Puppy biting is one of the major concerns of new puppy owners! I hear complaints about puppy nipping and puppy biting both online and in my puppy classes. These dog owners are usually begging for help on how to stop a puppy from biting.
Most puppies go through a puppy mouthing and play biting stage. It is natural and it is almost to be expected!
Why Do Puppies Nip and Bite?
The first step of how to stop a puppy from biting, is to understand WHY puppies bite.
Puppies are like toddlers, they have tons of energy in spurts (in between naps). And, like toddlers, they need stimulation; mental stimulation and learning and physical exercise during these energy spurts.
But, puppies don’t have hands nor do they speak our language or understand our rules of life and sociability (i.e. biting is bad).
When one puppy wants to play with another puppy, typically it playfully runs over play biting it on the face or neck and then runs away in the hopes of being chased. You can see this in puppy classes around our nation! Unfortunately, when your puppy wants to play with you he will try coming over and biting you, as well, so that you will engage him in play.
Puppies play with their teeth and they explore their environment with their teeth! I will again mention that they don’t have hands. Therefore, when they are young, their teeth go on seemingly everything to explore and to play.
Puppies also typically go through teething early on in their puppyhood. If you have ever had children or spent time around babies you know that teething can be painful, and uncomfortable. Like babies, puppies tend to mouth and chew on things and people in an attempt to find something to alleviate the discomfort.
As humans, we don’t typically like this behavior. Being nipped with sharp puppy mouths, hurts! I totally understand, I also hate being nipped and bitten by excited or teething puppies who are seeking attention.
But, before I get angry, I remind myself that my puppy is showing a natural behavior and he doesn’t understand my social rules. I must teach him that nipping, mouthing, and biting is unacceptable. I must also teach him acceptable alternative behaviors while providing him with mental stimulation and physical exercise.
Some people hate that I compare puppies to children, but I think it helps us to better understand what your puppy needs. For example, you wouldn’t expect a hyper toddler to sit still for hours on end with nothing to do. Most parents would make time to play with that toddler, give them something mentally simulating to do or take that toddler to the park to run off some energy.
Your puppy needs play sessions and mental stimulation as well. Your puppy is even less able to appropriately stimulate himself. He can’t watch videos on your IPhone, he can’t watch TV or listen to music, instead if he is not being entertained or played with by you; he is probably exploring his environment with his mouth. The last thing you want is a full grown dog that shows lack of impulse control and bad behavior.
With a little time and knowledge you will end up with a well trained, happy dog.
How to Stop a Puppy from Biting
Neither dogs nor humans are born with impulse control. We expect to teach our children that they can’t steal and that they can’t do whatever they want, whenever they want. A good child is in control of his impulses and knows that if he can maintain this control he will be rewarded and appreciated by his parents.
We must also teach our puppies impulse control! He should not be allowed to steal food, toys, clothes or things that are not his.
He must be taught not to jump on us and other people.
And, he must be taught that biting, nipping and mouthing is a behavior we don’t want.
Thankfully, if you play the game right, teaching your dog to control one impulse can help him to learn to control the rest of his impulses. It teaches him to listen and that he doesn’t have to reward himself with bad behavior; on the contrary, listening to you brings higher rewards (after all, you should be in charge of his food and toys).
Blue Buffalo makes some great dog training treats that are small, check them out here
The Food Game
Almost as soon as I bring my puppy home, I begin teaching my puppy “The Food Game”. I want my puppy to use his mind to get the things he wants. From here, I can easily teach him, by rewarding good behavior, what behaviors I want him to show.
Make him use his mind and behavior in order to be fed! Make it fun and he will love this game!
Put food in his bowl, show him the food and raise it above his head, and wait for him to sit. It is natural, as a puppy looks up and wants something for him to eventually sit.
If he barks, if he whines, if he jumps; ignore these behaviors and wait for him to sit.
When he sits, begin lowering the bowl to the floor.
Chances are he will get excited and pop back up and again begin jumping or running around. When he gets up, immediately raise the bowl.
Continue this process until he learns that his own action of sitting is what brings the bowl closer to the ground.
He will also learn that you like it when he sits and he will begin showing you the behavior more often. Win, win!
Obedience can begin pretty much the moment you bring your puppy across the threshold of your home.
In the olden days of coercion and correction, it was recommended that you wait until your puppy was about 6 months old before you began obedience. This was because strong corrections and pain can cause fear and shut down young puppies. However, this allows for many bad behaviors to begin and conditions your dog to these negative behaviors (making them much more difficult to change).
I believe in rewarding good behavior, and therefore avoiding these bad behaviors. I believe in conditioning (making a habit of) good behaviors. This gently teaches my dog which behaviors I like so that he may choose them more often.
Most dogs want to please us. And, often times we yell when our puppies are naughty but we rarely tell them when they have done something that we like.
For instance, how many people praise and treat their puppies when they sit or lie down on their own? All puppies sit and lie down, on their own, when they are tired. By marking and rewarding these behaviors both through praise and food rewards (or play) we are communicating to our puppies that we like these behaviors. Once the puppy learns that we like these good behaviors, and that the behavior he shows on his own can brings rewards he will choose these behaviors more often!
If every time you come to my house and sit down, quietly, I gave you $100; chances are you would come over often and sit quietly. You would learn what I like pretty quickly and you would be willing to continue showing the behavior.
This is called “capturing” and it is actually the strongest way to train or to get your point across to your dog, because the dog learns to be in control of his behaviors and actions without needing you to lure him or correct him. Once he learns to show certain behaviors you can add the cue or command to the behavior.
The CLik-R is a great resource for more hands off clicker training.
Many dog owners struggle with teaching their dog to lie down, however as mentioned above, every dog lies down when he is tired. If you mark and capture the behavior you are teaching the dog that the behavior of lying down is rewarding and it will be much simpler to get the behavior on command without any conflict!
Teaching obedience through marking and rewarding good behavior, teaches your dog to think, and believe it or not a dog that thinks and knows impulse control will nip and bite less. And, if he does begin biting and using his mouth, you can command him to show a more appropriate behavior so that he may be rewarded and engage your attention through obedience.
Exercise is crucial to raising a happy, healthy, non-biting puppy.
Remember my analogy about the toddler, earlier in this article. Imagine having a wound up, hyper toddler, but denying them exercise? You would probably end up with an angry, cranky toddler after a short period of time.
Why, then, would you expect a puppy to be any different?
First, if he is biting you, he is probably trying to engage you in play. Just like he would bite his littermates or other puppies, he puts his mouth on you to start the game. He doesn’t know that humans don’t want sharp puppy teeth on their skin.
Some of my favorite toys are balls on strings, I can throw them farther and make them more interesting than other balls. I even keep them on top of my fridge so when I get them out it means it is time for training! Check them out here.
Listen to Him
He is giving you information. He needs exercise and mental stimulation! Have you given it to him?
I always tell my clients to ask themselves, honestly, when their puppy misbehaves “Have you given him all the exercise and mental stimulation that he needs in order to be happy and tired?” `Chances are the answer is NO.
I asked a client this question just last week, because they are suffering from some bruised and cut skin from the rough nipping, and their answer was they were walking him three times a day. However what they mean by “walking” is taking him outside to go potty.
Dogs and puppies by nature are athletes! 1 mile, 2 miles is really nothing for your puppy! And, slow paces can be boring. Going for a brisk 3 mile walk might be just what the two of you need, a couple times a day.
Don’t have time to walk 6 or 9 miles a day? Add mental stimulation, obedience and training to his exercise regimen.
My dogs love to retrieve. I taught them from an early age that retrieving is fun, and it is great exercise. But, I require them to do certain obedience tasks before I throw the ball. Throwing the ball is the “jackpot” or reward, if you will.
My dogs must sit, down, give focus, heel, stand… you get the idea, and then they happily chase after their reward as quick as possible. A 20 minute session of retrieve and obedience can be exhausting for them, whereas I would have to walk upwards of 10 miles in order to wear them out!
Remember, a tired puppy is a good puppy. Find a way to exhaust him. And although I don’t want you to reward his nipping, I do want you to honestly assess if you have given him what he needs.
Rough play is another way to inadvertently encourage biting!
While over at a client’s house the other day, as I was talking to them I noticed their puppy go over to sit in the father’s lap. Upon admittance, the dad began to shake his muzzle and pat him in a frantic style. Of course, the puppy began to “play back” and was nipping and growling with excitement.
Rough play simulates what the puppy would do with his littermates.
Overstimulated puppies often bite.
Think about being over stimulated, the noises of the room swirling around you, you are excited; you are set up to have a hard time focusing.
Puppies who have trouble focusing often resort to biting, not in an aggressive way but more in a playful and run kind of way.
This is why exercise is so important.
It is more difficult to be overstimulated if you are tired.
It is also easier to control yourself if you are tired (but not over tired).
Obedience can also better control overstimulation. If your puppy begins to go wild running around with the zoomies; it is a lot easier if you can give them commands that they can follow so that they can refocus.
Focus and eye contact is also critical, because again to helps to slow the dog down and gives him something that he can be successful at achieving!
But when you need to give him exercise, check out Outward Hound’s Tail Teaser here.
Remember to be consistent!
Puppies learn through consistency.
If you play rough with him and get him overstimulated one day, he will be more likely to show these behaviors the next.
Puppyhood is all about control and learning.
Once he has learned his obedience and his impulse control, you can begin to change his expectations or his criteria (perhaps you want your puppy to only sit on one chair but not the other furniture) but not until he has learned control!
This is why it is critical that all members of your family are consistent and work consistently with the rules and training.
If you do this, you will end up with a happy and well adjusted adult dog!