10 Surprisingly Effective Puppy Biting Tips for New Owners
Ok, you’re probably desperate for some help with that puppy biting. Most new puppy owners find this phase the most challenging of all. I get it, and I'm here to help!
Let’s start right away with one tip on what NOT to do. Don’t speak! Yes, really! Do NOT do what humans naturally want to do… saying, “No, no bite, stop that, bad puppy,” or more.
Talking too much to our dogs and thinking they understand is an unhelpful human habit. Obviously, your puppy wasn’t born speaking your language and doesn’t understand what your words mean just yet.
So what SHOULD you do if you have a land shark biting puppy on your hands?
Stick with me, and I’ll give you 10 terrific tips on how to get through this very challenging phase of puppy raising!
Before I go into my biting tips, let’s set a few expectations first. I know you know this, but I need to remind you: Biting is a NATURAL behavior for dogs. It’s typically not as big an issue with adult dogs because they have learned bite inhibition – the ability to control the force of mouthing behavior. But puppies haven’t learned this skill yet and often bite too hard in a moment of excitement. So instead of entirely stopping puppy biting, we must teach them to do it only on certain items – like their toys.
I like to use the analogy of a child drawing on a wall to explain why it’s important NOT to eliminate this behavior entirely. Obviously, you don’t want children to use pens or markers on your wall, so you redirect them to paper. You don’t remove the pens or markers entirely because writing and drawing are natural behaviors for children!
So, rather than eliminating the biting behavior, we teach puppy owners the Redirection Method and use lots of positive reinforcement. Redirecting a puppy to bite and chew an appropriate item is critical for managing unwanted biting.
And it helps if you understand that it will take time for your puppy to learn what is okay to bite. No, redirection won’t work the first time you do it. It won’t work the second or the third. But it WILL work if you are consistent. Getting everyone in the household on the same page, being consistent, being patient, and having daily biting training sessions are essential to modify unwanted behaviors successfully.
Why Puppies Bite
Puppy bites happen for a few different reasons, and it’s necessary to notice WHEN your puppy is biting because it helps us identify the most effective solution.
Here are the top 5 reasons puppies bite:
Puppies explore the world with their mouths. They don't have thumbs to pick things up and investigate new and exciting objects. Instead, they use their noses, mouths, and teeth to check things out. So if your hand is sweaty, has lotions on it, or smells like food… your puppy is more likely to nip and bite. They aren’t doing it to hurt you. They are biting because they are curious, and this is their way of getting more information.
Puppies have a natural urge to chew and bite. If you do not give them the right things to chew on, they will chew on you and your belongings. Having good dog toys on hand is essential when you have a puppy.
Puppies who are teething – which usually takes place between 3 and 6 months – will naturally want to chew and bite. And puppy teething is INTENSE!
Humans may take over 20 years to transition to adult teeth, including wisdom teeth. But puppies lose all their puppy teeth and grow adult teeth IN THE FIRST YEAR.
That is a LOT of teeth moving around, and it's probably really uncomfortable, don’t you think? You'll want to help your puppy soothe those sore gums by providing good chew toys and things that feel good, like frozen, filled Kongs or other fillable puppy teething toys.
Puppies are naturally drawn to movement, so they might nip at your hands when you attempt to pet them. Or have you ever just walked through the room and been the subject of a land shark attack? If you have kids who like to run through the house while playing… your pup is naturally drawn to those movements.
Believe it or not, your puppy’s schedule is one of the most significant indicators of when biting will be better or worse. You see, puppies who are riled up and have tons of playful energy are likely to take it out in a way that comes naturally to them: mouthy play.
Likewise, if a puppy is overtired and needs a nap, they have very little impulse control, which can result in… you guessed it… more mouthy play.
Most of the time, puppy biting has to do with an overtired dog. You won’t know for sure until you start watching the schedule to identify your puppy’s behavior patterns. Then you can adjust your pup’s playtime and nap time to prevent overtired puppy biting.
Just remember, your dog’s behavior is telling you something. Are you listening?
Ok, on to the juicy stuff!!
10 Super Effective Puppy Biting Tips You and Your Pup Will Love
Choose the Right Chew Toys for Your Puppy
Nylabones, Benebones, marrow bones, and Kongs are great toys to have on hand for a biting & teething puppy.
When your puppy goes to bite you, you’ll need to redirect him to an appropriate chew toy and reward him handsomely when he engages with it. Remember what I said about having patience? You will likely have to redirect hundreds of times – yes, hundreds – before your dog has the intellect and maturity to start changing his behavior by himself.
Stuffed toys that can be chewed apart easily and ingested aren’t the right choice for a biting or teething puppy. While stuffed animals – like the Snuggle Puppy calming aid to settle an anxious puppy – definitely have their place in your puppy’s life, they shouldn’t be used for redirecting a biting puppy.
Puppies can tear apart and swallow stuffing or squeakers, which may cause a blockage that needs to be surgically removed. But there are more things you can do to work through this process with your sanity intact.
Recognize Behaviors or Activities That Trigger Your Puppy’s Biting
As I mentioned, puppies are drawn to movement, so if you reach to pet your pup or try to walk away, and your puppy nips and bites at you, note this was a trigger. Other activities that may trigger a puppy’s bite response could be a child running into the room or you reaching down for a food bowl, or maybe opening a drawer to get out a treat.
When you identify a trigger, it’s time to change up the sequence. Here’s why: the more your dog gets to practice biting when a trigger occurs, the harder it will be to modify this behavior because it becomes a habit
So you’re going to choose a positive behavior you want your puppy to do whenever that trigger happens. And then you’ll use the trigger as an opportunity to teach your puppy a new positive behavior! For example, maybe you want your puppy to sit politely while you fill his food bowl or wait on a mat while you get out a treat. In our online course, we help puppy owners with this and so much more.
Use An Effective Interrupter Cue
Yelping “OUCH” or saying “eh-eh” doesn’t necessarily work. Instead, we recommend you teach what we call an “interrupter cue,” which is really just a noise that you have trained your dog to stop and take note of. Most people use a kissy noise or maybe a word like “hey” given with a neutral, not angry, tone.
This cue is only to get him to stop what he’s doing, so you have a quick moment to grab a toy or put down what’s in your hands so you can get ready to redirect. You will need to first pair this word with treats while training, so your dog learns that he SHOULD pay attention to it – because good things happen when he does!
The interrupter cue is most effective when it’s used in a positive way so your puppy learns to take note because you trained him to, NOT because you scared him or he’s afraid of what you’ll do next!
Encourage Interactive Play Without Touching
Since touching is often a trigger for biting, we teach our students to engage in forms of interactive play that do not include touching a puppy. Fetch, gentle games of tug, and chasing a flirt pole or extra-long rope toy are all great choices because they keep human hands away from puppy mouths.
Here’s a pro tip for the flirt pole: A flirt pole is a great toy for puppies who love to chase – and most of them do. Tie a favorite toy to the end, and you can really have some fun while getting your puppy some exercise. Save the jumping for when your puppy is fully grown, however. Keep this on the floor for now.
Rotate Toys to Keep Your Puppy’s Interest
It’s best to switch out toys every couple of days so they seem new and interesting. You might even store a few of them in the dog food bag, so they have a new scent and are especially interesting! You can also give your dog a choice of what toy they might want to play with that day! You might be surprised by your puppy’s favorites.
Exercise your puppy!
A puppy that has a ton of pent-up energy will be more likely to bite. They need an outlet to release all that puppy energy; otherwise, they take it out on you or your belongings. Your puppy should be getting mental and physical exercise multiple times a day.
Decompression walks provide lots of relaxing exercise and mental stimulation and can be done as often as your dog seems to like them. Most of my students report that these walks are key when it comes to reducing biting.
Watch Your Body Posture
Your body posture towering over your pup may cause her to get excited and jump to greet you… with her mouth. Alternatively, I have students who have figured out that sitting down on the floor became the trigger for over-excited behavior.
So it’s crucial to note which body posture triggers your puppy’s biting and change things up to see how it helps.
When doing puppy training, I usually suggest sitting on a stool or a chair, depending on the size of the dog. Again, if you’re paying attention, you’ll pick up on patterns of biting, and then you’ll be able to switch these up to prevent it.
Manage Your Puppy’s Environment
Providing your puppy with safe and comfortable places to cool down, relax, and avoid stimulation alone is essential for your puppy’s well-being and the integrity of your home. That means using baby gates, puppy pens, and crates to give your pup a break from whatever excitement might be happening. This also gives you a break to refocus on your training or what’s next on the schedule while your puppy is enjoying his own space.
Keep in mind that crates and pens are never used as punishment, but they can help refocus or redirect your pup and give them much-needed rest. Puppies need to sleep a LOT, sometimes up to 18 or 20 hours a day. But they often need some help transitioning from a high-energy activity to a nap. We recommend doing a few lower-energy activities to help him settle before putting him in the crate.
Reward The Behavior You Want To See More Of
This means that if your pup comes up to you and greets you without jumping and biting – reward that! You don’t have to use treats for every reward. Kibble can work, too… especially if it’s the same brand but a different protein source.
At the Pro level of my online course, we have a fun activity called the 50 Kibble Challenge. We are focused on rewarding our dogs for doing things that we like, which helps build up those skills and extinguish things we don’t like.
The key here is to catch the behaviors you like BEFORE they lead to the ones you don’t! My pup, Pickles, gets rewarded when he sits nicely at the door when guests arrive. He’s a social guy, so that’s hard for him, but we work on it every day!
Yes, you CAN train your dog not to bite on you, but you’ll want to work on this outside of the time the biting is happening. This means teaching your dog that good things happen when he engages with his chew toy – not your hand!
And the more you practice this skill during training sessions, the better your puppy’s behavior will be in situations that typically trigger biting. Our online course has several games where we work with the dog to choose the right thing – and he gets tasty treats!
Remember that this training cannot happen in the moment of biting. It’s something you work on during dog training sessions. Just like we can’t train the kicker to kick a field goal while he’s at the Superbowl. You need to work on this in practice sessions, so you’re ready for the real thing!
There is no one size fits all approach to biting. But with these tips, you can work through what’s happening in your home and improve your puppy’s behavior with time and training.
If you’re finding this phase particularly challenging, consider enrolling in the Pro level of my online course. We can examine what might be triggering the biting, how the schedule might need an adjustment, and what you can do in training to help minimize biting. We can work with you in a personalized way to design a plan just for you and your pup!
A Bonus Before You Go!
Before I wrap up today, I just want to share a few NOPE tips. There are tons of people out in the world giving horrible advice on how to address biting. I hate to even mention them, but I will for the sake of education.
These are aversive techniques that will lead to a breakdown in your relationship and likely a frustrated, distrusting, MORE mouthy dog. So please don’t do these things:
1. Never hit your puppy when they bite.
2. Never hold your puppy's mouth closed tight.
3. Never yell at or create scary noises when your puppy is biting.
4. Never put them in their crate for punishment when they are biting. Instead, calmly start a cool-down activity followed by putting them in their crate for a rest.
5. Whenever you want to adjust your dog’s behavior, never leave them hanging. Always teach them the behavior you’d like them to do instead.
About the trainer
After spending 20 years helping families with their dogs face to face as a professional dog trainer, Michele realized that so much of what she knows could be shared with families everywhere - in a way that actually works. People sometimes think their dog is just SUPER difficult because the advice they’ve gotten was incomplete, confusing or just wrong. So she set out to help. Michele loves training dogs because of the impact that it has on the families she gets to help. The peace and joy they get from being able to enjoy their dog LISTENING. Besides teaching classes, helping private clients and running seminars, Michele is also a foodie and fantasizes about being a food critic or secret shopper for restaurants. Talk to her about food and your instant best friends.