In this blog, I am going to lay out 5 things that you can do stop your puppy from biting. First, it’s important to understand why puppies bite. It is a normal and natural behavior. Puppies bite when they are tired, excited, nervous or frustrated. Many puppies become frustrated and bite when someone is holding their collar or picking them up. However, biting can also occur because puppies become hyper-excited when touched. They don’t associate touch or petting with being calm, instead it becomes a cue to play.
It’s frustrating and painful when puppies turn into little piranhas. Many puppy parents are frantic to find out how to make the biting stop.
There is no “one and done” approach to teaching puppies not to bite. We can, however, minimize this tendency by improving two way communication and providing healthy outlets for our puppy’s mental and physical needs.
This is a process. However, when giving your puppy the appropriate management, enrichment and guidance you should see improvement within 3-6 weeks. Poor management combined with “quick fix” solutions can lead to an adult dog that acts like an over-grown puppy. Using harsh methods to combat this very normal puppy behavior can set the stage for a contentious relationship.
To make sure that biting becomes a thing of the past, you will need the right tools and the right home 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: Enrichment Outings
My first recommendation to stop puppy biting, jumping and other hyper-active behavior is to provide healthy forms of enrichment. Plan for 1-2 outings per day for 15-30 minutes. Go to a quiet park. Your puppy needs the opportunity to see, smell, and hear new sights, smells and sounds. This will set the stage for a well adjusted adult dog, AND help your puppy go home and settle. A puppy that is receiving this very necessary type of enrichment is less likely to exhibit excessive mouthiness.
“An under-stimulated or over-stimulated puppy is more likely to exhibit excessive mouthiness.”
The Goldilocks Rule
Avoid exposing your puppy to extreme conditions. Dog parks, daycares and intense play sessions can over-stimulate puppies (it’s too much!). Keeping puppies confined to crates, pens or yards all day can have the opposite effect (too little). It’s the middle level of enrichment and stimulation that will actually lead to a puppy that settles easily in lots of different scenarios. Healthy forms of enrichment and stimulation include simple training sessions within your home and yard. As well as, sniffy walks on nature trails and trips to quiet parks to watch the world go round. Just right.
Avoid Dog Parks
Bring your puppy to big, grassy areas 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. A large number of dogs in a small area usually results in over-aroused play and dog fights. Adult dogs frequently bully unfamiliar puppies.
Puppies that receive a lot of unwanted attention during critical socialization periods are more likely to grow into a nervous, reactive or aggressive adult. Instead, find opportunities to have your puppy spend one-on-one time with a calm, well-socialized adult. Schedule “playdates,” or take them on “field trips” to nature areas where the two dogs will enjoy sniffing and exploring together.
Walks can Wait
You should also avoid daily attempts to walk young puppies from point A to point B. This is especially important for puppies that are prone to “planting” on walks. Forcing linear walks usually results in an unhappy puppy and a frustrated owner. Your average puppy will plant, and refuse to move as they 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. Instead, give your puppy the opportunity to soak up the information they need in their own time even. Plan for several short 5-10 minute potty walks throughout the day, within a 100-200 foot radius of your house. In combination with one or two 15-30 minute outing at a quiet park.
Many people are concerned about taking their puppy outside of the house until their puppy has all their shots. There is a risk if your puppy comes in contact with contaminated fecal matter. However, your puppy has a greater risk of developing behavior issues if they are not receiving exposure to new environments.
“Behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age.”AVSAB Position Statement on Puppy Socialization
Vets are becoming more aware of the long term consequences of keeping puppies confined. Many vets now recommend that you avoid dog parks. Dog parks are likely to contain contaminated fecal matter in the soil. As noted above, I recommend several 5-10 minute outings each day where your puppy is able to meander. To be extra cautious, put your small puppy in a carrier when you take them out and about. This will allow them to safely see, smell and hear novel stimuli without risk of contracting infectious diseases.
Remember that socialization refers to more than just playtime. It is about being in new environments where your puppy will likely be exposed to new smells, sounds and sights.
Trainer Tip #2: Daily Training
Set aside time to do 5-10 minutes of training with your puppy once or twice each day. Teach your puppy that offering calm behavior on a training mat can really pay off.
Use Meals for Training
Ditch the dog food bowls. You can use your puppy’s breakfast, lunch and dinner and hand feed your puppy to promote calm behavior. The goal is to reinforce your puppy for being still and for keeping all four paws on the floor. In these exercises you don’t have to worry about using verbal cues. The focus here is to teach your puppy to offer this calm behavior as a default. This can help stop puppy biting because it will condition your puppy to have a calm association with the presence of your hands. It can also teach them to settle whenever you are kneeling or sitting on the ground with them.
Less Force, More Finesse
Puppies can become frustrated when we grab their collar or push them into their crate. This can also create a negative association with our hands. Positive reinforcement training minimizes frustration by improving communication. Use high value food, or high value toy to teach your puppy to willingly and enthusiastically do these 4 things:
- Go into their crate on cue. A crate next to your bed is an ideal place for puppies to sleep at night.
- Go in their “safe space” on cue. It’s ideal to use a gated kitchen when your puppy is alone during the day.
- Come to you on cue. Remember to focus on building enthusiasm by using high value toys or food.
- Target a training mat on cue. This tool creates a helpful way to re-direct your puppy when she starts to jump or bite.
If you want to stop puppy biting it is important that you start to teach your puppy to respond to verbal cues, instead of using force.
Negative Attention is Still Attention
Puppies receive a lot of attention for doing all the things we don’t want them to do; biting our pant leg, chewing on the rug, stealing our shoe. Be mindful of each interaction you have with your puppy. Give your puppy a food toy or chewie inside of their “safe space” whenever you are busy doing other things. This will stop your puppy from biting at you to get your attention.
Verbal Cues and Hand Signals
Training helps you get on “talking terms” with your puppy. Positive reinforcement training can help your puppy better respond to your cues. It will also improve your ability to read and respond to their signals. The best training is all about two-way communication. You can stop puppy biting by becoming more aware of environmental triggers. Spend time each day teaching and reinforcing incompatible behaviors in the presence of these triggers.
Trainer Tip #3: Play with Your Puppy
Play with your puppy. It’s important to acknowledge that jumping and biting is a very natural puppy behavior. For this reason, we don’t want to squash the behavior. Instead, we want to re-direct the behavior to a healthy outlet. Here are a few do’s and don’ts when playing with your puppy.
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. Adult dogs are better able to read and respond to your social cues. Puppies, on the other hand, 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 pause play for 10-15 seconds. You will notice that your puppy will stop biting your hands, when you start to offer more appropriate outlets through structured games.
DON’T play non-stop for extended periods of time.
Long play sessions turn most puppies into a puppy piranha. A long play session can also make it difficult for you puppy to settle once playtime is over. Less is more. If you notice an escalation in your puppy’s level of excitement, it’s a great idea to take a play break. Switch to a calmer activity, or change the environment. Sometimes puppies become more hyper-excited when playing in the living room, but exhibit healthier play in the yard or at the park.
DO teach your puppy how to “switch gears.”
All dogs can benefit from learning how to “switch gears.” When you’re playing with your puppy, try to alternative between a 30-60 period of time where you are playing with your puppy and a 30-60 period of time where you are reinforcing your puppy for calm behavior on their training mat. This helps puppies think through their excitement, which will be helpful when you begin training your puppy with distractions on leash or at the park.
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 when you call 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.
Every day you should look for ways to connect with your puppy by becoming an integral part of the activities that your puppy loves the most. This can include training sessions, playtime, and exploring new places together.
DON’T verbally or physically reprimand your biting puppy.
Making a loud sound, pressing the puppy’s lip into their teeth, or holding their muzzle closed are not effective ways of addressing a puppy that jumps and bites. This generally does not lead to the relationship or long-term behavior change that we are hoping for. At best, this can inhibit a puppy’s tendency to jump or bite by creating a sense of confusion and/or uncertainty in your presence. These puppies will frequently shy away in other contexts. Worst case scenario is that this can lead to a puppy that becomes defensive or combative.
DO re-direct your puppy to a more desirable behavior.
If you have been training with your puppy on a training mat you can give them a cue to target their mat and reinforce with food, a high value chewy or a high value toy. Many puppies will start to target their training mat on their own as a way of asking for a training session or playtime.
Trainer Tip #4: Management
People frequently give free range of the house to their puppy, even when the puppy is not being actively supervised. With free range puppies will often chew on the rug, harass the cat, jump and bite to get your attention. In most cases, people have no choice but to engage with their puppy in these moments. This means these puppies receive A LOT of attention for doing the things you don’t want them to be doing. Remember, 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.
“But I work all day!”
This is a common lament. People that work long days usually have a difficult time putting their dog in a play pen in the evening. This is especially true if the puppy already spent all day confined to their puppy safe space. If this is true for you, you should find a reliable neighbor, friend or pet sitter that will spend some time with your puppy each day. Some people might do it for free, in exchange for the company of a puppy.
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 to explore the sights, sounds and smells of the outside environment. You should also incorporate short training or playing sessions into these outings. Keep your puppy in their safe space when you are not able to give them this one-on-one attention. This will stop your puppy from biting when you are trying to make dinner, write an email, or watch a movie on Netflix.
#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.
Use appropriate management and enrichment strategies early on in your puppy’s development. With proper management you should see that your puppy stops biting, or that the biting becomes less intense within a 3-6 week span of time.
If the necessary management and enrichment activities are not implemented, you might end up with some bigger problems down the line. This is a dog that becomes desensitized to the constant reprimands. The problem can also carry over into other behavioral issues like a puppy that struggles to focus or engage around distractions.
Trainer Tip #5: Handling
Teach your puppy to be calm in response to being touched, handled or restrained. For me, this is a big part of the puzzle. Working on calming exercises in relation to being touched can be a major game changer when it comes to stopping a puppy from excessive biting.
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. Do this for 1-2 minutes, 2-3 times 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.
A puppy that struggles to regulate arousal 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 behavior consultation with Alyssa Rose.
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 or backyard all day are more likely to bite excessively because they don’t know what to do with all of their unspent energy. Avoid trying to tire your puppy out through intense play sessions 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 next to your bed 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. If you are providing healthy forms of enrichment, training and playtime, as talked about above, you should find that your puppy is ready to take a nap once they get home.
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.
Filter the Bad Advice
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: At best it creates uncertainty and confusion. In the worst case scenario it can increase the intensity of jumping and biting because your puppy sees you as 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. Even if another dog teaches your puppy to be less mouthy with them, this will not necessarily generalize to other dogs or to you. Furthermore, 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, resulting in a contentious relationship between the puppy and the adult dog. If anything, step in and prevent your puppy from being a nuisance to an adult dog.