Why do puppies bite... they need to bite, nip and chew and it’s annoying. It may feel like it will not stop no matter what you have tried.
Take a breath and see if you can shift your mindset... rather than trying to make it stop, recognize that your playful puppy needs time to learn what is appropriate. There are many different ways we can help them meet their needs during this phase.
Some of the reasons for inappropriately puppy nipping, chewing, gnawing or biting are:
Teething is necessary and painful for puppies, but part of the process. Gnawing and chewing can help them find relief. They are also learning how to use their mouth. Young puppies are developing bite inhibition, which is an understanding of how hard or soft they are using their mouth. If we handle this stage well we can create a ‘soft mouth’.
Keep in mind that puppy biting will dramatically lessen over time, and they typically lose their razor sharp teeth around 4 to 6 months old.
Your first choice is to continually redirect the shark-like puppy teeth on to an active toy, such as a long fleece tug toy or one of their favorite toys. Make it move away from them. The toy is more engaging if you make it act like prey running away.
Making high-pitched noises like HEY!, NO!, STOP IT! or pushing away your Pup with your hands or feet creates more desire to bite and play. If they bite human skin or clothes try to stay quiet & calm. Get another object, and redirect using the technique mentioned above.
If you can, remove yourself from the situation, get up and calmly walk away without making any sound. Ideally go through the nearest baby gate or door and close it behind you for up to 10 seconds, leaving your Pup on the other side. Removing yourself from the Pup is better than removing the Pup from you. Wait for polite behavior before returning, keep removing yourself if their energy is too high.
The more you stay with them when they are inappropriately playing, the more this aggressive behavior will build. Short removals will help them know you only engage with and reward polite behavior. Depending on how long your Pup has been practicing these unwanted behaviors, you may need to repeat this process multiple times.
You may have heard some out-of-date advice to give a high pitched squeal to imitate puppy yelping like they do to each other when they bite too hard. This actually provides engagement and may increase biting... also, you’re not a dog
If your Puppy is bound and determined to eat you or won’t stop biting (or putting teeth on skin), here are some temporary adjustments as you build new skills:
Play some fetch with different toys to learn what they enjoy having in their mouth.
If they are biting your pant leg and you’ve tried the braided fleece tug it's time to wear tights instead of pants.
If they are biting the leash, a chain leash can help.
Attach a chew toy to the leash handle and get the Puppies playing with the toy instead of the leash. 😉
If it’s not safe when they are biting on you or you’re concerned that what they’re chewing on is a choking hazard/inappropriate object, open their mouth and calmly remove the item. Practice trading what they have for a high value treat or a safe toy they can chew on.
As you are learning how to redirect and actively dis-engage, also recognize if you are meeting their needs throughout the day. Inappropriate biting will decrease with age. During this phase, they are learning how to use their mouth and have no idea what is ‘legal’. Our job is to patiently teach them what they can have and do.
DON’T PUNISH OR CORRECT
Punishing their bitey behavior by bopping them on the nose, yelling at them, or holding their mouth can actually make problems worse and can inhibit the bond you are building with your dog. This can make them fearful of you, perhaps afraid of your hands and often this type of engagement makes you more prone to puppy bites.
Puppies need to chew a lot, it’s how they self soothe, explore, express frustration and deal with boredom. Teething can be as challenging for them as it is for you, especially from weeks 8 to16. It will get better once they finish teething.
Keep in mind that our puppies' activity levels usually peak in the morning and early evening. These are great times to provide long lasting chews such as bully sticks, stuffed trachea, fish skins etc.
Biting can be worse after they eat a meal, but it can lessen if that meal is provided through training time or enrichment. Food puzzles, frozen toppls and kongs are a great option. This provides the mental engagement they are seeking. This may take a bit of prep time but worth every minute. When you replace meal time with training/play time, you will be amazed how tired your puppy will be after a good session.
Just like toddlers, puppies can get moody (more bitey) if they don’t get enough sleep. Sleep schedules can help puppies get the deep sleep they desperately need. A few cat naps by your feet is not enough. If you consistently set up the environment the same way during sleep times, the environment can be a cue, indicating it’s time to sleep. A dark quiet space creates a zen like environment encouraging rest and relaxation during the day.
Another benefit is that we are conditioning containment. You can gate off the laundry room or set up a puppy pen. These specific spaces are perfect for a long lasting chew reward. You can see some great options here.
GIVE IT TIME
This 8 -16 week time window is when a Puppy needs to learn about biting and chewing, it’s a natural progression of growth and development. If everyone in the household is consistent with the suggestions above, biting and chewing problems will decrease. Crate training and mental stimulation also help. Most Puppies will shift to appropriate ways to interact by 5-6 months. After your Pup matures and starts getting adult teeth we’ll chat about ideas on how to deal with destructive chewing!
I get asked "Why Do Puppies Bite" everyday and I really enjoy sharing why and how to prevent them from biting you. Let me know which of the above ideas works best for you. If you have tried all the ideas above and your Pup is still biting you, contact a certified trainer or enrol them in a puppy class so they can help you make adjustments specific for your Pup.
CPDT Certified Dog Trainer The Puppy Care Company