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A guide to stopping puppy biting

The essentials

  • Dog training is extra important for puppies — From leash etiquette to manners at mealtime, dog training is one of the best ways to support your pup’s transition into your home.
  • Let your pup follow your cues — Consider playing carefully and safely to minimize biting behaviors, steering clear of roughhousing and aggression during play.
  • Dogs are never naturally “mean” — If you’re experiencing behavior issues, understand that no animal is born “mean-spirited.” Some have been mistreated or abused, leading to bad behavior later on.

As undeniably adorable as puppies can be, they have some not-so-pleasant habits that can be challenging to deal with — and one of those is biting. Puppies bite for a few reasons, whether they just want to play or they’re trying to soothe sore gums from teething

While puppy biting is a very common behavior, it needs to be addressed early so it doesn’t turn into an issue that carries into their adult years. Let’s dive into why puppies engage in this peculiar — and sometimes painful — behavior and how to stop it.

Why puppies bite

So why do pups nip at their owners? You can rest assured that it’s not because they’re inherently aggressive. If you’ve ever played with a puppy, you’ll know that biting is very normal. Just like human babies seem to put everything in their mouths, puppies will often bite at anything you put in front of them. Though it might be harmless while they’re young, biting is much less forgivable in adult dogs.

If your new puppy loves to bite, don’t fear. In most cases, biting and nipping are completely normal and can be curbed with proper dog training. We’ve put together a list of several reasons why your puppy may be chomping at everything — and what you can do to help, starting today.

  • Exploration. This is one of the most common reasons puppies bite. With so much of the world new to them, puppies rely on their senses to investigate new environments and objects. Since dogs don’t have hands, they usually use their mouth to handle something they’re interested in. By taking a little nibble, they can determine the texture and weight of the object and whether it tastes “good.”
  • Seeking play or attention. Since puppies can’t vocalize their needs, they may bite you to instigate playtime or get some affection. This behavior isn’t appropriate and should be discouraged whenever possible.
  • Teething. Puppies lose their baby teeth and grow in their adult teeth between three and six months of age. Like human babies, puppies might experience pain as their adult teeth grow in. To help alleviate the pain or remove the baby teeth on their own, puppies may chew or nibble.
  • Fear or frustration. Puppies may use biting as a defense mechanism when they feel threatened or upset. This can include being protective over certain items, although their instinct to nibble doesn’t have to be prompted by protection.
  • Hunger. A hungry puppy may bite at your hands and feet to try to communicate that they’re looking for food. If a feeding routine has been established, this isn’t the typical reason behind a puppy biting. 
  • Lack of exercise. A puppy who isn’t getting enough exercise might become aggressive. This pent-up energy can manifest through biting. Owners can get ahead of this by creating regular exercise schedules and investing in high-quality, high-stimulation toys to keep their pups occupied through all stages of development.
  • Neurological disorder. Medical problems can cause a dog to be overly aggressive. However, only a veterinarian can accurately diagnose these types of issues. Unfortunately, sometimes you can only manage the aggression, not train them out of it. Working with a vet can help you identify the best ways to support your dog, giving them alternative methods to help them thrive in your home.

How to stop puppy biting

Puppy bites happen — especially if they’re teething or exploring their environment. That’s why teaching bite inhibition is one of the most important things a pet parent can do. It gives your furry friend the skills they need to interact with their environment confidently.

Bite inhibition doesn’t teach your dog not to bite. Instead, it teaches them to control the force of their mouths and teeth. Teaching this skill in puppyhood can be the best way to do it, as you’ll be dealing with puppy teeth and a lot less force than you otherwise would be teaching this skill into adulthood.

There are several ways to teach your puppy bite inhibition. We’ve summarized some top tips below.

Mimic a puppy’s response to biting

Hard bites on hands or fingers hurt, especially when pups have sharp teeth. While your first instinct to a skin puncture may involve yelling some profanities, this will confuse your puppy and could lead to more of the same behavior. Your pup might interpret this reaction as excitement, or worse, they may associate biting with receiving attention.

Instead, you can try mimicking a puppy’s high-pitched yelp the next time you get a nip. This is one of the best ways to teach puppy bite inhibition. After you do this a few times, they may begin to understand that they’ve hurt you and that you don’t want to play that way. 

Avoid interacting with a biting puppy

You need to show your pup that biting or nipping at any time means playtime is over, and they won’t be getting more attention. Rather than responding with more aggression like yelling or hitting, you need to avoid and ignore your puppy. Hold your arms up and back from the toy, giving them a clear signal that no more play is happening right now. 

Avoid trying to remove the toy roughly or getting into a tug-of-war. Then, leave the room quietly to reinforce the idea that social behavior stops when play gets too rough.

Put them in a time-out

To interrupt the biting behavior, you can gently place your puppy in a crate or isolated area. This time-out serves as a moment for them to calm down and understand that biting results in a temporary pause in play. When doing this, it’s essential to remain calm. You don’t want your puppy to start associating their crate with punishment.

Encourage other forms of play

Play provides excellent opportunities for owners to take simple steps to reinforce good behavior. Puppy classes, physical exercise, dog sports, and plenty of safe chew toys (such as tug toys and rope toys) are all excellent ways to give your puppy high-value attention and experiences, redirecting them from the urge to bite or mouth. If teething is a reason for the biting behavior, try giving your puppy ice cubes or ice chips to chew on. This helps numb the swollen or painful gums and calms the desire to bite.

👉 We want to note that puppies’ mouths can be a source of stress release for them, often coming out in the form of chewing or nibbling. Giving them healthy opportunities to use their mouth, such as a mental stimulation toy or a peanut butter licking mat, can also help curb the bad biting behaviors.

Reinforce good behavior

Use positive reinforcement when they exhibit gentler behavior, reinforcing the idea that calm interactions receive praise and attention. Soon enough, your pup will begin to associate positive experiences with good behavior and develop a preference for gentle play.

When to get professional help

While biting can be a normal behavior, it’s important to connect with a vet if you see the behavior persisting or escalating. They can give you personalized support to help the puppy stop, relying on oral means of stress relief, such as a new redirection method, bite inhibition training, or bitter spray. Additionally, they can offer gentle play strategies that promote normal behavior as your dog develops.

Symptoms that could indicate additional help is needed can include:

  • Unbridled aggression. This can include outbursts toward children, strangers, pets or pet parents, which may remain even after the dog finishes their development.
  • “Petting aggression.” This form of aggression generally happens when you’re petting or “loving on” your puppy and can be normal. However, it could be a sign that you need professional biting support if done constantly or severely.
  • Protective behaviors. Aggression around food bowls, toys, or any other key puppy areas may require intervention by a trained medical professional.
  • Post-sleep aggression. If your dog is aggressive upon waking from sleep, this could be a sign of more severe aggression under the surface, which could lead to a bite injury.

No animals are ever bred to be angry or “bad.” If an animal is acting out, it could be due to several factors — including unhealthy behavioral patterns perpetuated by another owner(s), a history of abuse, or inappropriate training methods used to encourage aggression in the dog. Consistent training and support can be a helpful tool to regulate your dog’s behavior and emotional outbursts.

Ultimately, while puppy biting is a normal part of their development, it’s essential to actively manage and redirect this behavior to ensure a harmonious relationship as they grow. By understanding the reasons behind their biting tendencies and employing positive reinforcement techniques, you can guide your pup toward more acceptable play behaviors. 

Remember, consistency is key, and patience is your ally in this training process. Should you find puppy biting becoming a persistent challenge, don’t hesitate to seek guidance from professional trainers or veterinarians. With the right approach, a bit of persistence, and perhaps some expert advice, you’ll navigate through this phase, fostering a well-mannered and delightful companion.

Frequently asked questions

Should I discipline my puppy for biting?

Hitting, yelling, or attempting to intimidate your dog is ineffective — and it’s never okay. Instead, we recommend connecting with a vet who can offer personalized support and strategies to help your dog break the behavior. You might also invest in puppy training.

At what age do puppies stop biting?

Every dog is different. However, many pet parents find that puppies stop biting between three to five months old. Factors like their breed, their environment, and the progression they’ve made with teething, can impact how long it takes.

When can I start correcting a puppy?

Getting consistent training early on can help puppy owners avoid negative behavior such as biting or aggression. Many experts recommend beginning right when you bring them home, if possible.

Why is my puppy hyper and aggressive?

Allowing your puppy to rough-and-tumble their way through their surroundings is known as explorative play. Drawing boundaries and training is critical in the puppy stages to avoid the formation of bad behavior or habits.

How should I calm an overstimulated puppy?

Consider changing elements of their environment, such as noise level or visual stimuli. You might cover their crate or sleeping area with a soft blanket, bringing them back to a place of grounded peace by using items and areas they’re familiar with.