Puppy Training

How To Stop Puppy Biting: The Positive Reinforcement Way

How To Stop Puppy Biting: The Positive Reinforcement Way

My puppy is biting - what to do?

You probably recognize this: You get your new puppy and she's so sweet and loves to cuddle. After a few weeks, she is much more awake and wants to play.
 
She uses both her paws, her body - and her teeth - when playing... It starts out adorable but can become harmful if not handled correctly.
 
In this post, I'll tell you how to stop puppy biting easily so that you can enjoy playtime with your puppy and feel confident about having your dog around kids and strangers.
 
Almost every puppy owner knows the problem; the puppy is biting! This leaves you with a lot of problems: It hurts. What if she bites someone else - a child perhaps? Or you might get worried if your puppy will grow up to be an aggressive dog. Even if you know this is not so, what will others think of your lovely puppy?
 
This is why you need to discover how to stop puppy biting.
 
We have all been there. And no, in 99 out of 100 cases this is not a serious business, but natural behavior. They bite to learn, it's their way to explore this new big world. And of course, they teeth and it itches - and biting helps!
 
But as you know, if a dog bites you it can be dangerous, no matter the reason.
 
So, you need to deal with it, not because your puppy is mean and cruel, but simply because it is happening 🙂
 
When you have read this post, you will have a better idea of why your puppy is biting. This will make it easier for you handle it. Also, I’ll tell you how I get my puppies to be happy and trusted family members and not hairy little beasts nipping and biting everything and everyone.
  
Sounds good? Let's get started
 

Why DO puppies bite?

How To Stop Puppy Biting: The Positive Reinforcement Way

Well, the nature of the matter is...

That it’s important that you realize that biting is a part of your puppy’s language. It’s their nature. All puppies bite. There are many reasons for this, e.g. they teeth and like human babies, they bite to stop the itching. Also, they bite when they play. And they bite to learn. And they bite to get your attention (and it works!) And they bite because they are excited.

 
1 out of 100 bites because something is wrong: It might be sick, it might be neglected before you got it, it might not be properly socialized or it might be in terrible pain. If this is the case you should see a vet or a behavioral specialist.
 
But because it is only 1 in a 100, I’ll focus on the other 99 cases that make up the vast majority of puppies.
 
It all starts with the beginning - like everything else. As puppies grow up, they are normally together with their siblings. After the first weeks of their lives, they start exploring their surroundings and this includes the other puppies. They investigate everything using their mouths and noses - and actually most of their clumsy body as well 🙂
 
When they are with their siblings they explore and play at the same time, using all of their body including their mouth. Last time I had a litter I kept two puppies. I’ve watched how their playing has evolved. Now, at the age of 18 months, they normally play with their mouth open. They seldom bite at each other and if they do, it’s a kind and gentle nip 🙂
 
But when they were little puppies they sometimes bit each other hard and fiercely. This was not an act of cruelty, but simply because they did not know better. You see, puppies learn by doing. Just like regular human babies.
 
They do not use logic or think it over. At all.
 
They have their instinct and besides that, they try. As a result of that, they get experience. And experience together with instincts will guide them in their future.
 
So my puppies were actually not only playing. They were learning. And their biting was a part of playing and they did not know that their bite would hurt their brother or sister. But they found out because of course a hard bite will be followed by a loud cry of pain.
 
Sure, the biting is to explore their own strength and probably also to figure out who is the strongest. But it is also to learn about other puppies or dogs limits. Because at the very same time the bitten one cries, the one biting will let go, looking surprised at the one crying. Look at it, if you get the chance - it’s obvious that they do not know how hard they bite.
 

So what happens when humans interfere?

Remember, at the age of 7-8 weeks your puppy is still a baby. But a baby with teeth and a baby who misses the old family and seeks a new. The new family is you. Her humans. And how lucky you are to be that new family 🙂
 
But this also means that you are now the subject of playing and testing boundaries. And the puppy plays with you like she did with her siblings; she explores, she investigates and yes, she bites.
 
And right at this point, it is so important to know that the puppy means no harm. She just plays, grows, and learns.
 
And if we do not train her properly, she’ll learn something wrong... Eg if we hit her or yell at her because she bites, she’ll learn that humans are not to be trusted and this knowledge will mark her forever. For as you might know, what puppies learn in the first 4-5 months of their life will stay with them for the rest of their life.
 
However, if we do not react she’ll learn that we do not mind and she can continue biting and bite even harder.
 
So obviously, neither pushing the puppy or doing nothing at all is the way to react.
 

How to stop puppy biting - Doggystyle!

How To Stop Puppy Biting: The Positive Reinforcement Way

Instead of being angry or doing nothing, you must show your puppy what you will accept.
 
No matter what you do your puppy will bite or nipple - she can’t help it. So you might as well set the stage and play with her keeping your hand at her body.
 
At some point she'll bite - this is how she plays, remember?
 
And when she does you just make a high startled sound, much like a puppy being hurt. Freeze and keep still for a moment - then she’ll let go.
 
Don’t touch or speak to the puppy for half a minute or so, and when you eventually do, be calm and gentle. Remember to praise the puppy when she plays without biting.
 
If she continues to bite, you repeat the above. You can do so three times, but if she keeps on biting, you must give her a timeout in her crate. But you need to resolve this, so you repeat this "exercise" again the next day until she understands that she is not allowed to bite. 
 
It’s important that you do not pull your arm or hand away if the puppy has sunk her teeth in you.
 
If you do, it’ll be a contest of who is strongest, and she’ll be even more excited.
 
She’ll feel as if you are playing the game of tug with your arm as the thing to tug - so keep still. At this stage, it’s so important that you remember that she is not cruel or angry. She is playing with you, testing her strength and boundaries.
 
Nothing else. Just that.
 
If for any reason your puppy will not let go even if you cry out, you can take her by the collar or the neck, holding her still. Do so in an arm’s length away from you without talking or touching her in any other way.
 
Just ignore her.
 
Be sure not to hurt her or anything, just prevent her from tugging and, most importantly, getting attention.
 
When she finally let's go, make sure to let her know that you do not want to speak to her or touch her. Turn away from her, ignore her. This is important. Do not pay her any attention. It is probably what she really wanted and by not giving it to her, you are teaching her that this is not the way to get your attention. So it is very important that you do not give her any attention, not even bad attention. Just ignore her.
 
If the puppy is so wound up that you are unable to reach her and make her calm down, you can give her a time-out in her crate or put her outside in the hallway or so.
 
Do not yell at her. Instead, put her in her crate.
 
This way she’ll learn that when she plays this rough, she’ll be isolated, and in time she’ll choose not to. Because she loves you - you’re her family.
 

Why does this help in stopping puppy biting?

I see dog-handling this way: Give your puppy the chance to make the right choice instead of waiting for her to make a mistake, which you can then punish.
 
Either reward your puppy’s choice or ignore it.
 
Never scold, never shout. NEVER HIT.
 
Just ignore.
 
Praise, when your puppy gets it right. Give her treats. Play with her. Cuddle her. Reward her.
 
With this mindset, you do not tell your puppy not to bite. Instead, when the puppy bites, you let her know about her poor choice by keeping absolutely still.
 
This is the consequence of her action. If she keeps biting, you let her into her crate. She’ll be excluded from the community. This is a severe consequence.
 
On the other hand, it’s so very important that you remember to praise and reward her, when she plays without biting, or when she only bites in what is allowed. It’s important that she knows the consequence for all her actions, the good ones as well.
 

How to prevent your puppy from biting altogether

How To Stop Puppy Biting: The Positive Reinforcement Way

1. Remember that it starts even before you get the puppy
Today we often get the puppy when it’s 7 or 8 weeks old. But actually, your work in securing a healthy puppy starts months before this. Because if you want to make sure that the puppy is sound and well, I recommend you to buy your puppy from a good breeder or a trusted shelter. A breeder or shelter who is in this for the dog's sake. Who loves the dog and her puppies. And who takes her responsibilities seriously.
 
If you do not do your job, you might end up with a puppy that has been born in a stable, never seen humans or even been outside. For such a puppy there is so much new, so much to fear - and maybe even a real cause to bite.
 
2. Learn to play the game - both of you
But of course! You do your homework in finding your new puppy and your new best friend is a trusting and loving puppy. And she is SO ready to be a member of your family. This also means playing with you and of course, you should. But if it gets too wild, she might not be able to keep away from biting - Remember, it’s the way she plays and learns. So always pay attention to her level of arousal. Puppies learn the best if they are excited, but not over excited. You must make sure that she is always in the right state of mind.
 
This is even more important if you have children around the puppy. Of course, you want them to get along and have fun. So let your children play with the puppy, but please… Also, teach your children not to play too wildly with the puppy. In my experience, it’ll always end up being the puppy’s fault if something goes wrong and frankly it’s not fair. So be careful and wise instead of being sorry.
 
Also, you must be aware that puppies will use their mouth. My puppies use their mouths with me when they are excited. But I never allow them to bite. Does it sound strange? It isn't. As I told you my puppies now play with their mouths open without biting down. In the same way, they hold my hand. So they open their mouths around my hand but never bite - actually the same way they play with each other.
 
3. Set your puppy up for success - divert her attention
When at all possible, set your puppy up for success. Instead of waiting for the bite, divert her attention. Observe her actions, so you know your puppy. This way you will recognize when there is a danger and before anything happens you can calm your puppy. Or you can divert her attention with a ball or something else she can bite. Make it possible for her to be excited and still have success.
 
In my opinion, puppies often bite because they get excited. They simply get so happy and overjoyed that they can not control themselves. My Atlas is a fine example of this. When I come home, even if I have just been gone for a few hours, he gets very excited. He wants to jump and in every possible way show me how glad he is and how much he wants to be with me. This also happens if we have visitors he knows and loves.
 
I figured out how to help him keep a bit calmer and never bite/nip.
 
By the door, we have a box full of toys. Puppy toys, but this toy is only allowed when someone is at the door. So the toy keeps on being super exciting for him. And when I come home the first thing I do is to offer Atlas one of the toys.
 
He accepts it gladly because he loves it but also because he wants to use his mouth. And he runs around me, happy and excited, holding the toy in his mouth. Having to concentrate about this toy, he calms a little bit down. And I praise him and reward him for not jumping or biting even though he really, really, REALLY wants to get that bit closer.
 
You can see here for yourself - it’s a bit of a show...
 
 
So if your puppy gets excited when visitors come, you can help her not to bite. Just have something she can hold in her mouth, a ball or something like that. When it knocks on the door, let her hold the ball in her mouth and this will prevent her from biting, and give her a job to do. Remember to praise her, when she succeed in doing so in the first minutes of the visit.
 
It’s important and very well done, let her know this.
 
You can use the similar approach every time your puppy gets excited. Divert her attention. Make her do a job for you. Make her focus on something else. Help her 🙂
 

Help your puppy to let off steam

How To Stop Puppy Biting: The Positive Reinforcement Way

Oh yes!
 
Puppies are one big bundle of joy and they are so fantastic. Youngsters should be allowed to be youngsters.
 
Just not the biting thing 🙂
 
But as long as your puppy is just that - a puppy - she has so much energy. And to make sure that she does not vent by biting you must help her.
 
Remember to be consistent and patient.
 
Never allow your puppy to actually bite you. Mouthing you might accept, as I do, but take a stand in this matter so your puppy knows using the techniques outlined above.
 
 
In addition to training your puppy, make sure to walk her as often as you can. If it is currently not a pleasure walking your dog then go ahead and read my tips on teaching your puppy loose leash walking (these tips shared more than 1.100 times will help you make walking your dog thoroughly enjoyable).
 
Your puppy also needs time off the leash... Bring her to a place where she can meet other puppies and wrestle with them. Let her get tired.
 
But use mind games too. They will tire her out just as much as running. Teach her new stuff and train what she already knows. Make a schedule, stick to it and be consistent. Train every day, just 5-10 minutes, 2-3 times a day. Keep her occupied. Keep her focusing on you. If you need inspiration for exercises check out the post I linked above on how to teach your dog to pay attention to you.
 
Also at feeding time, you can let her work. If you have a lawn spread her food on it and let her find it. If you do not have a lawn - try hiding the food around your apartment!
 
The important point here is combining training the mind and exercising the body with feeding time. It’ll take her longer to eat but it’s good for her digestion and it’ll bring her joy and exercise - all good things!
 
Even when she is alone you can give her exercises. Hide treats in a toy - buy one or make one. Make sure she knows how to handle it and just leave her alone with it. She will not be missing you until it’s empty 🙂
 

To sum it all up

Can you stop a puppy from biting?
 
Yes!
 
You can teach her not to as she is growing up. Sure, all puppies bite, but never to be mean. They are not cruel. Keep in mind that biting is just a part of your puppy’s language and in time she’ll learn not to use that language when she talks to you and other humans.
 
If you always remember why your puppy bites, you’ll better know what to do.
 
You’ll know how to help your puppy grow up to be a wonderful, loving and self-confident dog, who believes in humans and never really wants to bite them.
 
Use this knowledge to be a good dog owner.
 
Support your puppy, help her to find other ways to show her enthusiasm. Take responsibility and divert her when she gets tempted. Train her. Give her a job to do.
 

I hope you have found value in this post!

If yes, please let me know in the comments and share this with a fellow dog owner on Facebook, Pinterest or by email. I spend a lot of time making these posts for you and this is all I ask in return and it only takes a few seconds.

I would love to hear more about your experiences with puppy biting in the comments!

 

How to stop puppy biting - Q&A

Is it dangerous to be bitten?
Well, yes. Even if the bite is not a brutal one, if the teeth go through the skin it can be dangerous. You can get tetanus. So if you buy a puppy, make sure to have an updated tetanus shot - better safe than sorry.
 
Is a dog who has been allowed biting as a puppy more likely to bite to harm when adult?
In my opinion yes. When we teach our dogs to do something or not to do something, it becomes natural for them. So if not told that biting is off limit, there will be no impulse control at the moment they might want to bite - for real.
 
How do I know if the biting is due to excitement or something else?
Observe your puppy. Make notes on when and in what situation she bites. If in doubt, talk to your vet.
 
What do I do if the biting is due to something else?

As mentioned before, puppies are not mean. 99 out of 100 times a puppy bites it’s because she is excited or simply just “talking”. But of course, a puppy can bite for other reasons. They can be sick and in pain and wanting to defend themselves. Or they can be scared, not knowing who to trust and feeling all alone in the world. A bite in this situation is also a defense.

 

If a puppy in this situation is misunderstood, this behavior can be reinforced. In time biting will be something completely different and the poor dog’s life will be full of mistrust, pain, and disappointments. So please - go see a vet. They’ll help you the rest of the way, either curing the dog or send you off to a good dog trainer.
 
What if I can not get hold of her when my puppy bites?
Ignore her! This is a severe consequence. Do not talk to her or yell at her or anything. And do NOT try to catch her - it would make her day, playing catch. Do not go there 🙂 Just ignore her. When she eventually comes to you, crate her. This is not to punish her (I do not think crating is a punishment!) but a way to make sure you can keep on not talking to her. When you let her out, be sure to be very calm and controlled.
 
When will she grow so old that she’ll be wiser?
Well, it depends. Do you train her? Do you show her not to bite and what to do instead? If not, she’ll keep on biting to get your attention until she has no teeth left! Well, of course, she’ll be more mature and calm within a couple of years and often it’ll stop at some point. But do not wait it out. You don’t know if she’ll meet a child before it happens. Train her!
Load More Related Articles
Load More By Lene Kaufmann
Load More In Puppy Training

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check Also

How To Train a Puppy To Come When Called: The Ultimate Guide To Puppy Recall

  My puppy does not come when called ...

About Lene Kaufmann

Lene Kaufmann

Hi, I’m Lene (and this is Atlas). One of my biggest passions in life is dogs and dog training, and after having trained multiple award winning hunting dogs as well as trained hundreds of new puppy owners in my own personal offline courses, I wanted to create a site where I could help readers by passing on what I have learned about training happy and healthy puppies. I believe that dogs can be the greatest source of happiness and fulfillment, and it all starts by building the right foundation with your young puppy.