Updated: Apr 12
Puppies are adorable, but they also have razor sharp teeth! So how can you handle puppy biting? Here are some things you should know, and tips on what to do (or not do!)
P.S.- if you need some individual support, book a puppy training session!
Yes, puppies do go through a teething period. But most of your puppy's mouthing is based on a desire for attention (and fun!)
We don't recommend saying "Ouch" or yelping to limit your puppy's mouthing- all of this can increase the biting because your puppy is getting your attention!
Puppy mouthing isn't something that'll go away right away, but you can reduce most of it fairly quickly!
Your puppy isn't being aggressive- they want to play and get attention, and don't yet understand that humans don't like this kind of play. **NOTE: if your puppy is biting you in other contexts (not just play/attention), PLEASE reach out to us or another qualified professional!
OK, let's get to the big steps to stop puppy biting!
Many of our puppy biting episodes are predictable- they happen at the same time of day, or usually on the couch when you try to cuddle, or when you're trying to work on something. So one of our best strategies is to prevent the biting before it happens! We've all seen a toddler having a temper tantrum in the grocery store and thought "that kid probably missed a nap!" So think of a biting puppy as a toddler- what can we do to prevent the tantrum in the first place?
Maybe your puppy is tired and needs a nap, or needs to go for a walk before dinner. Maybe they can't handle couch privileges yet, or need something good to chew on around 3pm. Look for predictors of biting, and help give your puppy something else to do to help them calm down! This also means giving them lots of appropriate chewing and enrichment throughout the day. (As an Amazon Associate, Every Dog earns from qualifying purchases.)
TEACH AN ALTERNATIVE
We talk a lot about "default behaviors"- things our puppies can do on their own that we really like! Great examples are sit, laying down, or making eye contact- these are things that are easy, calm, and we can reward them pretty much anytime. In fact, we recommend having some treats (or kibble!) nearby to give throughout the day when you notice your puppy making the choice to do one of these calm behaviors. Your puppy should learn "If I want attention and treats, I should try XYZ." We reward these behaviors ALL THE TIME until they become major habits for your pup. If you're not sure what default behaviors to try, Schedule a private consultation or check out our puppy classes!
*Note: Socialization is a HUGE part of raising a puppy. If your puppy is under 4 months, learn more about socialization now. We also have some awesome puppy training resources on our Resources Page, as well as great webinars on puppy training.
But what does this have to do with biting? See the next point!
When it seems like your puppy might be starting to get mouthy, start redirecting to default behaviors! When they make the choice to lay down, big reward. If they sit quietly, lots of praise and treats! If you can bring them a toy and play tug with them, great! Remember, your puppy is trying to get your attention. And even though it can be frustrating sometimes, they're just wee little and they NEED social time! So if your puppy is choosing to do one of these awesome behaviors instead of chomping on you, take some time to play with them or do some fun training. (Need some help with training? Book a private session or check out puppy classes!)
Ok, so you missed puppy nap time, and your puppy is starting to nom on you. You've tried your default behaviors, bringing a toy, and getting your puppy engaged in a more productive way- but puppy is in full on Jaws mode and won't redirect. What now? Calmly remove yourself and your attention for a few seconds. If they're biting your arm, pull it away. If you're on the couch, stand up. If they're nipping at your heels, step over a baby gate or their exercise pen.
In these situations you're not saying anything or telling them no- you're just calmly removing yourself. We generally recommend doing this for just a few seconds, and are ideally looking for them to offer a calm behavior of some kind before we return (sit back down, come back in, etc). If your puppy is still too excited and goes for chewing on you again, repeat. Here we're showing puppy that biting means the fun stops and the world becomes boring- but if you do any of your default behaviors, treats and attention are everywhere!!
Ok, final notes:
Consistency is key! If you sometimes follow these instructions, but other times you wave your arms around and yell at your puppy to stop, they're probably going to keep playing the bitey game!
Remember, puppies NEED lots of attention. If they're biting frequently, there's a good chance they're not getting enough mental stimulation throughout the day.
If you're finding yourself in the damage control step a lot, don't stay stuck in that cycle! Make sure you go back to earlier steps and make sure they're working.
Stay calm! If you stick to your routine, you'll see a big decrease in the biting. But some of it may stick around as your puppy learns and grows, so don't panic if they still have puppy moments!
Again, if your puppy is biting in other contexts (like when you approach your food bowl, when you try to touch their paws, or anything that seems like not-play), PLEASE reach out ASAP.