Puppy biting is normal canine behavior. New puppies or young dogs will try to put everything into their mouths, because they are curious about their surroundings.
Puppies also play with each other through play-biting. When a puppy bites too hard during play, his siblings may yelp and stop play temporarily. Biting too hard on an adult dog (e.g. their mother) may also result in a correction. In this way, puppies learn social rules and boundaries.
There is nothing wrong with dogs or puppies biting each other during play, but it is crucial to teach them not to bite on humans.
A puppy who is not taught this lesson may become a danger to all the people around him, including his owners. Play-biting with humans, especially with seniors and children, may accidentally cause injuries and ultimately result in forced euthanasia.
If our puppy is biting us or others, it is best for everyone not to engage in rough play with him. Also, do not play games that encourage biting such as Tug-of-War.
Some dogs may have low bite thresholds. This means that they resort to biting or aggression even with fairly low, seemingly harmless stimuli.
One of my dogs, a Shiba Inu, can get mouthy when he is excited or frustrated, when I restrain him, when I stop him from doing something, and much more. Because of this, it is extremely important to train him to have good bite inhibition.
I start bite inhibition exercises as soon as I bring a puppy home. Even though puppy teeth are sharp, a puppy does not have the jaw strength of an adult, and is not capable of doing as much damage. Once my puppy has a soft mouth, I train him to stop biting on people.
Hand-feeding is a good way to teach our puppies to control the force of their bites. I hand-feed my puppy at least some of his kibble every day. If he bites too hard when getting his food, I do a sharp ouch or yelp, and ignore him for a few seconds. This teaches him that if he bites too hard, the food stops.
If my puppy is taking food from me gently, I praise him and keep the food coming. Often, I will combine hand-feeding with puppy obedience training, and dog grooming sessions. Hand-feeding can also help prevent food aggression issues, so I continue this practice throughout my dog’s life.
We can also get Ian Dunbar’s book After You Get Your Puppy, for an overview of bite inhibition training.
Initially, Ian Dunbar may come across as somewhat alarmist. We may feel that if we do not meet his somewhat unrealistic dog socialization and puppy training demands, things are going to go badly. I just try to ignore the alarmist talk, and focus on the bite inhibition and handling exercises, which are quite useful.
I am very thankful that my puppy (now adult dog) has a soft mouth. Because my Shiba Inu has good bite inhibition, we were able to solve many of his subsequent issues, which would have been difficult to deal with if he were biting at full strength.
When Our Puppy Bites …
When our puppy bites, it is important NOT to jerk our hand away. If we jerk away, we will likely get scratched. In addition, sudden and quick movements may make our puppy think that it is fun game. This rewards the biting behavior, and encourages him to bite on us even more.
In the worst case, quick movements can activate a puppy’s prey drive, and encourage aggressive behaviors. Therefore, it is important to control this reflex action, and stay still. In addition, I give a No command, or yelp as a puppy might do to his litter-mates, when they are playing too rough.
I usually yelp when it is an accidental dog bite, for example when my dog gets his teeth on me while taking food out of my hand. Yelping is also appropriate for puppies that are still learning the rules. Otherwise, I use No for adult and adolescent dogs, who should know better.
If puppy continues to bite after the verbal command, I usually follow-up with an appropriate preventative technique, which will be outlined below.
Stop Puppy Biting Techniques
While dealing with puppy biting issues, I always try to stay calm, but firm.
If a dog is causing puncture wounds, or escalating his aggressive biting and dominant behaviors (e.g. leg humping), it is best to get professional help as soon as possible.
It is much better to catch problems early on, and fix them before they escalate in degree and frequency.
Stop Puppy Biting Technique 1
Redirect our puppy onto a toy.
This technique is especially useful for an untrained puppy. It lets him know that it is ok to bite on a toy, but not ok to bite on people.
For example, my dog gets excited and starts biting when I scratch his tummy. Therefore, I used that as a training exercise to get him to bite on a toy, instead of on my hand. Since I can start the exercise anytime I want, I control the environment and make sure that I have multiple soft toys nearby for use.
A toy can also be useful for those cases where the puppy is losing control, and getting a bit too excited, or frustrated. Giving him something to redirect his excitement or frustration at, may help to calm him down.
Stop Puppy Biting Technique 2
Push our fist into the puppy’s mouth.
Some trainers suggest making our hand into a fist (so our fingers are safe), and then pushing our fist in gently, when a puppy bites. This is uncomfortable for the puppy, and he will likely release our hand.
While it did get my puppy to release my hand, it did not reduce his biting behavior. In fact, my dog responds badly to any aversive methods. Doing this made him want to bite on me even more, because he got a reaction, and now has something (my fist) to fight with.
Ultimately, this technique was not very effective.
Stop Puppy Biting Technique 3
Spray water on our puppy’s muzzle.
Spraying water worked initially, but only for a very short period of time. Once my puppy figured things out, he started attacking the spray bottle.
Some trainers suggest hiding the bottle, but I wasn’t able to do that fast enough. Little water guns are easier to hide but they leak, run out of water quickly, and do not have a strong spray.
As with all other aversive methods, it is difficult to trick a puppy into thinking that the bad stimulus is not coming from us. This can compromise a puppy’s trust, and weaken our bond with him.
Stop Puppy Biting Technique 4
Most dogs value their freedom to roam around the house and backyard. Dogs are also pack animals, and like being with both human and canine members of the family. Since a time-out takes away both of these things, it is an extremely effective method of dog discipline.
When giving my dog a time-out –
- I make sure to put him in a really boring room, with no windows that he can reach. Currently, my dog’s time-out area is the laundry room.
- I check that the room is safe, and contains nothing that he can chew, play, or interact with in any way.
- Finally, I ensure that nobody gives puppy any attention during his time-out period.
It is better not to use a crate for time-outs. The crate should be a happy place, where our dog feels comfortable going to for some peace and quiet, for sleep, and to chew on his favorite toy.
When my puppy bites, I first use a no-mark, for example, No or Ack-Ack to let him know that it is an undesirable behavior. Then I give him an alternative command, for example Sit. If he stops biting and follows the command, then I praise him and reward him with attention and a fun game. Then, I let him continue with his regularly scheduled program.
If he continues to bite, I start with a timeout-lite by first withdrawing my attention. I do this by standing up, folding my arms, and turning away from puppy. If he escalates his behavior and starts to jump or bite on my clothing, then I quickly remove him to his full time-out area.
I find that a time-out is the most effective way to stop my dogs from biting. However, I only use it when puppy is deliberately acting out, and not for accidental bites.
Initially, I start with a short 1 minute time-out. If my dog continues to bite right after he comes out, I return him to the laundry room for a much longer period of time (about 15 minutes). Be flexible with the time-out duration, and adjust it according to our dog’s age, temperament, and behavior. Some trainers do not believe in long time-outs, while others may ignore their dogs (timeout-lite) for hours or even days.
Do not use time-outs for training mistakes, or lack of motivation.