, a puppy can bite for other reasons. They can be sick and in pain, or want to defend themselves. They can be scared, not know who to trust or feel all alone in the world. A bite in this situation is also a defense.

If an owner misunderstands a puppy in this situation they may reinforce this behavior. In time biting will be something completely different and the poor dog’s life will be full of mistrust, pain, and disappointments. So, be sure to go see a vet. They’ll help you the rest of the way, by either curing the dog or sending you off to a reputable dog trainer.

What if I can’t get hold of my puppy when they bite? Ignore them – this is a severe consequence. Don’t talk to them, yell or anything. Don’t try to catch them, because that would make their day. They will think you are playing catch. Just ignore them. When your puppy eventually comes to you, crate them. This is not to punish them, as crating is not a punishment, but a way to make sure you can keep on not talking to them. When you let your pup out, be sure to be calm and in control of your emotions.

When will my puppy grow so old that they’ll be wiser? It depends. Do you train your puppy? Do you show your pet not to bite and what they can do instead? If not, your pup will keep biting to get your attention. In time, your pup may be more mature and calm, and perhaps the biting will stop, but why wait it out? What if your dog comes into contact with a child before they learn not to bite? This is why you need to train them.

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12 Comments


  1. Stephanie

    August 2, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    Fantastic article with great advice for new puppy owners! I have found some puppies to be more persistent biters than others which can be frustrating for new owners not as experienced with this phase. Pinning right now!

    • Lene Kaufmann

      August 4, 2017 at 6:12 am

      You’re right, it IS pretty frustrating not knowing what to do, so thank you so much for sharing 🙂

  2. Barb combs

    August 10, 2017 at 9:08 pm

    Thank u so much this really helped me out a lot I now understand why my 4 month old German Shepard bites he is getting better but we still have a way to go

    • Lene Kaufmann

      August 11, 2017 at 4:56 pm

      I’m so glad you have found value in my training advice and I’m glad he is getting better – this is all due to you, way to go!! Remember that training is a process, so stay patient and consistent and it will end very well, I’m quite sure 🙂

  3. Val Stokes

    August 30, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    Thanks for your awesome information. Coco is my 4 months boxer mix and she has all the puppy traits mentioned. Will put your suggestions into play. Thanks again.l

    • Lene Kaufmann

      September 5, 2017 at 6:48 pm

      4 months… Oh, you have so much fun ahead of you! Just keep working with her and let her know how to play – and how NOT to play – that will make a huge difference. All the best to you and Coco 🙂

  4. J M

    February 4, 2018 at 4:52 am

    We just adopted an eight week old English Pointer/Lab puppy, Rex. He has so much energy and whenever we play it comes to a point where he uncontrollably starts biting me all over. He doesn’t just go for my hands but he goes for arms, legs, calves, everything that’s near him. I tried not moving but the problem is that it’s not just one bite that I could “sit out”, it’s a crazy going puppy that goes for whatever part of the body, multiple times (tugging) and if I get up and walk away he just follows me and goes for my legs. I can ignore him for a minute and when I come back to play he starts biting again. His teeth go under my skin and his bites have caused several bleeding wounds (they are little, but still bleeding). I have read dozens of articles that advice puppy parents to just “freeze” and wait until he let’s go by himself, but what if that doesn’t work for my Rex? I am seriously frustrated and scared that this problem will become an even bigger one once he gets older. I saw that you have Pointers as well and I thought maybe you could help me! One thing that might be important to mention is that his mommy died when he was three weeks old, that’s when the whole litter was brought to a shelter. I have read that when they get separated too early from their mom they can have lifelong behavior problems. I give him plenty of exercise, long walks in different parks several times a day and he has numerous toys. He is definitely not bored.

    • Lene Kaufmann

      February 6, 2018 at 5:14 pm

      First of all, congratulations on your new puppy! And congratulations to Rex too – how lucky is he, finding a caring home so soon. Now to the issue at hand (and my apologies, this is going to be a long answer… 🙂 ) But first of all; don’t worry! There is nothing unnormal here, he’s just a puppy and they sometimes get too excited – this happens to all puppies. So what to do?
      1) Play more calmly. Stop before it gets out of hand. He can’t 🙂 If he becomes uncontrollably give him a time out in his cage.
      2) Do not exercise a puppy this young too much. He is still a baby, he is not ready for too much physical work
      3) Do exercise his mind – it is much more exhausting for a puppy (and a dog) than physical work and much more fun for both of you. 8 weeks old means that you can start teaching anything and you should. Just keep in mind that his attention span is very short and you can not demand that your puppy obeys. But you can give him an opportunity, a choice and when he chooses right, you can reward him. Look here for inspiration on games to play: https://www.kaufmannspuppytraining.com/get-dogs-attention/
      4) Ignoring a puppy biting can be difficult. In this blog post I describe how effectively to ignore your puppy, but in the blog post about stopping dogs from jumping up I actually show how to. Look under “Ignoring a dog, Atlas illustrates”: https://www.kaufmannspuppytraining.com/stop-dogs-jumping-easy-actionable-tips/
      I wish you the best of luck, please let me know how you are doing 🙂

  5. Lori

    February 11, 2018 at 9:39 am

    Thank you for this article. We brought our pointer puppy home at 8 wks and am eager to train her for hunting. We have a ways to go as she’s ALL puppy right now but is doing well with potty training but horrible with crate and no bite training. We’re trying our best to stick with it. Any tips or pointers on hunting training you can pass our way?

    • Lene Kaufmann

      February 11, 2018 at 11:06 am

      Congratulations! So many fantastic hours of working with your puppy and hunting with the dog she becomes lies ahead of you – it will be amazing!
      The first and most important tip I’ll pass on is to make sure to train your recall, again and again, making it a habit of hers to come every single time you call. Please find inspiration here for how to train this https://www.kaufmannspuppytraining.com/train-puppy-come-called-puppy-recall/
      Of course, this is important for all dogs but a pointer will have to work far away from you and will of course be tempted out there (to chase rabits or deers or birds… you can probably imagine) So start training this at once. Also, it’s important that she learn how to make the right decisions herself. Start this training now as well; https://www.kaufmannspuppytraining.com/get-dogs-attention/
      Actually, you need to have a puppy so completely well-mannered before you start training her on the field – she’ll know all about hunting when she gets out there, it’s in the genes. And if you awaken this before she knows always to come when you call, you will be in trouble 🙂

  6. Ajeng Ayu

    March 12, 2018 at 1:03 pm

    What little attention does a pet like to enjoy?

    • Lene Kaufmann

      March 16, 2018 at 7:01 pm

      Oh, attention… All puppies love to learn! Train your puppy, making her use her head and she’ll love you forever! Please look here for inspiration: https://www.kaufmannspuppytraining.com/get-dogs-attention/
      But also you should make the most of the times when your puppy is a bit tired. Stroke her gently, touch her legs, paws, nails, ears, teach etc. you are bonding, but also it will make it so much easier in the future to check her ears for infection, do a nail trim, check her paws and so on

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