Puppy biting can be very frustrating. This blog is going to lay out a few different strategies to help you stop puppy biting, barking and jumping for attention. But first, it’s important to note that puppy biting in particular is a normal and natural part of your puppy’s development. Puppy biting is a social behavior, it’s their way of asking someone to play. Biting can become more intense when a puppy is over-stimulated, frustrated and when they are over-tired. The same can be said for barking and jumping.
People can sometimes encourage these behaviors in the early days and weeks that a puppy comes home because it’s hard to imagine that it could become a problem later on down the road.
Puppies that are raised in a home with kids are also more likely to exhibit these high arousal behaviors as most kids are typically a little louder and more active than the average adult.
We will discuss the do’s and the don’ts of teaching puppies not to bite, bark and jump. The ultimate goal is to teach your puppy to greet and ask for playtime in a calmer and more polite manner, which can help stop puppy biting.
Rule #1: Create Calm Associations with Your Hands
DO teach your puppy that hands are for teaching, not for biting
Sit down with your puppy for 5-10 minutes, once or twice each day to work on calming exercises. Build a reinforcement history for calmly standing, sitting or lying down on a training mat. With repetition these are the behaviors your puppy will default to when they are asking for something they want like food, attention or playtime.
Use your puppy’s meals, and/or supplement those meals with a moist, meaty, nutritious training food that can easily be broken down into small pieces without crumbling.
DON’T grab your puppy by the scruff, hold their muzzle shut
Don’t do anything that might result in your puppy becoming apprehensive, fearful or defensive with your approaching hands. This type of advice is common, but it can also set the stage for a contentious relationship with your puppy. Some puppies will become hand shy and others will become combative when you address undesired behavior in an aggressive manner.
Rule #2: Healthy Outlets for Playful Behavior
DO make playtime with your puppy part of your day-to-day routine
Give your puppy access to 3-4 toys at any given time. Rotate your puppy’s toys every 2-3 days to build even greater interest. Experiment with toys and chewies that have bumps and ridges that will feel good on your puppy’s sensitive gums. You should also put aside 2-3 special toys, like a soft tug or two squeakie tennis balls. These special toys should be saved for one on one time with you and your puppy. I usually set aside 5-10 minutes, 2 or 3 times each day for focused play sessions.
Play is one of the best ways to build a stronger bond with your puppy, it will also create a healthy outlet for their playful energy that would otherwise be expressed through biting, jumping and barking.
If your puppy becomes over-stimulated in play and begins barking, biting, jumping or mouthing – make a point of keeping your play sessions low key. It’s also a good idea to teach your puppy what I like to call “The 0-60 game.” I encourage puppy parents to alternate between calming exercises on a training mat or inside an open door crate and a 30-60 second play session. Ping ponging between these two activities will teach your puppy how to regulate arousal by going from calm to excited and back to calm.
DON’T use your hands to roughhouse with your puppy
I love playing with my adult dogs by getting on the ground and gently pushing them around. My dogs might respond playfully by gently placing their teeth on my hand or arm. But they also have the ability to read social cues and regulate play, which means that they know when to slow down and when to take a break.
I avoid playing with puppies with my hands because they aren’t as skilled at reading social cues and regulating play. Most puppies will not understand why it’s ok to bite on hands in some situations, and not in others. It’s a good idea to avoid sending mixed messages.
Regulating playful behavior is a developmental skill that takes time and maturity to learn. You can help your puppy learn this skill by giving play time a little more structure and context to play in their first year. Their “special toy,” like a tug toy or squeaky tennis ball, will become the green light for play time, while hands will be more like a yellow light that will encourage your puppy to slow down and be calm.
Rule #3: Alone Time
DO make sure to have quality one-on-one time as well as quality down time
Make a habit of scheduling potty breaks, training sessions, playtime and “watch the world sessions” into your puppy’s daily routine to make sure that your puppy’s physical, mental and emotional needs are being met on a daily basis. It’s also a good idea to give your puppy regular opportunities to relax or nap in a safe, gated area.
DON’T leave your puppy to roam freely when unsupervised
This will set the stage for bad habits to develop. Puppies that are unsupervised might eat your plant, chew on electric cords or bite, bark and jump to get your attention when they’re feeling bored. Yelling at your puppy in those moments is not going to solve the problem, because … negative attention is still attention.
This is why it’s so important for your puppy to have alone time in a safe, gated space when the attention is not 100% on them. You might be thinking – “won’t my puppy just bark in the gated area?” The answer to that question is most likely – yes, unless you condition your puppy to that space first. And if you want to learn how to do that, you should probably check out this video I created called “How to Crate Train Your Puppy for Separation.”
Once your puppy is adequately conditioned to this space, it will become a valuable asset when you are eating dinner, watching a movie, writing an email or making a phone call.
Rule #4: The Art of Redirecting your Puppy
Coming back to “Calm”
Even if you are doing everything right there still might be times that your puppy bites, barks or jumps. In these moments it’s important to focus on helping your puppy come back to calm.
You should freeze, draw your hands back to your chest (pause) and then show your puppy what you want them to do. Practice training exercises that are incompatible with barking, biting or jumping. If you are doing daily training exercises, it should be easy for your puppy to connect the dots.
I will usually continue training for 5-8 minutes inside of the puppy’s gated space and end the session with a calming activity, like giving the puppy a chewie or a stuffed kong. With repetition you will find that it will become easier to prompt your puppy to offer desired behavior, and that your puppy will offer these behaviors more and more in place of biting.
What about screaming “OW” in a high pitched voice, or saying a stern “NO?”
Attempting to suppress behavior through verbal reprimands is usually counter-productive. In your first few attempts this approach might appear to “work,” but with repetition puppies will become desensitized to these sounds or words, or worse, it can add to the excitement of the situation and make the biting even more intense.
Rule #5: Calming an Overstimulated Puppy
Gated areas are golden
There will be times where your puppy is so hyperactive that they will not engage in training or will revert back to hyperactive training after the training ends. This is usually a sign that the puppy is tired or overstimulated. When this happens it’s a good idea to walk the puppy into their gated area for a training session. I do this for three reasons:
- Changing the environment can change the puppy’s mindset.
- The puppy might associate the space with calming exercises and getting into a learning mind set faster because of that association.
- If the puppy continues to bite I have the option of stepping onto the other side of the gate.
DON’T isolate your puppy
If it’s necessary to step on the other side of the gate, I will almost always sit down next to the gate and give the puppy a chewie or a stuffed KONG. Your presence will help to promote calm behavior and this is a huge part of the training. The goal is to help your puppy learn to de-escalate and come back to calm. Leaving your puppy alone in this space when they are in a state of high arousal is likely to have the opposite effect.
What about using a shaker cans or a spray bottle to get the puppy to stop barking and biting?
Aversive tools and approaches can damage your relationship in multiple ways. With more timid or insecure puppies shaker cans and spray bottles can create trust issues that can negatively impact your relationship with your dog into adulthood. More confident puppies might develop a callous to the punishment, which usually results in people using more and more aversive methods.
The last problem is that these approaches work to suppress behavior, but they do nothing to teach the puppy the skills they need to manage and think through excitement and frustration in a constructive way. Instead, help your puppy learn how to regulate arousal by practicing the calming activities mentioned earlier.
Puppy biting can be extremely frustrating, hopefully these tips will help you transform these challenges into an opportunity to bring your puppy’s training and communication to a new level.
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