Puppies are a joy to be around. With their pink little bellies, sweet puppy eyes and their soft baby fur, puppies were made for cuddling. That is unless your puppy is related to a piranha. Those sharp little teeth can feel like you are being attacked. Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. The reality is all puppies bite, some more than others. They use their mouths to explore the world and to push their boundaries. Puppy biting and mouthing is a normal part of puppyhood, but it is up to you to teach your puppy that people are not a chew toy. Join us as we review why puppies bite and how to stop a puppy from biting.
Why do puppies bite?
Puppies bite for a few reasons; Teething, playing, and exploring are the most common reasons a puppy will bite. Understanding why your puppy is biting can help with training your puppy not to bite. Let’s start with a deeper dive into why your puppy may be biting then we will move onto how to stop a puppy from biting.
The most common reason a puppy will bite is teething. Teething happens when their puppy teeth break through the gums and again when their adult teeth push through. Just like with babies, teething hurts and your puppy is looking for something to relieve the pain. It just so happens that our soft fleshy skin with the hard bone beneath, are the perfect combination to relieve the pain and pressure they feel. My husband’s meaty finger was my son’s favorite teething ring too. Puppy teething tends to be at its worst between 1 to 8 weeks and again at 4 to 6 months, though a puppy that is not properly trained may continue biting long after all their adult teeth have come in.
Teething not only causes puppy biting but also puppy chewing. For ways to stop your puppy’s unwanted chewing read: How to Stop Your Puppy’s Destructive Chewing
Another reason puppies bite is because it is a natural form of play. Puppies will play bite while they are learning how to exert their dominance. Occasionally a puppy will become over excited and bite excessively. When this happens with their siblings, the bitten pup will either cry out in pain or bite back. If a puppy bites an adult dog, that dog may growl in response. All these reactions tell the puppy that biting others is not ok. As humans we generally don’t bite or growl therefore the normal social clues are not given. This can lead the pup to think that biting is ok.
Puppies also use their mouths to explore the world since they don’t have hands. When puppies use their mouths to explore us, we call this mouthing. The difference between mouthing and biting is that with mouthing they don’t close their jaws or inflict pain. Again, it is up to you to teach your pup the proper use of their mouths.
How to stop a puppy from biting
As I mentioned previously, puppies to start learn about biting when they are still with their canine families. Based on the reaction of the dogs around them, they learn when it is ok to bite and when it is not. You need to continue this early canine training when they join your family.
The most common recommendation on how to stop a puppy from biting is to teach your puppy that biting hurts you. You can do this by letting out a very sad, whiny “ouch” when they bite. Do not yell too loud for the loud sound might cause your pup to become excited and bite more. The first time you do this your puppy should look surprised and may even lick you.
As soon as they stop biting you want to redirect their biting by giving them a suitable object that they can bite and chew. This will teach your pup that there are acceptable chew items that are not your hands. You will need to repeat this process multiple times before your puppy learns what is ok to bite and chew on.
This technique works well for a puppy that is teething, since they are just looking to soothe their sore gums. For a puppy that is play biting it may not work as well. It didn’t work for our newest puppy Molly. We found that if we continued to play with her after saying “ouch” she just thought it was part of the game.
Instead of redirecting her to a toy we stopped playing with her. For us this approach worked the best.
Just like with the redirect method as soon as your puppy bites you say “ouch” in a firm voice then stop playing with them. If your pup is in a safe place walk away and leave them alone. If they are not in a safe place move them to a safe place and leave them alone for about 5 minutes. Do not talk to them while placing them in the safe place. This will teach your pup that biting is not allowed and playtime will stop whenever they bite. Puppies are very social so they will not like that they are alone.
Make sure to puppy proof your home. It only takes a second for a puppy to find trouble. There are many dangers in your home that you may not think of. To learn more read: Puppy Proofing your Home: 10 Silent Dangers.
After the 5 minutes is up you can go back to playing. Make sure to give your pup a toy as soon as you start to play. If your pup bites again repeat the process.
Longer time out
Depending on your pup you may need to leave them alone in their confined safe space longer than 5 minutes. Do not take your pup out of their confined space until they have calmed down. Sometimes puppies that are biting excessively are just over tired and need down time to rest and unwind. Never let your pup out of their confined safe space if they are crying or barking. This will only teach them to do these behaviors when they want to get out.
The key is consistency
The key to both ‘ouch” methods working are to be consistent. If you allow them to bite you sometimes but other times you say “ouch” and redirect or leave, your puppy will never learn what you expect of them. The same message needs to be repeated by all family members. Have a family meeting and make sure everyone knows what to do and why.
When “Ouch” doesn’t work
For most puppies either “ouch” method will be enough to teach them to stop biting, but some dogs may need a different approach. This is especially true if you have been inconsistent with their training.
When we brought home our golden retriever rescue he was very mouthy. Charlie was estimated to be about 5 years old at the time and had some bad habits. One of them was mouthing your arm. The other was knocking over my young nieces and pulling out their hairbands. There was also the time that he nipped me in the bottom when he wanted me to get up and play with him.
Saying “ouch” to him didn’t work. He was past that stage. He was looking to find his place in the pack and to show that he was dominant. To stop his excessive mouthing it was suggested that we use a water gun to give him a small squirt every time he used his mouth inappropriately. It worked like a charm.
We purchased a few small water guns. The kind you find at a dollar store and kept them filled around the house. Whenever he used his mouth in an inappropriate way, we gave him a small shot of water to his head. He was a large dog with a large head so shooting him with a small spray of water in the check or forehead was easy. The spray of water was just enough to startle him and allow us to redirect him to an appropriate behavior. It took only a few times to stop the mouthing.
When Molly came along at 4 months old her puppy training had been limited. We used the same water gun method on her as we had used on Charlie. After only a couple of squirts she got the message and stopped biting. As with all training you must be consistent with your method. If you try this method you should never shoot water into their eyes, ears, nose or mouth. Also never use a water gun in an abusive way towards your dog or on a dog that has shown signs of aggression.
It is important to note that neither Charlie nor Molly showed any signs of aggression. The water gun solution worked for us. Only you know what your dog is like. If you are at all concerned with aggression in your dog you need to seek professional help. You can find a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists at The Animal Behavior Society directory or a Professional Dog Trainer at The Association of Professional Dog Trainers.
Puppy Socialization is an important part of your puppy’s training. It is more than just showing your puppy new experiences it is also about teaching them acceptable behaviors. To learn more about Puppy Socialization please read: