If you’re at your wit’s end because your puppy keeps biting you, have no fear! You are not alone. Anyone who’s ever posted an over-the-top adorable Instagram photo of themselves with a tiny golden retriever looking angelically into the camera has been bitten, like, at least six times trying to take that pic. Puppies bite. But good news! You can curb this behavior and then your friends can flock to meet your newest family member in droves. Here’s how to stop puppy biting.
Why do puppies bite?
Understanding the why always improves the how. Puppies bite for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is teething. Human babies do the same thing; new teeth come in and they relieve their gums by gnawing on stuff.
Puppies also bite as a means of exploration. “What’s this thing? I can’t pick it up with my paws, so I’ll maneuver it with my mouth using my razor-sharp incisors.” That’s pretty much your puppy’s train of thought for the first few months of life.
Biting is a huge aspect of socialization and playtime with other puppies. Letting Milo run amuck with other pups at the dog park builds confidence and teaches boundaries. If Milo bites a puppy friend too hard, he’ll hear a sharp yelp and likely get the silent treatment for a little bit. This indicates that Milo has crossed a line. This can actually work in your favor when it comes to training your dog not to bite.
What is bite inhibition?
Basically, you want to teach your puppy the same lesson he learns at the dog park with his buddies: Rough biting means interrupted playtime or an end to fun altogether. Referred to as bite inhibition, you’re asking your dog to control the force of his jaws so he doesn’t hurt you.
Remember: No yelling or hitting
It should go without saying, but don’t bonk your dog on his nose if he bites. Hitting your dog is abuse and it’s ineffective. Your pup could become afraid of you or act aggressively toward you, two horrible outcomes. Yelling can also lead to fear and aggression; at best, it’ll show your dog how to get a big reaction from you, which he interprets as more roughhousing.
1. Let them know it hurts
If your dog nips at you, do your best puppy impression and yelp loudly to indicate the bite was too hard (even if it was just a tiny nip). The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals advises against pulling your hand away, since this can actually indicate you’re still in playtime mode. If you can, make your hand go limp. In all honesty, this sounds incredibly hard, since the instinctual reaction to a bite is to pull your hand away. Do the best you can.
2. Do a playtime time-out
If the loud yelp and limp hand combination doesn’t curb the biting after, say, three or four tries over a 15-minute period, you’ll need to start doing some mini time-outs. Once your pup bites, yelp and then stop playtime immediately. Stand up, walk away and ignore your dog for 10 to 20 seconds. Then resume playtime! You’ve got to let him know safe play is good and bite play is bad.
Pro tip: If your puppy will not leave you alone during a 10- to 20-second silent time-out, leave him alone in the (puppy-proofed) room for roughly 30 seconds. When you come back in, reinitiate gentle playtime until the next bite. Then repeat.
3. Have calming crate time
For a pup that is super wound up or doesn’t respond well to time-outs, it might be good to seclude him in his crate for a bit. This is tricky because you don’t want Milo associating his crate with punishment; crates should be safe spaces dogs don’t mind getting into. A break from training is always a nice reset for a puppy.
4. Treat distraction
Some puppies start nipping at your hands even as you’re trying to sweetly pet them. In these instances, try a little misdirection. Feed him a few treats out of one hand as you gently pet him with the other. He will learn to associate petting with good behavior.
5. Pick a phrase
Commands like “Drop it!” and “Give” are important to instill during bite inhibition training. An adult dog should be willing to let whatever he’s chomping on fall out of his mouth without getting feisty.
6. Offer toys
Make sure your puppy has plenty of entertaining chew toys at his disposal so he’s got options. During playtime, it’s often a good idea to keep a few of these with you or close by so you can swap one in if Milo goes to nip your fingers.
7. Reinforce good behavior
It’s easy to forget to let your dog know when he does something right. The American Kennel Club urges dog owners to practice positive reinforcement, especially while a puppy is teething. If your pup responds well to the bite inhibition cues, reward him with a treat! If you walk into the room and he’s sitting quietly or chewing a toy intended for teething, reward him with a treat! He needs to know what is allowed so he can stop doing what isn’t allowed.
8. Remember that it’s a group effort
Give your puppy lots of opportunities to frolic and wrestle with other dogs. Puppy playtime teaches bite inhibition and keeps your dog active.
Make sure everyone in your household follows the same rules when it comes to teething and biting. And, when you finally feel comfortable inviting guests over to meet your fluffball, let them know how to respond if he nips. Practice makes perfect!