Trying to figure out how to stop a puppy from nipping can be a chore for a pet parent. Young puppies are little bundles of energy. They want to play all the time. A large part of that play involves the mouth. That could mean playing with a tug toy or choosing to playfully bite your arm or hand. A lot.
And while this is normal behavior for a puppy, they will need to be trained out of this behavior before reaching a certain age. Teaching your puppy not to bite this will take some time. But the effort you put in will definitely be worth it.
Here are a few tips on how to teach your puppy not to nip or bite. You’ll also learn when you might need to call on a dog trainer or another expert to help.
How To Stop A Puppy From Nipping: Bite Inhibition, Positive Reinforcement, And Clicker Training
It’s obviously no fun when you get a painful bite from a puppy during play. Their teeth may be tiny, but they’re razor sharp. There are a few methods you can use to help teach your dog that this kind of behavior isn’t acceptable.
When you play with your pup, you might be able to lessen the force of their bite. This is extremely important. If a puppy doesn’t learn how to moderate their bite, that could lead to major problems when they become an adult dog.
Puppies typically learn biting inhibition from their mother or the other pups in the litter. If they bite too hard, their mother (or littermate) will yelp loudly. This is the signal that the puppy needs to ease off.1
You can teach the same thing. Here’s how:
- If a puppy is nipping too hard during play, make a loud noise with your mouth. Say something like “ouch” or “that hurts.” If this excites your puppy and they just bite harder, walk away.
- You can put the puppy in a “time out” if they’re nipping too much and too hard. This means putting the pup in their crate for a while. Once the puppy calms down, reward that calm behavior with a treat and some affection.2
One popular dog and puppy training method is known as positive reinforcement. Some people might associate it with adult or older dogs, but it can also work if you’re trying to modify puppy behavior.
In a nutshell, positive reinforcement means rewarding your puppy when they behave in the way you want. The reward should be immediate. The second the pup acts appropriately, provide the reward (and plenty of praise). For example, when potty training, give your pup a treat and some affection every time they do their “business” outside.3
The same principle applies to training a pup not to bite too hard. If your puppy gently puts their mouth on you during play (without biting), reward them immediately. Follow that up with some extra praise and a lot of love.4
Over time, you’ll want to wean your young puppy off of the treats. Keep giving love and praise, though. Your pup will still want to please you. Hopefully, they’ll continue to act the way you want them to even if there’s no threat involved.5
Clicker training is a form of dog training that’s similar to positive reinforcement. The only thing that’s really different is that you’re using a clicker – a small noise-making device. The clicking noise can help to show your pup exactly what they’re doing correctly. Here’s how it works:
Say you’re having issues with your puppy nipping too hard during play. When your dog bites gently, or mouths at your hand, this marks the critical moment. You click the clicker immediately to let them know that yes, this is the right behavior. When the click is accompanied by a treat or love, the pup knows exactly what they did right. Hopefully, they’ll repeat the good behavior.6
Overly Aggressive Behavior And Biting: When To See A Vet Or Professional
It’s one thing for a puppy to bite during play. It’s another thing entirely when your puppy acts aggressively in other settings. There are a few ways you can tell if there’s a problem. A puppy who nips or bites at someone while they’re walking by, or a pup who barks at people (or growls, or snarls) for seemingly no reason might have issues.7
If you have any reason to believe your puppy is having behavioral issues, talk to your vet. They may recommend professional training for your pup or refer you to an animal behaviorist. In most cases, however, a puppy will grow out of this nipping stage and become a loving companion you’ll cherish for years to come.