How to stop puppy biting

Explore gentle methods to teach your young canine to have a softer mouth.

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June 18, 2017

Dealing with puppy biting

So you’ve got an adorable puppy…but that puppy is biting or nipping you (not so adorable). Don’t worry, this is very common and a natural puppy behaviour, but we are here to help you with some advice to guide your puppy to the right behaviour and show you how to nip that biting or destructive behaviour in the bud!

Why do puppies nip and bite everything?

It is important to understand that during the formative period when your pup is 2 - 4 months old, the puppy is teething. During this time, they show a lot more interest in chewing, biting and mouthing. This is natural and expected in all puppies, but some are more inclined than others. There are numerous reasons they chew a lot around this time. They are learning to use their nose and their taste, along with how to use their mouth. They are also learning what they can and can’t eat or play with, so this is where we need to give them a bit of a nudge in the right direction.

How to stop puppy biting

Here is a selection of techniques you can try to teach your pup what is and isn't appropriate to bite and chew and to guide them to a soft mouth.

Bite inhibition refers to a dog’s ability to control the strength and force of his mouthing. A dog who hasn’t learned bite inhibition with people doesn’t recognise the sensitivity of human skin, so can bite too hard, even in play. Bite inhibition is a natural progression with pups and occurs at the same time as the chewing and destructive behaviour. This is seen naturally when the pups play with each other. In the wild, they are basically learning how to fight and attack prey by play fighting with each other. In the home environment they will automatically try this with you and your family, as you are in essence the other pups, or family members in their pack. However at home, we teach them that it is fine to play and run around as much as they want, but they must not bite us. Here are some techniques you can use to do this!

1. Use dog toys

The first thing we do around this age of teething is make sure the puppy has access to some toys that it can play with and chew when it desires. HOWEVER, it is very important that these toys do not resemble anything that is commonly found in the house – a fake shoe is a prime example of a bad chew toy, because once your dog realises it can chew shoes, you will have a hard time stopping it. Select toys like rubber Kong toys, a rope, or tennis balls (if you don’t play tennis!), special wood toys for dogs with no sharp edges etc. We don’t recommend soft teddy bears, blankets or pillows, as these will encourage them to chew cushions, couches and bedding. Don’t leave your shoes and slippers or clothes around on the ground in the first few months of your pup’s life inside your home.

2. Teach the gentle command

To guide your pup to the nice gentle behaviour you want, we want to bring in some positive reinforcement using the ‘gentle’ command. When your pup is playing with you or mouthing you gently, you can say “gentle’ and click and reward that gentle behaviour. Practise this lots! Remember to practise at times when your pup is calm, not when they're in a crazy or really bitey mood!

3. Redirect your pup to a toy

If your pup is biting or nipping at you, try to redirect onto an appropriate tug toy. Offer the toy for them to grab and chew on. Shake it around in a really enticing, exciting way to make it more interesting for them to grab (you’re trying to make it like a prey animal). You could even rub some nice smelling food onto it to make it even more enticing, or try a squeaky toy which is more engaging too. If your pup grabs the toy, praise them and play with it with them for a while to reward that redirection

4. Introduce retrieve

It’s all well and good discriminating against bad behaviour, but your puppy still needs to bite and chew. It is great to encourage this in the form of fetching or retrieving. We tie a toy to the end of a piece of rope and throw it away, followed by a “fetch” command. When the puppy grabs the toy we pull it towards us while enticing the puppy in with a “come” or “bring it here” command, followed by a click and reward. Be careful not to start a tug of war – unless that is what you want of course. This is a multi-purpose exercise with many benefits. We are teaching bite inhibition by giving them a tug toy to redirect their mouthy play onto an appropriate item, and we are teaching destructive discrimination by helping them understand what is okay to chew. We are also fulfilling their natural prey drive and instinctive behaviour to hunt or chase things. Lastly, we are enriching their learning. This is a form of playtime that is very beneficial to their development as a well-rounded dog, and keeps them happy and fit.

5. Prioritise rest

Many pups get much more bitey or destructive when they are overtired, so make sure you're putting them in their crate regularly throughout the day for a nap (like a human baby, pups need lots of sleep and rest in the day!). This can make a HUGE difference, so do make sure your pup is getting long periods of rest in the crate in the day - young pups should sleep for 16-20 hours a day!

6. The lip roll and jaw pinch techniques

To provide some contrast to that positive ‘Gentle’ command, the lip roll and jaw pinch are two techniques we like to use to initiate bite inhibition with puppies in the later part of the formative period. The way these techniques are executed is very simple: when the pup approaches to mouth, bite or nip, you simply let your hand be enclosed by their jaw. For the Lip Roll technique, you roll their lip onto their teeth and press down slightly as they bite, until they pull away.

Alternatively, for the Jaw Pinch technique, you press your thumb down on top of their tongue and pinch down against your forefinger on the underside of the jaw again until they pull away. You need to do this every time they try and nip you and use a firm “no” command. It is important that you never encourage biting when you are playing with your pup, and always discriminate against biting using firm tones of voice.

It’s important to do this firmly enough to be effective, otherwise it can just become part of the game. You are effective when your pup’s jaw gapes open (almost like a little gag) and your pup pulls back from you.

Working on destructive behaviour

Discrimination Training is a technique we use to teach our pups to discriminate between what is okay for them to bite and chew on around the house (their toys) and what isn't (shoes, toilet paper, furniture, clothing, cushions etc). The way we do this training teaches your pup not to chew inappropriate household items, whether you are looking or not! For example, if you just rely on saying "No" when your puppy chews things, your puppy may not chew those things when you're looking but may go straight back to it when your back is turned. Our Virtual Puppy School covers how to do Discrimination Training.

If your pup is a very persistent nipper or biter and you’re unable to make progress, my Virtual Puppy School covers this topic in much more detail with plenty of troubleshooting videos for older or persistent pups who are starting to frustrate you with the way the destroy stuff around the house, or their biting or nipping of your hands, feet, or clothes!  

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