7 Steps to stop puppy biting
Before you get started, there are a few things to keep in mind. Remember that positive reinforcement (rewarding your puppy for good behavior) is key. Being physically aggressive back to your dog is inhumane and ineffective.
Always consult your veterinarian before you attempt any form of behavioral training. You can use the techniques we outline below in conjunction with the advice of a veterinarian and/or dog behaviorist.
Puppy play, or socialization, can also help your puppy learn not to bite in a really natural way. When a puppy is playing with other dogs or littermates and bites a little too hard, the other dog will yelp and perhaps move away. This teaches bite inhibition and can help your puppy understand how hard is too hard.
Step 1: Figure out your avoidance strategy
You need to show your pup that biting means playtime and attention are over. Rather than responding with more aggression (hitting, kicking, etc.), you need to avoid and ignore your puppy. This can be difficult, especially when you have a puppy who has tons of energy and razor-sharp teeth.
We recommend setting up a blocked off area for you to go to when your puppy starts biting. You can use a baby gate or simply shut a door. The important thing is to be out of your dog’s reach so that you can easily ignore them.
It might seem more convenient at first to do the reverse, putting your puppy in time-out. It’s probably easier and more effective for you to remove yourself from your puppy’s reach, rather than picking your puppy up and placing them somewhere else. That way, you don’t have to do any chasing, which can be interpreted as play or sustain any more bites.
Step 2: Mimic your puppy when bitten
When it comes time to execute your plan, the details matter. While your first instinct to a skin puncture may involve yelling some profanities, this is likely to get lost in translation. The same goes for nose tapping and running away. Your pup may interpret this as excitement or begin to associate biting with receiving attention.
AKC suggests letting out a high-pitched yelp, as a puppy would, and then calmly walking away to your avoidance zone. From this, they may begin to understand that they’ve hurt you and that you don’t want to play anymore.
Step 3: Use a leash
When your puppy is learning to interact with others, a leash can be a helpful tool to teach them when enough is enough. Allow your pup to play with other dogs or humans while on a leash, and when they become too aggressive you can pull the leash away. This conveys the same message as the avoidance strategy: when you get too rough, the fun ends and you have to sit alone until you calm down.
Using a leash can also be helpful if your puppy likes to bite at your clothes or feet when you walk. When they start to nip at you, pull the leash away from your body and redirect their attention to your walking path. It would be best to make sure the leash is hooked onto a harness the puppy wears, instead of a collar around their neck. Puppies’ necks are small and pulling on a leash can cause trauma or coughing. Not to mention, some puppies can easily slip their head out of the collar if they want to get loose.
Step 4: Make sure the training is consistent
For behavioral training to be effective, your dog needs to receive the same treatment from everyone they regularly interact with. If your dog only knows not to bite you, you’ve solved just one part of the problem and there’s still the risk of your dog hurting anyone else they come in contact with.
You need to communicate the behavior modification training plan to everyone in your household and be diligent about enforcing the rules. You’re trying to establish that biting too hard is never okay, so you need to show them that by removing yourself every single time they bite.
This applies to guests, too — If you’ve got a cute, new puppy around, you probably also have a long line of friends and family who want to come over. Before you have a guest over, explain the training strategy. This can actually be great practice for your puppy if you have willing participants.
Step 5: Reinforce positive behaviors
If you’re doing the above, you should start to experience fewer instances of biting. Continue to socialize them by playing and snuggling with them, and give them positive reinforcement when they act appropriately. Other positive behaviors to reinforce include self-entertainment and non-bothersome means of getting attention, like laying at your feet or nudging your hand.
The type of positive reinforcement you should give depends on the dog. Just like people, dogs can have different motivating factors. While treats are almost universally-loved, you can’t use them all the time. Make note of what your dog enjoys — a pat on the head, a belly scratch, throwing a ball, an affirmative “good boy,” etc.
Whatever means of reinforcement you choose, make sure to deliver it as quickly as possible after the positive behavior. This improves your dog’s chances of understanding the connection between the action and the reward. If you wait too long, they might not understand what they’re being rewarded for. Some people use a whistle or bell (thanks, Pavlov) to signify to their dog that they’re about to get a treat.
Step 6: Teach the “leave it” command
Once your puppy has a general idea that biting is wrong, it may also help to teach them the “leave it” command, often used with a stern tone. This tells them to stop what they’re doing and may help with a puppy who knows the rules, but forgets sometimes or gets too excited during playtime.
Step 7: Repeat
You may not see results at first, and you may feel like your life is seriously disrupted by constantly getting up to remove yourself from your puppy’s reach. But remember that you’ve taken on a new family member. Training your puppy not to bite is an investment that’s worth the time. Most puppies that do not have neurological disorders will be able to learn using these methods over time. The most important thing is to be consistent and disciplined.
Why puppies bite and nip
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. There are several reasons why your puppy may be chomping at everything.
- Exploration. This is the most common reason puppies bite. With so much of the world that’s unfamiliar, puppies rely on their senses to investigate new environments and objects. Since dogs don’t have dexterous 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, as well as whether it tastes good.
- Seeking play or attention. Since puppies can’t vocalize their needs, they may bite you in an attempt to instigate playtime or get some affection.
- Teething. Between three and six months of age, puppies lose their baby teeth and grow in their adult teeth. Like human babies, puppies might experience some pain as their adult teeth grow in. Chew toys can help.
- 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.
- Hunger. A hungry puppy may bite at your hands and feet to try to communicate that they’re looking for food.
- Lack of exercise. A puppy who isn’t getting enough exercise will probably become aggressive. This pent-up energy can manifest through biting.
- Neurological disorder — There are plenty of genetic problems that can cause a dog to be overly-aggressive. Only a veterinarian can diagnose this kind of problem. Unfortunately, sometimes you can only manage the aggression, not train them out of it.
Even though some biting is completely natural, it can be annoying. And not only that, it can be dangerous and costly if you don’t nip it in the bud (no pun intended). In most states, dog owners are liable for injuries their pets cause by biting others.
Signs of puppy aggression
Since some puppy biting is totally normal, many dog owners struggle to differentiate between normal and aggressive behaviors. The problem usually arises when a puppy exhibits any behavior too consistently or too intensely.
But even when your puppy is biting a lot, it’s hard to tell whether the intent is malicious or aggressive in nature. That’s when it’s helpful to look for other signs of aggression. It’s important to remember that exhibiting one or even a few of these behaviors doesn’t mean your puppy is a bad apple. In fact, several of the behaviors listed below can be both normal and abnormal. With proper training, most undesirable dog behaviors can be stopped (more on training below).
Aggressive puppy behaviors include:
- Frequent snarling, growling, barking, snapping jaws
- Aggressive body language such as a stiffened back or frozen stance
- Biting at you when you’re being affectionate (petting, cuddling)
- Biting that breaks the skin
- Aggression toward young children
- Aggression toward strangers
- Being protective of food, items, or certain areas of the house
- Aggression toward anything that is moving (high prey drive)
- Sensitive to sudden movements or being woken from sleep
Normal puppy behaviors include:
- Chasing or jumping on you or other household pets
- Biting at the ears, tail or feet of another household pet
- Infrequent snarling, growling, barking, or snapping jaws
- Biting that occurs during playtime or roughhousing
It’s possible that aggression is limited to certain scenarios. For example, your pup may be perfectly sweet until you approach their food bowl, then it’s all snarls and snaps. While this may not seem like a big problem in the grand scheme of things, it’s still something to be addressed. You don’t want your dog to lunge at a friend or child.
Nipping vs. biting
One major way to determine whether you should be worried about aggressive behavior is by the way your puppy bites you. Nipping is sometimes called play biting, and it probably won’t break the skin. Aggressive dog bites will be more intense, perhaps breaking skin or be accompanied by the aggressive behaviors listed above.
Puppies usually replace their deciduous “baby” teeth with adult teeth when they’re three to six months old. While this is happening, they’ll probably experience some pain and try to chew it away. Unfortunately, your furniture, fingers, and toes may fall victim to puppy teething.
Usually, a chew toy can distract your dog from biting on inappropriate objects. There’s no one chew toy that’s the safest or most effective. Every type of toy, from rubber to rawhide has benefits and drawbacks. Some veterinarians suggest avoiding any chew toy that doesn’t bend.
👉 We’ve written quite a lot about proper doggie oral hygiene.
Are some breeds more prone to biting?
Despite stereotypes, any breed of dog can be aggressive. However, it’s understandable why you might fear aggression from a mastiff more than you would with a Pomeranian.
Herding breeds, like Australian shepherds, may be genetically predisposed to nip or chase small people or animals, especially when they’re moving.
What to do if you have an aggressive puppy
It’s understandable if your puppy’s aggressive behavior is making you second guess your choice to bring them into your household. Don’t lose hope.
Often, it’s simply a matter of providing the proper training and feedback. Just like children, they need help learning the rules. Starting early will be your best chance to reverse the aggressive behavior.
If you’ve noticed some aggression and you’re starting to get worried, talk to your veterinarian. They can help diagnose or rule out any medical issues that could be causing the aggression. Plus, they can attest to how common it is for puppies to bite.
If your veterinarian doesn’t find a genetic reason for the aggression, they may recommend you see a dog trainer or behaviorist. They can teach you positive reinforcement techniques to curb aggression and increase obedience. You can use ASPCA’s guide to finding behavioral help for your pet to compare types of trainers and methods of training, from one-on-one sessions to group puppy classes. You can also search for “dog behaviorist” on sites like Yelp to find local specialists and reviews for puppy training.
Can you take an aggressive puppy back?
If you’ve tried behavioral training classes and seen no improvement, you probably feel frustrated and backed into a corner. You may even become afraid of your dog as it grows. This is not a sustainable lifestyle, especially if you have children in your household. As a last resort, rehoming your puppy may be the only option.
In fact, the most common problem with rehomed pets was aggression (35%), according to the ASPCA’s National Rehoming Survey. That said, rehoming an aggressive puppy can be very difficult, as many shelters will deny or euthanize dogs with a biting history. This is because shelters aim to rehome the dogs, so they don’t want a dog that’s not going to be adopted taking up space.
👉 Remember: It is illegal to abandon a dog. If you’re unable to keep or rehome your aggressive dog, you cannot just “set them free.”
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Other tips for curbing puppy biting
Sometimes, your dog may seem unable to stop nipping at you. There may be other factors at play, in which case it’s helpful to give them every tool possible to help them succeed. Here are a few additional steps you can take to minimize your dog’s desire to bite.
- Give them chew toys to bite — Especially for teething puppies, it may be tough to stop biting altogether. A good, rubber chew toy, like a kong, can help your pup get their fix. Any time they begin to get too rough, redirect their attention to a chew toy.
- Give them enough exercise — Lack of exercise or excessive crating can cause pent-up aggression, and thus, biting. Try adding in an extra 30 minutes of exercise; it can be a walk, or simply some more outside time.
- Make sure your puppy is eating enough — If your puppy underfed, it’s possible that they’re biting at you to let you know that they’re hungry. Make sure you understand how much you should be feeding your new puppy.
What not to do when training your puppy
You should never attempt to out-alpha your dog by being physically aggressive with them. Hitting, kicking, and other means of abuse are cruel and can make the problem worse. A dog that feels like they’re on defense is likely to snap and hurt someone when they feel threatened.
Over-stimulating your dog can also render your training useless; remember, calmly removing yourself from the situation is the clearest way to show your puppy the biting equals no more playtime.
Excessive rough play or yelling, whether positive or negative, will be confusing and ineffective for the dog. You should continue to play with your puppy, but try to avoid games that can become too rough, like tug-of-war, until they have a good grasp on bite inhibition.
Lastly, when you go to remove yourself from the situation, do not jerk away quickly. This may encourage your dog to continue chasing and biting at you. Rather, go as limp as possible so that your dog loses interest.