Teaching a puppy not to bite is one of the more challenging aspects of getting a dog. Nipping and biting is a natural behavior for dogs.
While it may seem funny when your dog is young, it’s vital to stop puppy biting as it’s not something that should be encouraged into adulthood. Although their needle-sharp puppy teeth are painful, puppies do not share the same jaw strength as their adult dogs, so stopping mouthing at an early age is essential.
But how do you teach your puppy not to bite? The simple answer is that you don’t. Instead, you enable your puppy to learn bite inhibition and appropriate and inappropriate objects to chew.
Why do puppies bite?
Puppies explore the world with their mouths. Biting, nipping and mouthing are all forms of normal social interaction and discovery.
Playing games of chase, play biting, tug, and rough play like wrestling not only helps puppies learn how to communicate with other dogs but at the same time, they’re learning what’s acceptable behavior and what isn’t. So, it’s entirely natural for a new puppy to continue to use these methods of interaction once they have left their littermates and joined your household.
Not only that but puppies bite and chew to relieve the pain and irritation of teething. A trying time that eventually finishes at around eight months old. While many puppies grow out of the need to chew everything, it’s still an enriching activity. Both puppies and adult dogs, even into their senior years, enjoy the action of chewing. Not only does it massage gums and help keep their teeth in good shape, but it also provides mental stimulation and relieves boredom.
What is bite inhibition?
Bite inhibition refers to a dog’s ability to use its mouth gently. A dog with good bite inhibition can control the pressure of its mouth when biting an object to prevent or moderate damage.
Puppies begin to learn bite inhibition behavior while they are still with their mum and littermates. They quickly discover that a hard bite means that food disappears as mum gets up and leaves.
What’s more, if a puppy bites too hard when playing with a littermate, it’s likely to stop the game. Puppies on the receiving end of a hard bite communicate their displeasure by yelping and halting the game for a few moments before resuming. Through these interactions, puppies quickly learn that gentle pressure means that good things continue, food and play, whereas too much pressure means that the good things stop.
Bite inhibition is a valuable lesson for a puppy to learn. It teaches a puppy how to control their jaws and limit the grip pressure of their teeth to an acceptable level when playing.
Teach your puppy bite inhibition
If your puppy has siblings as well as a mum, they have already had some bite inhibition training before they get to you. Your job is to continue the excellent work.
Dogs learn through repetition, so patience and consistency are essential when training your puppy. Eventually, with your help, your pup will learn to control the pressure of their bite, but it’s a process that can be frustrating.
Teaching your puppy bite inhibition relies on shaping their natural play behavior. Shaping enables your puppy to learn through a process where you reinforce behavior close to the desired outcome. Gradually asking more and more of your puppy until their behavior matches your ultimate training goal.
It should start as soon as you bring your new puppy home and be a regular part of their play as well as their formal training. The initial aim shouldn’t be to stop all puppy biting and mouthing. Focus on the hard bites, and once your puppy learns that these are unacceptable, you can gradually progress until there is softer and softer contact.
The first step is to remove any attention as soon as your puppy bites hard enough to hurt. Using a calm voice, say ‘ouch’ and move so that your puppy doesn’t have access to the body part they were biting. While there is debate over whether making a high-pitched yelp or squeal increases excitement, it’s also an option and one worth trying.
If your puppy stops biting you when you say ‘ouch,’ praise them and then reinforce your puppy’s good behavior by continuing to play with them.
It’s important to recognize that if a puppy is over-excited or tired, the puppy bites may escalate and, in this case, end the game and separating yourself and your puppy via a baby gate or exercise pen, or if that’s not possible, leave the room for a short period. As you and your puppy’s behavior progress, you can work on removing attention for softer and softer bites.
Reinforce Good Behaviour
Puppies love to play and learn incredibly fast, especially when you reinforce good behavior. Whether you reinforce using praise, play, or a treat, your puppy will quickly learn those good things happen when they display behavior that you like.
It’s easy to forget to reward or praise your puppy for a softer bite or a moment of calm. But the more you do it, the faster your puppy will learn and the more likely they are to repeat the behavior.
Redirect nipping and biting
If you don’t like your puppy using your hands as playthings, make sure you have plenty of appropriate toys so that you can redirect their attention.
The more toys you have, the easier it is for your puppy to make the right choice. While you may not like the idea of toys all around the house, it does offer your puppy lots of opportunities to pick appropriate chew toys or teething toys and for you to reinforce their behavior through praise or play.
Puppies love moving objects to chase and chew, and unfortunately, it’s often our feet, trouser legs, or bathrobe that they want to play tug of war with as we move from room to room. The easiest way to redirect this type of chase and chomp behavior is to keep several long toys (tug rope or latch rope) around the house and drag them behind you as you move around your home.
Rules of the House
If you live in a multi-person household, set firm rules on acceptable puppy behavior that everyone agrees to for interaction with your puppy. Consistency is vital to stop a puppy from biting.
If one family member thinks it’s OK or cute for your puppy to bite their hands or feet while the rest of you don’t, your puppy will get confused. While it’s sometimes difficult to get all family members on the same page, it’s essential. A bitey puppy doesn’t stay a puppy for long. If your dog grows up learning that biting hands is an acceptable form of play, it can lead to trouble later on.
Dogs learn through repetition. The more opportunities your puppy has to play or interact with you appropriately, the faster you will stop your puppy from biting.
Consistency in re-enforcing good behaviors also makes the process much quicker. Whether it’s your puppy using a soft mouth or choosing an appropriate toy, puppies want good things to remain (You, play, attention) and will quickly work out that to keep those things, it needs to stop biting.
Stop puppy biting
It can be frustrating for both puppy and owner, so keep play and dog training sessions short. If you find yourself getting irritated with your puppy’s behavior, it’s better to stop on a good note and walk away.
Always work on bite inhibition when your puppy is calm and play with toys when they are more excited. If your puppy gets over-excited and insists on nipping you instead, give them a timeout by using a baby gate or exercise pen to separate yourself from your puppy.
There’s absolutely no reason to use anything other than positive methods when training your new puppy on appropriate play and suitable toys. So, if you feel that you are struggling or getting overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to ask a professional dog trainer for help.
The good news is that most puppies naturally grow out of mouthing and biting by around eight months of age. Be patient and consistent, and your puppy will reward you with good behaviors that last into adulthood.