Brought a new puppy home and noticed lately that they always wanted to bite on your fingers, toes, shoelaces, clothes, and pretty much everything they can put in their mouth? Although it’s cute, their sharp tiny razors can really hurt! And now, you’re a little annoyed by that behavior and hoping to find a solution to that? In fact, one common question new puppy parents often ask is, how to stop puppies from biting?
But before we dive into that, you need to understand that puppy biting is entirely natural. Just like human babies, they will go through a teething stage, in which they will experience sore and painful gums when their adult teeth replace their baby teeth. And the only way they know how to soothe the discomfort is by chewing. Also, biting is how puppies learn and explore the world!
That said, you don’t want that nipping behavior to develop into a lifelong habit, meaning teaching them what is and isn’t allowed to sink their teeth into is crucial. And below are the things you can do to stop your pup from biting and prevent it from becoming a problem.
1. Puppy Bite Inhibition
While puppies are still with their mom and siblings, they will naturally nip at each other when they play. If they bite down too hard, their littermate will make a loud yelp sound and quit the game! Also, puppies biting too hard while nursing is very likely to result in their mom getting up and leaving. You see, all that leads to negative consequences, which are losing their playmate and the milk bar. Soon, they learn to bite softer to avoid that.
But because you already brought them into your family when they are at a very young age, they essentially lose the opportunity to learn how to use their teeth gently. So, one of the most important lessons you need to give your little fur friend from the very beginning is bite inhibition. Unsure what that is? It refers to a dog’s ability to control the force of a bite.
When you play with your puppy, and they nip at you too hard, let your hand go limp and make a high-pitched noise like “ow!” to tell your pup that it hurts! Then, ignore them for 10 to 20 seconds, and resume play after. One thing to note, though, you don’t want to pull your hand away from their mouth. But instead, to let them release it themselves. The reason is that you could potentially trigger their chase instinct if you quickly remove your hand from the bite, making them want to bite you even more.
And if you find that this yelping process doesn’t work and they continue to bite you more than three times within 15 minutes, it’s time for a time-out procedure. That means you would want to get up, leave them alone in a confined space like a kennel or crate, and stop playing with them for 30 seconds or so to let them calm down. The intention here is to teach them that gentle game continues and rough play stops. And you would want to repeat this process until they can mouth at your hands very gently.
2. Give Your Puppy Age-Appropriate Chew Toys
If you prefer not to let your little furball bite your hands at all, then you would need to redirect their attention to things you want them to chew on instead, for instance, chew toys. Any time when you anticipate the biting behavior, offer them a chew toy. If they grab on it, then give them plenty of praises.
But if they ignore it and continue to bite you, then use the yelping and time-out procedure, which we’ve talked about earlier. Your canine will soon learn that nibbling at you isn’t fun, and your hands aren’t the right object to gnaw on. And it is the toy that they can sink their needle-sharp teeth into when they are more aroused and in a biting mood.
Keep in mind, however, that you need to offer them toys appropriate to their age. Otherwise, they will lose interest in the toy pretty quickly.
3. Teach Your Puppy the “Leave it” Verbal Cue
You would also need to teach your furkid the “leave it” command so that you can ask them to leave your hands or the things alone when they are about to bite or chew.
To teach them this powerful “leave it” cue, you will need a clicker and your fido’s favorite treats. First, place the treat in a closed fist. Your pup will be very likely to come and sniff and try to get it. Then, say leave it. When they stop trying and pull their head back, immediately mark that moment with the clicker and say “yes!” and give them the treat. Keep repeating this until they understand what “leave it” means and can consistently leave the treat in your hand alone, even with an open palm.
Keep in mind that this is the very basics of the “leave it” command. To take that to the next level, you will need to practice your pup to leave other more tempting things like real bones and train them in the real world as outdoors is way more distracting and enticing for them. That also means you will need higher value treats to work towards the goal of getting them to ignore that irresistible bones and pretty much everything when you ask them to.
4. Give Your Puppy Plenty of Exercises
Exercising your little fur friend is another way to stop them from biting. As the old saying goes, “a tired dog is a good dog,” and that couldn’t be more true, as exercising dogs can help burn their physical and mental energy, keep them occupied, and as a result, they are happier and less problem behavior like biting.
One thing, though, make sure they are old enough for the activity you plan to engage them in. For instance, only go jogging or running with your pup when they are at least one year and a half old. That is to avoid putting too much pressure on their growing joints and prevent any joint or hip problems in the long run. Also, make sure to secure them with a harness designed for that specific activity to ensure their safety and maximum comfort.
Exercising your furkid doesn’t necessarily mean you have to take them outdoors. So if your canine is not fully vaccinated yet, you can play fetch, tug, scent game, or puzzle toys with them instead to tire them out.
5. Socializing Your Puppy
Socializing your fido can also help to minimize biting behavior. In fact, well-socialized dogs are proven to behave more calmly and are less likely to exhibit behavioral problems like aggression and fearfulness.
You can socialize your pup by taking them out for walks to expose them to new surroundings, sights, sounds, smells, humans, and other animals. Of course, that also includes introducing them to other dogs, so enrolling them in a puppy class is crucial! From there, your little biter will learn how to better interact with other puppies and make new friends.
So, what if they are not yet fully immunized? How do you socialize an unvaccinated puppy? You can invite your family and friends over to your house to play with them, take them out on short car rides, and walk them in a stroller, backpack, or a sling carrier to let them watch the world while keeping them protected.
6. Use Chewing Deterrents
You probably are already well aware that puppies will pretty much bite on everything, not just your hands. And apart from redirecting their attention to chew toys or use any of the methods we’ve mentioned earlier, what you can also do is to use chewing deterrents.
These products typically come in spray form and contain a bad-tasting yet harmless liquid. Essentially, all you need to do is to put a bit of the product on a tissue or cotton ball and apply it directly in your dog’s mouth, and they should spit it out right away. Some dogs will also shake their head or drool after they taste it. Then, make sure to let them smell the tissue or the cotton after and ensure they don’t have access to water for about an hour or so.
Although that may sound mean, the purpose is to help them associate that unpleasant taste with the smell. That way, when you spray the product on your furniture or things you don’t want them to chew on, they will leave those objects alone.
7. Don’t Get Frustrated
While dealing with puppy biting can be frustrating, you have to be patient and stick with it. Don’t try to shout or yell at your four-footed friend as that won’t get you anywhere, and it will only make things worse, which may lead to the exact behavior you are trying to curb. So, be calm and be smart about it. When you anticipate that they are about to bite you, turn that into a training session and teach them what you want them to do instead.
8. Don’t Punish Your Puppy
Gone are the days when the only dog training method is physical punishment. The better way to train dogs now is to reward them for the correct, desired behavior you want, also known as positive reinforcement. In fact, this method has proven to be effective, and dogs are more obedient and are less likely to develop problematic behavior.
Not only is the aversive training method not as effective, but it will also frighten and scare your pup, which, in turn, will cause them to lose the trust they have in you and may lead to fear and anxiety. So, never hit your furkid, hold their mouth close, or physically punish them when they nip at you.
Training away a puppy’s biting behavior can take months and is certainly not the easiest task. So, set your expectations realistic, be patient, and be consistent with the training. If you have done everything correctly and still make absolutely no progress whatsoever, it’s a good idea to seek help from a professional dog trainer or an animal behavior specialist.