Nothing brings more joy to a household than a brand new puppy. And while there are a few learning curves when it comes to house training and teaching them to sit, stay, and rollover, some new puppy owners may find that sharp puppy biting is another behavior to contend with. Keep reading for info on how to teach a puppy not to bite.
Why Do Puppies Chew?
If you’ve found yourself with a nippy pup, don’t despair. According to the ASPCA, it’s normal for puppies and dogs to chew on objects as they explore the world. In fact, it helps accomplish a number of things for canines, including relieving teething discomfort, keeping teeth clean, and even combating boredom or anxiety.1
The first thing to do if you’ve noticed your puppy nibbling or biting with their little sharp teeth is to try and discern the root cause of the issue. Is it something hunger or teething? Or perhaps there’s a more serious, underlying issue, like separation anxiety. Whatever the reason, understanding why your puppy behaves the way they do is paramount when it comes to working toward curbing bad behavior.
What Not To Do When Your Puppy Bites
Because a certain level of biting or nipping is normal for a puppy, it’s important to take this time to teach your pet what’s good behavior and what’s not acceptable.2 For example, puppies learn about the intensity of their bites largely from playing with other pups. Using some techniques that they pick up from other animals may come in handy when it comes to shaping those less aggressive behaviors (but more on that later).
Here are a few things you shouldn’t do if your puppy bites you (as a general rule of thumb):
- Don’t pull your hand away too quickly (you may just end up further hurting yourself, especially for those with sensitive skin). Instead, let your limbs go limp. Not only will they not be as much fun to “play” with, it may help teach your puppy about playfulness levels.
- NEVER hit your dog.
- Don’t scold your pup or put your finger in their face.
- Don’t hold their mouths closed.3
This behavior on your part might cause your dog to become afraid of you, making your pup less likely to correct their behavior.
Watch For Aggressive Puppy Behavior
Nipping is normal to a certain degree, but if you notice that it’s a constant behavior, it could spell trouble in puppy paradise. Not sure if your puppy’s biting is due to aggression or another symptom? Here are a few warning signs that you should be paying attention to:
Body language: Obviously, dogs can’t talk, but there are often signs they exhibit prior to a bite.
- Signs of anxiety or arousal (ears forward, intense eye contact, tense body, etc.)
- Showing teeth
- Showing whites of their eyes
- Snarling or growling
- Aggressive or frequent snapping/nipping
- Lip curling
- Bids for dominance
- Tense or challenging stances
- Aggressive barking
- Constant and sometimes hard biting4,5
It’s important to establish a set of household rules about the correct way for other family members to play with the puppy. This helps to ensure that your puppy learns how to interact and play with everyone the same way.6
Adequate Exercise: One Of The Best Ways To Stop Puppy Biting
The good news is that aggression can, more often than not, be corrected into good behavior. Because puppies are so malleable, it’s important to catch these behaviors sooner rather than later. That way, you can teach them proper and effective ways to correct it.
One of the best ways to do this is to use small treats in order to help promote normal behavior through positive reinforcement after appropriate interactions. An easy way to do this is to keep a bag of training treats nearby. If your puppy starts getting overstimulated and nipping, sit or go completely still. Your pup will most likely stop what they’re doing. Use some positive reinforcement (like saying, “Good dog”) and give them a treat. Over time, they will come to associate that nipping or playful biting is “bad,” and (hopefully) they’ll begin to wean off the behavior.7
Here are a few other simple steps that might help to curb puppy bites:
- Substitute a toy or chew bone if the puppy tries to gnaw on your fingers or toes.
- Use a taste deterrent on your fingers, ankles, toes, and even clothing that tends to get nibbled on.
- Encourage more non-contact forms of play, like fetch or tug-of-war, rather than playing with your hands.
- Set up playdates with other puppies and friendly adult dogs – this may help your pup socialize and learn important behavioral skills.8
If you find that the aggression persists, it may be time to consult an obedience trainer or veterinarian for further training and guidance. A puppy class may also be beneficial, as experts can assist by teaching correctional tips, like time out procedures, for more aggressive or persistent pups.
It’s also important to not discourage your puppy from playing with you altogether. You don’t want to completely stop them from playing, but rather teach them how to participate in gentle play. Remember, a little bit of patience goes a long way with your new furry friend. Good things come to those who are patient.
The Perfect Puppy
A puppy is always a lovely addition to the home that brings playfulness and joy into the lives of their owners. The good news is that teething and chewing in puppies is completely normal. If that behavior does become more aggressive, there are plenty of ways to help your new pup understand and create a better biting behavior through positive reinforcement.
Understanding the difference between a playful puppy bite and an aggressive bite is important. This is particularly true if you’re trying to decide whether to pursue obedience training or to consult a professional trainer for assistance. No matter which route you choose to go, taking the time to teach your biting puppy how to become a well-trained and playful dog will go a long way.