Your brand-new puppy may have the sweetest little face you’ve ever seen, but he also has a full set of razor-sharp baby teeth. While you might tolerate the nipping at first and even think it’s kind of cute, let’s be honest—it hurts. It also becomes more of a problem the longer it goes on and the bigger your dog gets, especially if you have a large-breed dog. But we have some good news: This is only a phase…as long as you teach your puppy some manners. So, how can you stop a puppy from biting, and why does it happen, anyway? We asked the experts for the answers to these questions so you can eliminate the bad behavior and get back to enjoying your new fur baby.
Why do puppies bite?
Puppies explore and experience the world with their mouths. This means that everything they come in contact with, including human fingers and toes, will eventually be subjected to mouthing, nipping, or biting. They are also exuberant and full of energy. These two typical puppy traits often translate into rough play, as well as biting behavior. This does not mean you have a vicious-dog-in-training on your hands. It means you have a normal puppy who loves to do normal puppy stuff—and who needs to be trained and socialized not to nip. Unless your dog has had bad experiences and is fearful of people or their environment, he is not biting out of self-defense or trying to inflict pain. Here’s the thing: How to stop a puppy from biting has everything to do with you and what you teach him is acceptable. Letting your puppy bite you during play (or ever) is one of the puppy-training mistakes lots of new dog owners make—and regret later.
Chew on this
Just like human babies, puppies go through a teething phase. And, just like babies, they try to soothe their irritated, painful gums by chewing on anything they can fit into their mouths. “Puppy biting is universal,” says Ali Mason, DVM, Medical Director at VCA Hope Animal Hospital. “All puppies bite, simply due to teething. The most aggressive teething phase for puppies is between two and six months old.” Where puppies and human babies should differ is in your response to their teething behavior. Dr. Mason cautions that you can’t stop teething in puppies altogether, but stresses that you can teach your puppy not to bite you. Biting due to teething should be treated the same way that biting during rough play and exploration is handled.
Arm yourself with chew toys
Puppies will be puppies, so rule #1 is to make sure they have things to bite, mouth, and chew that are approved by you for that use. It will be much harder to wean them off your fingers (and favorite shoes) if they don’t have toys of their own they can play with. “Chewing is a natural behavior for a dog, and it’s important to provide puppies with safe ways to chew, to help satiate that behavior,” says Erin Askeland, a certified professional dog trainer and canine behavior consultant at Camp Bow Wow. “Options may include safe bones, rubber items like Kongs, and stuffed toys designed for puppies. If they don’t have access to these items, puppies will find other things to chew and bite on.”
Simply having a chew-toy arsenal on hand is not enough, however. To solidify appropriate chewing behavior in your dog, always swap out what they shouldn’t be chewing on for an approved toy, suggests Gary Weitzman, DVM, president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society. Dr. Weitzman also suggests praising your puppy for chewing on appropriate items. “Puppies spend three to five hours a day chewing, so it’s incredibly important to leave appropriate items around the house for them to pick up and chew,” he adds.
How to train your puppy not to bite you
The following technique can also stop your puppy from biting, according to Jennifer Coates, DVM, an advisory board member for Pup Life Today. “To teach a puppy not to bite, act like another dog would if the puppy had bitten too hard during play,” she advises. “Shriek as if you are truly injured, walk away, and ignore your puppy. Go into a separate room and close the door if you have to. After a few minutes, you can play with your puppy again, but pick a game or toy that is unlikely to result in biting. Fetch is a good example.” If you follow this method, when should the biting stop altogether? Dr. Coates says that if playtime ends immediately every time your puppy puts his mouth on a person, the behavior should disappear fairly quickly. If it doesn’t, consult your veterinarian or a qualified behaviorist or trainer. This response should teach your puppy that human skin is sensitive and that nipping you will not get him what he wants the most—your love and attention.
Go on puppy play dates
When puppies are born, their littermates function as their first playmates. And it’s in this setting that puppies learn how to mouth appropriately. If a puppy chomps down on his brother or sister too hard during playtime, a yelp or temporary discontinuation of play will result. This is how puppies learn to stop biting early on. Not every puppy has this opportunity, though. Some are removed from their mothers and litters too soon, robbing them of the ability to experience early socialization and learning.
Whether your puppy was weaned too early or not, interaction with other puppies and adult dogs is a good way to teach this lesson now. “Puppies can learn from other dogs how to soften their bite for appropriate play. This is called bite inhibition,” explains Askeland. “It’s critical for puppies to learn to socialize with other dogs, in order for them to learn bite inhibition. Another dog may respond to a puppy’s too-hard bite by biting back, refusing to play, or running away. These responses are typically not desired by the puppy, so the puppy can learn that too hard of a bite causes him to lose the play and attention from the other dog.” Puppy play dates take more than just dropping your dog’s leash and telling him to go play. In fact, that’s one of the many common mistakes every dog owner makes.
Definite doggy don’ts
In addition to learning the dos of how to stop your puppy from biting, it’s also important to know the don’ts. According to Dr. Mason, these methods will not work—and may even make your puppy fearful and aggressive.
- Never hold your puppy’s mouth shut.
- Do not yell at your puppy.
- Do not punish your puppy with touch in any way.
- Negative reinforcement should not be used in an attempt to stop your puppy from biting.
Give your puppy time to learn
Remember that puppy biting is not abnormal and that it will resolve itself quickly if you are consistent in your training. Continue to play with your puppy, as these interactions will help to establish a loving bond between you. But if your furry little friend seems to be biting out of fear or anger, invest in a qualified dog trainer who has good reviews. Just a few sessions are often enough to stave off possible puppy problems so that your life together is one big treat. Is your pup doing some other head-scratching things? Here are 13 reasons behind your dog’s weird behavior.