Most puppies will bite. Biting can occur because the puppy is tired, over-excited or if they are frustrated. Many puppies become frustrated because someone is holding their collar, restraining them or picking them up when they would rather be playing.
It’s a normal puppy behavior, but when people see their sweet fur ball turn into a puppy piranha it can be frustrating, not to mention – painful. It leaves many puppy parents searching for the answer to – “how do I make this stop?!”
The fact is that there is no one and done approach to teaching puppies to stop biting. This article will detail 5 important steps to minimize your puppy’s tendency to bite, and help them learn that there are other ways of getting their needs met.
Be aware that this is a process, but if you do it right, you should find that biting is no longer an issue by the time your puppy is 6-7 months old. Poor management and harsh training methods could lead to an adult dog that acts like an over-grown puppy and never learns how to respond appropriately to social cues.
Here are a few tools that will be helpful, based off of the training recommendations below.
To raise a puppy right, and to make sure that biting becomes a thing of the past, you will need the right tools and set up.
- Gated Kitchen or Exercise Pen (for unsupervised time during the day)
- Crate in your Bedroom (to sleep in at night)
- Training mat – Threshold kitchen mat, from Target, recommended
- High value food – Happy Howie’s rolls recommended
- High value training toy – skineeez fox or rabbit toys, 24 inches recommended
Trainer Tip #1: Watching the World
My first recommendation is to plan for 1-2 outings per day for 15-30 minutes. Go to a quiet park, not a dog park. Your puppy needs the opportunity to see, smell, and hear new sights, smells and sounds. Not only will this help your puppy grow into a well adjusted adult dog, it will also help your puppy go home and calmly settle. A puppy that is receiving this very necessary type of enrichment is much less likely to exhibit excessive mouthiness.
“A puppy that is either under stimulated or over stimulated on a day to day basis is much more likely to exhibit excessive mouthiness.”
Puppies are More Mouthy if they are Under or Over-Stimulated
Puppies are frequently exposed to one of two extremes, they either get over-stimulated when they go to loud, crowded events like farmer’s markets and daycares. Or they are under-stimulated by being confined to their homes day in and day out for fear of contracting a disease. The key to a calm, well adjusted puppy is to find that happy middle ground.
Avoid Dog Parks and Off Leash Parks
Bring your puppy to a big, grassy area and let them take in the sights, sounds and smells of the environment.. Avoid parks where you expect to see off leash dogs. Off leash dog parks can be dangerous because of the higher risk of contracting parvo-virus. The other risk is that off leash dogs can easily overwhelm a puppy and create negative associations with unfamiliar dogs.
Walks can Wait
Another tip is to avoid attempts to walk puppies from point A to point B as this is typically an exercise in frustration. Your average puppy will plant, and refuse to move. Why do they do that? Even if you think your neighborhood is fairly quiet, your puppy will be picking up on every sight, sound, and smell. Puppies like to plant and process information from the environment. The more you pull on the leash, the more they’ll pull back. Don’t force a puppy to go for walks, give them the opportunity to soak up the information they need in their own time.
You might be thinking,”BUT my vet told me to keep my puppy inside until they receive all 4 shots.” There is a risk of contracting certain diseases if your puppy goes outside before they are fully vaccinated. But there is a much greater risk of your puppy developing behavioral issues if they are not given these opportunities to get out of the house.
Vets are becoming more aware of the long term consequences of keeping puppies confined to the house until they receive all 4 shots. Many vets are now recommending that you avoid dog parks or any place where there is likely to be more fecal matter in the soil. Another alternative, if you want to be extra cautious, is to carry small breed puppies in a carrier. Either way, make sure your puppy is getting out of the house at least once a day to a quiet space where they can watch people and dogs at a distance.
Trainer Tip #2: Daily Training
Set aside time to do 5-10 minutes of training with your puppy once or twice each day. Use high value food reinforcement and teach your puppy that offering calm behavior on a training mat can really pay off.
Four on the Floor
The goal here is to reinforce your puppy for being still and for keeping all four paws on the mat. In this video you will see me using a high rate of reinforcement when the puppy stands in front of me with all four paws on the ground. If you want to learn more about training for puppies you should check out our online puppy class.
Verbal Cues and Hand Signals
It’s normal for puppies to become frustrated and use their teeth when we grab their collar, push them into a crate, or pick them up when they would rather be playing. Positive reinforcement training minimizes frustration by improving communication. Our online puppy course teaches you how to get your puppy to engage with you willingly and enthusiastically by teaching your puppy to respond to body language, hand signals and verbal cues.
Negative Attention is Still Attention
When you stop to think about it, puppies receive a lot of attention for doing all the things we don’t want them to do; chewing on the rug, biting our pant leg, stealing our pen. In order to promote the behavior that we want to see, we need to make a deliberate effort to create a reinforcement history for the behaviors that we want to see more of, which is why these 5 minute training sessions will set the stage for a healthy, happy relationship with your puppy for years to come.
Trainer Tip #3: Play with Your Puppy
Play is a normal and natural part of a puppy’s social development, but how you play with your puppy will make a big difference in what your puppy is learning from each of these interactions.
The “Do’s and Don’ts of Playtime”
DON’T use your hands to rough house with your young puppy.
This can teach puppies to bite at your hands as though they’re a toy. While this might not be an issue with an adult dog that is more skilled at reading and responding to social cues, puppies will have a hard time regulating their impulses if and when they get hyper-excited in play.
DO use specific toys for train and plays.
The sight of this toy will be a clear indicator that it’s ok to use his or her teeth. If your puppy’s teeth lands on your skin instead of the toy you should stop play for 30 seconds, redirect your puppy to a training mat or dog bed using food, before re-initiating play.
DON’T play non-stop for extended periods of time.
This will lead to an escalation in your puppy’s level of excitement. You might notice the longer you play, the more likely they are to turn into a little puppy piranha, and the harder it will be for them to settle down when playtime is over.
DO take frequent play breaks.
Every 60-90 seconds you should switch gears and use food to reinforce for calm behavior on a training mat or dog bed. In my online puppy class I show you how I alternate between play time and calming exercises – so that your puppy learns how to go from 0 to 60 and back again. This is one of the most constructive things you can teach your puppy, and it can and should be practiced on a daily basis.
DON’T outsource puppy playtime.
Many people rely on daycares, other resident dogs and dog walkers, to take care of their puppy’s play needs. This can lead to a puppy that loses interest in you and is constantly looking for stimulation from outside sources. This is also a puppy that is less likely to come to you when you need them, and will pull like a freight train to get out of the house. Why? Because they don’t see you as being connected to those things that are fun and rewarding in their life.
DO look for daily opportunities to become a part of your puppy’s enrichment activities.
Playing, training and exploration with your puppy will set the stage for a healthy, well adjusted adult dog.
DON’T yell at your puppy if he or she begins biting at your hands instead of at the toy.
This can excite your puppy and lead to more biting!
DO remove the toy for 10 seconds.
If you have been doing training recommended above your puppy should revert back to behaviors that have a strong reinforcement history. This might be standing, sitting, lying down or walking over to the training mat – as soon as your puppy is offering desirable behavior – you can resume play time.
Trainer Tip #4: Management
People frequently give free range of the house to their puppy, even when the puppy is not being actively supervised. When left to their own devices most puppies will chew on the rug, harass the cat, pee on the carpet, or jump up and trying to bite at your pant legs to get you to play. This means that your puppy is going to be getting A LOT of negative attention for doing all the things you don’t want them to be doing. And negative attention, is still attention. If you are not actively engaging your puppy, your puppy should be confined to a puppy-proofed-gated-kitchen or an exercise pen.
People that work long days usually have a difficult time with this concept because they don’t want their puppy to feel cooped up. If this is the case, find a reliable neighbor, friend or pet sitter that will volunteer to spend some time with your puppy mid-day
Remember These Three Things:
#1: Quality Over Quantity.
It’s quality of time spent with your puppy, over quantity. Make sure you are taking your puppy out at regular intervals of time to go potty and do short train and play sessions. This will ensure that your puppy’s needs are met, and will prevent your puppy from practicing unwanted behaviors. Trying to “spend time” with your puppy when you’re watching a movie, cooking dinner, or talking on the phone usually results in a lot of frustration and yelling.
#2: Good Habits vs. Bad Habits.
The more your puppy practices unwanted behavior, the longer it will take for your puppy to grow out those behaviors. Create an environment and routine that brings out the best in your puppy, without having to police your puppy and scold them repeatedly for doing normal, natural puppy things.
#3: The Light at the End of the Tunnel.
If you are smart about using management strategies early on in your puppy’s development you will find that these strategies will no longer be needed by the time your puppy is 10-14 months of age.
On the other hand, if these behaviors go unmanaged – you will have an adult dog with a lot of behavioral baggage. This could be a dog that becomes desensitized to the constant reprimands, and that shows no interest in focusing and engaging with you need their attention.
Trainer Tip #5: Handling
Take the time to teach your puppy to be calm in response to being touched, handled or restrained. For me, this is an extension of training that has been established on a training mat.
I begin the process of sitting down with a puppy and feeding the puppy as I touch their coat, hold their collar, pick up their paws and so on. This can be done for 1-2 minutes, once or twice a week. The idea is to make sure that your puppy associates the touch of a person’s hand with a positive experience that promotes calm, relaxed behavior. This type of training exercise is important for general handling as well as grooming, vet care and emergency situations that might necessitate grabbing a puppy by the collar or picking them up to avoid a hazard.
Like all the other recommendations listed on this blog this can also set the stage for a healthy relationship with your puppy.
Trainer Tip #6: Time
If you are doing everything outlined above, and your puppy is still being very mouthy, don’t despair. It can take time. Other factors that might prolong a puppy’s tendency to bite are genetics and environment. Many working and sporting breeds are more likely to have a more intense desire to bite when they are feeling playful. This tendency cannot be suppressed, it needs to be shaped through mindful interactions. Puppies that are raised in high stimulation environments like shelters or daycares are also more likely to struggle in regulating arousal levels. Once again, this usually looks like a puppy that jumps and bites and seems unresponsive to a person or another dog’s cues to slow down or back off. While this can be incredibly frustrating to deal with first hand, it’s important to know that harsh methods that try to “squash” theses behaviors usually backfire. The intensity of jumping and biting can intensify, or your dog could become defensive and develop an aggressive response.
If you have any concerns about your puppy’s behavior, or if you would like a more customized plan to set your puppy up for success, you can set up a consultation with Alyssa Rose by going to Legends Dog Training to fill out an assessment form.
Biting is a normal puppy behavior. The recommendations outlined above will improve your puppy’s social intelligence, help them regulate nervous, excited or frustrated emotional responses that is leading to biting, and it will set the stage for a lasting bond. There is no quick fix.
Here’s a breakdown of what was discussed in this article:
#1: Daily Enrichment
The best possible way to spend your puppy’s mental energy is by putting them in situations where they can calmly process information from the environment. Provide opportunities for your puppy to use their senses each day to watch and learn about the world around them and explore new spaces. Avoid places that could over-stimulate or overwhelm your puppy.
Puppies that are confined to their home day in and day out they are more likely to bite excessively because they don’t know what to do with all of their unspent energy. You should also avoid trying to tire your puppy out through high energy play or high stimulation environments as this frequently creates an adrenaline fueled puppy, which will also lead to more biting.
#2: Daily Training
Training can improve a puppy’s ability to respond to social cues. Promote calm, positive interactions through daily training sessions that use positive reinforcement methods. Plan for 5 minutes of training 1-2 times per day. This will have a long-lasting, positive impact on your puppy’s ability to read your emotional responses, your facial expressions, your body language and to regulate nervous or excited behaviors. The training outlined in our online courses focuses on exercises that creates a calming routine and this routine can be plugged into any number of real world challenges, excessive biting, barking, jumping or chasing the family cat.
#3: Daily Playtime with You
Teach your puppy healthy play skills. Schedule in playtime with your puppy everyday. Schedule in 5-10 minute play sessions 2-3 times each day. It’s a great idea to show your puppy that playtime is part of your daily routine. This will prevent your puppy from feeling as though they have to work so hard (bark and bite at your pant legs) just to get you to interact with them.
Implement management strategies! This will include gated kitchens, or exercise pens during the day, and a crate to sleep in at night. This will prevent your puppy from jumping up and biting when you’re busy making dinner, talking on the phone or sitting down to watch a movie.
It’s important that puppies learn to be calm in response to being touched or handled. If puppies are nervous, frustrated or hyper-excited when touched this could result in a puppy that is much more likely to use their teeth. Use your puppy’s breakfast and dinner to work on handling exercises that will teach your puppy to have a calm, positive association with being touched.
It’s important to understand that biting is a natural behavior that has its place in your puppy’s social development. The biting will fade away as the puppy matures, so long as they are receiving the necessary enrichment, training, playtime, and management.
Learn to filter out the good advice from the bad. Here are three pieces of bad advice that should be avoided:
“Use a loud sound like ‘ouch!’ when a puppy bites.”
Why it doesn’t work: Making a loud sound will make most puppies more excited and can increase the intensity of jumping and biting. You’re essentially making yourself into a giant squeaky toy.
“Hold the puppy’s mouth closed, or press the puppy’s lip into their tooth.”
Why this should be avoided: Some puppies will develop a fearful response to your approaching hand, other puppies will become more combative if you attempt to do this. Either way, you are setting the stage for a contentious relationship with your puppy.
“Let an older dog teach the puppy not to bite.”
This is another misguided notion. Putting this responsibility on an adult dog can backfire. A lot of puppies are mouthy because they are overstimulated or tired. They are not in a good state to learn anything constructive. This means that an adult dog will have to increase the intensity of their warnings, and in many cases this can lead to an unhealthy, contentious relationship between the puppy and the adult dog. If anything, you should step in and separate a puppy from being a nuisance to an adult dog without having the expectation that the adult dog will do the training for you.
Do you have a puppy that bites? We’d love to hear about him or her. How old is your puppy? What breed or mix are they? Did you find these recommendations helpful?