Teaching a puppy not to bite is one of the more challenging aspects of getting a dog. Biting and mouthing is a natural behaviour for dogs.
While it may seem funny when your dog is young, it’s vital to stop puppy biting. It’s not something that should be encouraged into adulthood.
Although their needle-sharp teeth are painful, puppies do not share the same jaw strength as their adult counterparts, so stopping mouthing at an early age is essential.
But how do you teach a puppy not to bite? The simple answer is that you don’t. Instead, you enable your puppy to learn bite inhibition and what are 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 social interaction and discovery.
Playing games of chase, face-biting, tug and wrestling not only help puppies learn how to communicate with other dogs but at the same time, they’re learning what’s acceptable behaviour and what isn’t.
So, it’s entirely natural for a puppy to continue to use these methods of interaction once they have left their littermates and joined your household.
Not only that, but puppies also 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 relieves boredom.
What is bite inhibition?
Bite inhibition refers to a dog’s ability to use their mouth gently. A dog with good bite inhibition can control the pressure of their mouth when biting an object to prevent or moderate damage.
Puppies begin to learn bite inhibition 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 uses too much pressure 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 pressure of their grip to an acceptable level.
Teaching 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 behaviour. Shaping enables your puppy to learn through a process where you reinforce behaviour that is close to the desired outcome. Gradually asking more and more of your puppy until their behaviour matches your ultimate training goal.
It should start as soon as you bring your 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 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 from your puppy as soon as they bite 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 of 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 behaviour by continuing to play with them.
It’s important to recognise that if a puppy is over-excited or tired their biting may escalate and, in this case, end the game by separating yourself and your puppy via a baby gate or exercise pen.
As you and your puppy progress you can work on removing attention for softer and softer bites.
Reinforce Good Behaviour
Puppies learn incredible fast especially when you reinforce good behaviour. Whether you reinforce using praise, play or food your puppy will quickly learn that good things happen when they display a response that you like.
It’s easy to forget to 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 behaviour.
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 an appropriate toy and for you to reinforce their behaviour through praise or play.
Puppies love moving objects to chase and chew and unfortunately, it’s often our feet, trouser legs or bathrobe as we move from room to room.
The easiest way to redirect this type of chase and chomp behaviour 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 that everyone agrees to for interaction with your puppy. Consistency is vital.
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 they will learn.
Consistency in re-enforcing good behaviours 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 what they need to do to keep those things.
Stop puppy biting
It can be a frustrating time for both puppy and owner so keep play and training sessions short. If you find yourself getting irritated with your dog, 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 biting 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 to teach your puppy what is appropriate play and what are suitable toys. So, if you feel that you are struggling or getting overwhelmed don’t hesitate to ask a professional 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 behaviours that last into adulthood.