Ouch, that Hurts! How to Nip Puppy Biting in the Bud
When my beloved Rottweiler, Sweetie, was a puppy, the puppy biting was relentless. I tried everything: loud yelping (from me), hot sauce on my arm (that burns!), handing her a toy, walking away, free play with other puppies and dogs, and time outs. One day seemingly by magic, all of my efforts came together and the biting stopped. Sweetie turned out to be the most amazing dog with whom I could have ever shared my life.
Why Do Puppies Bite?
Puppies bite. That is a fact. For most puppies this is a normal part of exploring their world, teething, and learning to play nicely. When do puppies stop biting and teething? Their natural urge should diminish by around four months. For a small subset of puppies, biting can predict a larger more foreboding problem of fear which can lead to fear-induced aggression. The best way to assess if your puppy is exhibiting normal behavior or exhibiting aggressive biting is to consider the context of the biting and observe his body language.
Is My Puppy Biting to Play?
Your dog is most likely play biting if any of these other behaviors are true:
- Bouncing forward and back, side to side
- Big wagging tail where the tail goes in circles or hits the body as it wags
- High-pitched barks
- Tail above the back or at the same level as the back
- Ears in neutral position
- Possibly low growls, but this should not be the most prominent vocalization
- Self-handicapping: rolling over onto the back with tail extended and wagging
- Play bow: front paws down, rear end up, big tail wag
Is My Puppy Biting a Sign of Fear?
Your dog is most likely fearful if he exhibits any of these behaviors while biting:
- Stiff, tense body and muscles
- Tail curled over the back and wagging very quickly
- Deep growls predominantly
- Tail down or curled under the body
- Ears very far forward or very far back
- Escalation of growling or biting outside of play
- Running away or hiding after biting (Your puppy may also do this depending on your behavior.)
If you think your puppy is fearful do three things, start with a visit to your veterinarian and seek help. You may also want to reach out to a positive reinforcement dog trainer who can help you determine what's causing the fear and help you correct the behaviors it's producing.
Teaching Your Puppy Not to Bite
If your puppy's behavior is consistent with play or if he is fearful, try the steps below to stop the biting. Remember, there's no place for violence when training a puppy. Don't yell, hit, hold down, or push his lips against his teeth. Instead, try the tried and true tips below to get your puppy on track. The goal is to teach your puppy he should never put his mouth on you.
- When he bites you, make a high-pitched yelp and walk across the room from him. If he comes to you, offer him a toy with which to play. Don't ever leave the room—leaving your puppy unattended—unless he is in a safe, puppy-proofed confinement area.
- Make sure your puppy has plenty of toys. This is essential. If you are the best chew toy in the house, he will seek you out for puppy biting! Rotate a variety of toys so he gets at least three different toys each day. Provide a toy box so that he can pick and choose what he likes.
- Distract your puppy with a toy or safe chewy before you go to pet him. Petting is a frequent trigger for puppy biting. Distracting the puppy can prevent the biting altogether.
- Never play with your puppy using your hands. Instead, always play with your puppy with a toy. You can't get mad at him for biting you if you aren't playing fair!
- Seek out play dates with well-adjusted dogs and puppies. Playing with other dogs wears your dog out and helps to teach him proper bite inhibition. This can be done safely at puppy socialization classes which can be started at eight weeks after the first set of vaccinations and deworming. Playing with adult dogs can also help with puppy biting as long as the adult dogs know how to play nicely. Do not bring your puppy to the dog park or daycare.
Puppy biting is normal and expected. Be patient as you would with any child. Use structure and positive reinforcement. Keep your puppy enriched and well exercised. Just like Sweetie, he can become a wonderful dog!