Table of Contents
- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
One of the first behaviors you want to train a new puppy is how to stop biting. There is the easy advice: redirecting your puppy’s mouth to an appropriate toy or chew. Redirection is especially helpful during a puppy’s teething phase.
“Experiment with different textures, soft or hard, even placing some of the items in the freezer can provide cooling relief for a teething pup. The more appropriate outlets your pet has, the less motivated they will be to seek out inappropriate outlets,” says Sara Richter, CDBC (Certified Dog Behavior Consultant) with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.
Richter says that if a pup is easily redirected, there’s not much cause for concern. Training strong alternate behaviors for when your dog becomes too mouthy can sometimes be a solution in and of itself. And luckily most puppies are quite trainable in the biting department. But what if redirection doesn’t work?
Below we cover several training techniques to teach redirection, bite inhibition, and impulse control in different scenarios. Practice these throughout the week and you’ll see your puppy gradually become more gentle. We also provide tips on when to bring in a professional trainer.
Redirect Your Puppy to Stop Biting When Playing
In arousal biting, your dog is expressing excitement, playfulness, or uncertainty—not aggression. That’s why it’s important not to punish your puppy if a bite accidentally happens.
“Play should be organic and fun, a safe environment for exploration without the pressures of a heavily fortified structure,” Richter says. So rather, pay attention to how your pup plays.
“If they enjoy more interactive play such as tug or chasing, start with a long toy. A flirt pole allows you to keep your fingers far from your pet’s teeth. Over time as they perfect the ability to grab the toy reliably, you can begin to use shorter toys.”
1. If your puppy has trouble with nipping when playing, try:
- dropping the toy and walking away
- keeping toys and treats away from the body (i.e. tossing a toy away from you, such as playing fetch)
- dedicated training sessions or puppy training classes
- puppy socialization sessions where they can play with other dogs
2. Make sure your puppy likes the game
Redirecting your dog to bite a chew toy or treat can be a good way to keep your limbs bite-free, but you also want to make sure your dog is into the game too. Pushing a game your dog doesn’t want to play can make them frustrated, says Richter. “Using redirection will only be effective if you’re guiding the dog to an activity they want to engage in.”
“Let’s say you wave around a tug toy and your pet excitedly runs after it. When they catch the toy in their mouth, you stop moving it from side to side, and instead start to pull it into your body. As soon as you begin to pull, your pet immediately releases the toy and begins jumping and mouthing at your arms. The dog may be showing you that they prefer to chase something in motion rather than compete for possession,” narrates Richter.
Alternative ways to play with a toy can include:
- throwing a toy for your dog to chase
- multiple toys in a game of back to back chase
- a flirt pole that keeps your dog away from your body
Drop Treats to Distract Your Puppy’s Mouth
Another thing you can do is “Be a Tree.” Be a Tree is a training exercise where you immediately hold yourself still the moment a puppy starts nipping. When working with your dog, avoid jerking your limbs, as that may make them more tempting to play with. Instead, try letting them go limp.
According to Richter, this will prevent you from adding to a dog’s arousal. When your dog is calm, you can move again or reinitiate play. If your dog tries to bite you again, Richter recommends:
Dropping some treats or food on the ground to engage your pet’s mouth with something else.
While your pet is eating the fallen food, calmly move away from your pet and behind a barrier such as a baby gate or door.
Come back with an appropriate object that the dog can chew on such as a natural chew, stuffed food puzzle toy, etc.
When you return to play, try playing through protected contact at first. For example, if your pet is in the living room behind a gate, and you are in the kitchen on the other side of that gate. If your pet jumps at you, you can easily step back and be protected by the barrier between you. Interact through or over the gate until you feel safe and confident that your pet can handle more interaction.
To end a game with your pet, give them something else that they can engage with independently such as a natural chew, stuffed food puzzle toy, etc. to transition away from the interaction.
You’ll also want to be careful about your clothing choices. Avoid anything dangling and stick to fabrics that can withstand teeth and claws. In other words, this is not the time to wear your most favorite outfit as dogs can easily snag clothing while playing.
Disengaging with your dog when they are biting helps signal that this behavior means “game over.” When re-engaging your dog, it’s beneficial to wait until they’re displaying calmer body language.
If your dog struggles to relax, Richter also recommends trying Dr. Karen Overall’s Protocol for Relaxation. This series of tasks slowly desensitizes your dog to your movements and noise, teaching them to relaxes as your body language gets more intense. “Keep in mind that relaxation, while a beneficial skill, is often not enough on its own to modify complex behaviors,” says Richter.
If it is hard for your dog to transition into relaxation mode, you can try enrichment activities that will keep a doggy’s mouth busy. These activities can include your dog engaging with puzzle toys or snuffle mats—to name a few. Mental stimulation also has the benefit of tiring a doggo out so they’ll be less inclined to give you a chomp.
Need some ideas? Richter recommends: Canine Enrichment for the Real World: Making It a Part of Your Dog’s Daily Life by Allie Bender, CDBC and Emily Strong CDBC.
How to Prevent Puppy Biting
1. Make sure your puppy’s needs are met
If you find that redirecting your dog, or stopping play, is not working, consider whether your dog is trying to communicate a need. Some puppies do not know how to slow down and need to be in a boring environment before they realize how tired they are. Your puppy may need a bathroom break or a nap.
Taking a rest or changing up the environment with a quick walk can also help a dog reset.
2. Reinforce relaxation and calm
Keep relaxation training on-going, even when your dog isn’t in an excitable state. This can increase the time it takes for your dog to switch between play mode and rest mode. It’s good to encourage calm behaviors, and this is a helpful video on how to reinforce calm through verbal and situational cues.
“The first step to any training or behavior modification plan is to clearly define goals,” says Richter. “What does calmness look like? Is it grabbing the toy slowly and gently as opposed to too quickly and forcefully? Is it keeping all four paws on the floor when we pick up the toy? Breaking down what we are trying to accomplish into steps that are clearly defined, allows us to more easily identify and prompt desirable behavior from the dog.”
When your dog does something right, reward them. If they’re playing calmly, don’t walk away. This exchange helps them understand not biting means good stuff happens!
3. Utilize time out wisely
“We should first ask ourselves why we are using a time out. Do we need space away from the dog, or are we trying to punish behavior we didn’t like?” says Richter. Time out should be used to prevent and manage a puppy so that they can’t practice biting.
When you’re ready, gently place your puppy behind a barrier, such a dog play pen. Richter advises making sure this space has food and water, plus appropriate objects, such as chews and toys. Play with your puppy inside the pen and when they bite, immediately step out. This teaches a puppy that the consequences of biting is you leaving, and not them being confined.
Avoid Yelling or Physical Tactics
High-pitched noises can frighten your puppy, making the situation worse, or make your dog think you are playing rather than stopping play.
Avoid physical punishment too. These methods teach the dog to hide behaviors. Hidden behaviors make reading your dog’s emotions more difficult, and may lead to surprise or sudden bites. The best course is to calmly disengage so you and your pet get a break without accidentally contributing further to biting behaviors.
Benefits of Training Bite Inhibition
“Training and behavior modification should focus on positive reinforcement, rewarding behaviors we like, and preventing the practice of those we don’t until appropriate habits are formed,” says Richter. Early bite inhibition training can curb the likelihood of biting during adulthood and reduce stress from you and your dog. If your puppy doesn’t practice biting, they are also less likely to use their teeth in the future.
Keep in mind, puppies use their mouths to experience the world around them, so it’s natural for them to chew—especially during teething. Roughly six-months-old is the age your dog should be using their mouths less. They’ll be more confident and rely more on their eyes and nose to explore the world around them. If mouthing still happens after six months, then it may be time to bring in professional help.
Why Do Puppies Bite When Aroused?
The other way to stop a puppy from biting is understanding why they are biting. Puppies bite because:
- they are teething: If your puppy is starting to get more mouthy around the three to four month mark, they’re likely teething. Puppies develop 28 baby teeth around six weeks. Teething begins at three-and-a-half to four months until six to seven months of age, when their permanent teeth (42 of them) come in. Frozen dog toys can help soothe teething woes.
- they are over-excited or frustrated: Some dogs can easily tip from arousal biting into harder biting if they become frustrated or overstimulated. Redirection to another toy or asking for calm behaviors may help them develop better impulse control.
- they are afraid: If you suspect your dog may be biting or mouthing out of aggression—or if overstimulation often leads to aggressive play, territorial, defensive, or fear-related behavior—do not attempt to tackle their mouthing without the guidance of a professional.
“Arousal biting typically develops as teething puppies turn into adolescents, however, it can show up later in life,” says Richter. This type of biting can be intense, causing scratches, bruising or other injuries — but it is not the same as aggression. Arousal biting ultimately stems from a lack of impulse control. Improving your dog’s foundational training basics with cues like leave it, sit, stay, and down, will also be helpful. After all, if your dog is in stay, they’re going to have trouble mouthing you at the same time.
When to Call a Professional Trainer
Be sure to look for a certified behaviorist or trainer that practices positive-reinforcement techniques. Research shows that aversive, dominance-training methods, like the alpha-roll, can make mouthing behavior worse or potentially aggressive. Richter suggests bringing in a professional accredited and certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, or veterinary behaviorist, if the following behaviors get worse:
Nipping or mouthing to a point of pain
Not able to redirect their mouth to a toy or treat
Persistent return to inappropriate activities
Struggle to return to a calm state
Display body language signals of stress
Escalation of growing or baring teeth
Destruction or damage in home
“For tips on what to look for and what to avoid when taking professional advice, check out the ‘Position Statement on Humane Dog Training’ written by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB),” advises Richter.
Teaching your dog to stop painful mouthing will not happen overnight. As with all dog training, particularly when we are trying to change a habit or innate behavior, consistency over time is the key. Make sure that everyone in the household is on board or your dog may learn that there are cases it’s OK to bite.