Puppy Biting: What’s Normal, What’s Not, and How to Curb It

puppy-biting
One of the most common issues we see poor dog training advice given for is puppy biting and mouthiness, so we’re going to give you the most standardized professional advice possible for this issue.
There’s a reason why it’s discouraged for non-professionals to give legal or medical advice to strangers on the Internet.
 
At best, their advice could be wrong; at worst, it could it be potentially dangerous.
 
We so wish the same rules applied to dog training advice. When sensitive puppy brains are involved, it’s especially important to follow professional instruction! 
 
First of all, in the vast majority of cases, puppy biting and mouthing is EXTREMELY normal, for several reasons:
 
  • Puppies explore the world with their mouths.
  • They go through an uncomfortable teething process that lasts for 2-3 months.
  • They play hard with their siblings, often using their teeth to (successfully) instigate play and attention.
  • Herding breed dogs are predisposed to nip, herd, and chase small, fast-moving things. Young children often get the brunt of this behavior.
  • Retrievers are predisposed to picking up and holding anything and everything within reach, including your hands and arms.

A word on what to avoid:

  • Above all else, avoid physical punishment when it comes to puppy biting.
  • I have heard people given terrible (albeit, well-meaning) advice over the years, from squeezing your puppy’s mouth shut, to pinning them on their backs, to muzzling them to stop the biting.
  • Your puppy is *NOT* being “dominant”, and you do not need to physically punish him to curb this behavior.
  • Physical punishments like this range from silly and ineffective to cruel and downright abusive. In fact, you can create fear and aggression in your dog using these types of methods.
So, what should you do?
When you bring a puppy into your home, it’s your job to create fair, consistent boundaries for unwanted behaviors, including when it comes to teeth on skin.
  • If your puppy bites you, you need to ignore the behavior and remove *yourself* from the interaction, with no drama. 
    • Note: You are not putting your puppy in a time out. That involves way too much time, talking, and attention to be an effective punishment. You are either ignoring the behavior or removing yourself from it.
  • That means play is over, fun is over, attention is over. Be as non-dramatic as possible.
  • If the behavior is hard for you to ignore, go behind a door or baby gate where your puppy does not have access to continue nipping at you.
  • If your puppy tries to nip at you when you return, remove yourself again.
  • You should see a major decrease in the intensity of biting as well as the amount of biting attempts within a few days.
  • Be sure to give your pup attention and praise when they are behaving nicely!
  • All family members and guests MUST be consistent in order for this to work!

Why Does This Work?

  • A behavior that doesn’t get reinforced will stop.
  • Your pup will learn that we don’t react to biting with play, attention, or even a negative reaction. All of these things can be fun for a puppy.
  • Your pup will learn to self-entertain. Once they realize the nipping isn’t working, they will eventually redirect themselves onto something else.
  • Your puppy will seek out appropriate ways to get your attention, like offering a “sit” or laying at your feet.

A few other suggestions: 

  • It’s also important to have a management place for your puppy, such as a play pen or baby-gated bathroom. It gives you a break from your puppy, and is a calm place for your puppy to settle down if he gets too wound up.
  • Make sure your puppy has plenty of rubbery teething toys, is getting daily exercise, and is not excessively crated. If his needs are not being met, the nipping will take longer to extinguish.
  • Make sure your puppy is eating three meals a day.
  • Things we may think are punishing, like pushing your puppy away, yelling at him, etc, can be considered fun, play-like behaviors for your puppy and can encourage biting. When doing the above exercise, be as quiet and calm as you can.

When should you be concerned about biting in puppies? 

You should seek out a certified professional if your puppy:

  • Is growling, snapping, or biting when a person comes near a resource. (Food, toys, etc)
  • Stiffens and stares at the person before biting.
  • Is consistently biting and breaking skin.
  • Barks, growls, or nips (not in play) at new people entering the home.
  • Snaps or growls at children.

5 thoughts on “Puppy Biting: What’s Normal, What’s Not, and How to Curb It

  1. What do you suggest as a “time out” spot? I have heard to not put them in their crate if that is where they sleep.

    1. Great question! The time out is actually YOU leaving, rather than you putting your puppy somewhere. He’s going to realize that every time he bites, it makes you go away. Because the behavior is motivated by attention/play-seeking, removing attention and play is the best way to get it to stop. So put up a baby gate or have a room you can exit to as soon as an inappropriate bite happens. Let me know if that makes sense!

      1. Thank you. We have a 5 month old lab and he would be the perfect pup if it weren’t for the biting. When we sit down on the couch he jumps up and goes straight for the hands. I will have to stay consistent with the walking away.

  2. Timeouts have worked great for my pup when dealing with misbehaviour but for me, the problem is getting to the timeout location! As soon as I say the word timeout he is on his back, goes limp and starts waving his paws around so I can’t grab him. Once I get him up on his feet he’s nipping me while calmly (and gently) grab his collar to timeout-Any advice for this?!

    1. Sometimes the most effective time out is one where YOU remove yourself from the area and go on the other side of a door or gate. Your pup is still losing your attention, but you aren’t having to get in a battle of wills to get him to his time out spot 🙂

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