Why Is My Puppy Biting?
Puppies are adorable, loving, and amazing but they can bite hard and have razor-sharp teeth. It’s vital to understand that it’s natural and healthy dog behavior for puppies to bite, nip, gnaw, air snap, growl, lunge, bark, and explore the world around them with their mouths.
Puppies learn to socialize, play, and function with their mouths and it’s a parent’s job to teach a puppy gently, kindly, lovingly, and compassionately what IS and what is NOT acceptable to chew and bite.
To get a puppy to stop biting we first must understand why a puppy bites in the first place. Once we understand why a puppy bites, then we can answer how to stop a puppy from biting. If we don’t know the causes of a puppy biting, we can’t accurately diagnose or treat a puppy.
There are many reasons why puppies bite; here are some of the most common reasons.
Causes Of Puppy Biting
- Socialization and play – Puppies communicate in many ways, some of which are with their body language, mouths, teeth, and vocalization.
- Overtired – Puppies that are overtired or conversely overstimulated may become mouthy and start to bite.
- Lack of enrichment – Under-exercised and under-enriched puppies will most likely start to bite. They are bored and need to be stimulated with a variety of life experiences, toys, foods, games, play sessions, exercise, and socialization.
- Learning and exploration – A puppy needs to learn about life and what their mouth does and how it functions. Puppies experience and sense the world through their mouths. This is a puppy’s way of exploring and learning about life and their environment.
- Teething – All puppies go through the painful process of teething. Teething is typically accompanied by diarrhea and biting everything in sight to relieve a puppy’s tooth and gum pain associated with puppy teething. Puppy teething typically finishes around 6-months old.
- Pain/pleasure – As mentioned with teething above, any type of sensation experienced through a dog’s mouth, gums, and tongue will be associated with feelings of pain or pleasure which may accompany biting or mouthing.
- Medical – A puppy might have a medical issue such as a tooth or gum infection or some other medical issue that is causing your puppy to be irritable. Always get a clean bill of health from a veterinarian before diagnosing a pet behavior problem.
- Anxiety, fear, and stress – When puppies (and all dogs) experience dog anxiety they exhibit displacement behaviors (tongue flicking or excessive licking, yawning, pacing, gnawing, barking, jumping, pawing, etc.) Also, displacement behaviors are self-rewarding and self-reinforcing providing puppies with coping mechanisms but potentially making a puppy bite more often.
- Protection and survival – A dog wants to survive. Their mouth is a primary way to protect themselves when they are fearful, stressed, or hungry.
- Redirection and arousal – If a puppy is over-aroused or over their threshold for fear, they may bite you or something/someone you don’t want them to bite. You may see this happen when a puppy is playing that has escalated to a frenzy or with a hyperactive level. Also when a puppy is on a leash and can’t communicate and fully express their body language leash reactivity may begin and they are more likely to bite.
- Frustration – Closely associated with redirection and arousal above. Frustration is seen when a puppy is behind a fence, baby gate, X-pen, or in their dog crate and they want to get out. Puppy frustration can also be seen when a dog is behind a closed-door, looking out the window at a stimulus or in any other environment where a dog might be frustrated.
- Temper tantrums – Temper tantrums are healthy and normal for a puppy. Your puppy needs to learn to be handled, through gentling and to cultivate healthy coping behaviors via learning how to self-regulate. However, a puppy may look to bite when they are having a temper tantrum, upset, or imbalanced emotionally, mentally, or physically.
- Chemical imbalance/Poor genetics – – A puppy may be subject to a chemical imbalance or poor breeding causing puppy aggression. Poor genetics is a more rare occurrence. Typically a parent thinks a puppy is aggressive or aggressively biting when in actuality the puppy is simply teething, puppy biting, or playing.
Also, puppies that don’t learn bite inhibition from littermates and their bitch or that are taken too early from their litter, may have a stronger bite force and have to be taught bite inhibition by a parent.
For more reasons why dogs bite and for information on dog aggression please see this article.
Aggressive Puppy: Or Temper Tantrum?
Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between a full-blown temper tantrum and aggressive puppy play. If your puppy is overly aroused or overtired, they might become irritable and cranky. Sometimes providing a safe, quiet Zen area where your puppy loves, will soothe and calm your puppy down. Utilize canine classical music, lavender and chamomile essential oils, dog appeasing pheromone (DAP), dog beds, crates, X-pens, and supplements associated with calm and relaxation.
As mentioned earlier, puppies will start biting and become mouthy when they are too aroused, overtired, as well as under-exercised and under-enriched. So you have to try and find a daily balance for your puppy then learn about your puppy and his behavior to understand when he may be overtired as opposed to just under-enriched, bored or over-aroused. Every situation is different.
Puppy management and training go hand in hand. If you just take away whatever a puppy is biting or chewing, your puppy will chew something else they’re not supposed to.
Your puppy needs to learn what it can and what it can’t bite. We don’t teach by yelling NO when the puppy chews something we don’t want them to.
We train puppies to bite and chew what we want them to through high-value food rewards and puppy toys. Kong toys, stuffed chew toys, food extracting toys, and all rewards are managed by you. We have to teach a dog how to play with toys.
Enrich and structure your puppy’s environment so that they only have access to what they are allowed to bite and chew. Always set a dog up for success.
When Should You Start Puppy Training?
You should start training your puppy the day you get them. Some outdated veterinarians that recommend sequestering your puppy before they have had all of their shots are sadly providing decades-old harmful advice. It is dangerous to not bring your puppy out and socialize them before they have had all their shots. If your veterinarian recommends keeping your dog inside until they are fully vaccinated, please do yourself a big favor and find another veterinarian ASAP.
Do not wait to socialize and train your puppy. It is natural for puppies (and all dogs) to bite, they are not being mean, aggressive, or spiteful. It is never too early to teach a puppy training and behavior. Do not delay or puppy biting may only get more engrained after your dog has taught themselves, practiced, and learned inappropriate behaviors.
Is Puppy Biting OK?
Disregard the advice you may have heard about how to stop puppy biting that mentions a dog’s teeth should never touch the skin of a person. This is ridiculous and unreasonable. There is a difference between a dog bite and a dog touching their teeth to a person’s skin. There are many situations where a puppy’s teeth touching our skin are mandatory and appropriate such as:
- Brushing your puppy’s teeth.
- Checking a puppy’s teeth and gums.
- Playing with your dog’s mouth and teaching your puppy through desensitization and habituation to allow touching of the teeth, gums, and mouth.
- Removing something unhealthy or dangerous from your puppy’s mouth.
- Veterinarian checkups and procedures.
- Puppy resting on you with their mouth open.
- Puppy taking treats or food from your hand.
- Puppy taking or giving you an object when in service dog training or any type of dog obedience training.
- Specialty dog training Los Angeles boot camp that requires hand-to-mouth contact.
This is not an exhaustive list nor are they examples of dog biting. However, this should give you an idea of all the times it is important and mandatory to have a puppy’s teeth touch a person’s skin. What we don’t want is for a puppy to clamp down hard with intentions to injure. Luckily the overwhelming majority of puppies do not bite this way even if it feels as if they do sometimes.
It’s OK and healthy to allow your puppy to explore the world and you with their mouths in a gentle way. A puppy has to learn what’s appropriate to chew and what’s not. Puppies also have to learn that a person is delicate and that a hard puppy bite will injure a person and remove a reward.
Social isolation is a powerful consequence of puppy biting because puppies are gregarious social beings. They rely on people to live and for everything, hence when we contingently remove ourselves from a puppy, as a consequence of a puppy biting too hard, it is a powerful punisher and learning experience. The puppy now understands that hard puppy biting removes a strong reward and reinforcer (people).
How To Stop A Puppy From Biting
First, a few things never to do to stop a puppy from biting.
- Whatever you do, as mentioned above, don’t sequester your puppy until they are fully vaccinated. That is extremely outdated and harmful advice. Sadly this archaic advice is still provided by outdated veterinarians. Keeping your puppy indoors before their full set of vaccinations is harmful to your puppy’s potty training, socialization, emotion, behavior, and development.
Equally important, contemporary Certified Trainers, Behaviorists, and veterinarians understand the scientific evidence that far more dogs die from behavior problems than any other cause! The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), suggest socializing your puppy in safe puppy socialization classes 7 days after their first set of vaccines and deworming! Get your puppy to a puppy socialization and training class ASAP.
- Don’t punish, yell, scold, hit, spray with water, scare, or hold down a puppy. Don’t throw a jar of pennies or rocks to scare a puppy. Never hold a puppy’s mouth shut, smack them, grab them by the scruff, or yell at a puppy. These methods only destroy relationships, confuse a puppy, and make a puppy’s behavior worse. When punished a puppy will become unpredictable, more fearful and distrustful of you and life.
Follow these instructions to stop a puppy from biting.
- Take your puppy to puppy obedience training – Or if he knows already knows a behavior, cue your puppy to offer that alternative behavior to biting and use a clicker or a verbal, “Yes!”, to mark the behavior and then immediately reward him.
- Interact with your puppy, play fetch with a ball, Frisbee, or play tug with different toys. Have a variety and dozens of puppy toys and rotate your puppy’s toys every day.
- Fill interactive stuffed chew toys (Kongs, snuffle matte, etc.) and games with delicious dog treats and food to teach your dog to love their new chew toys. This will develop wonderful chew toy habits.
- If your puppy is hyperactive, expel some of their energy by going for extra dog walks, and exploring the neighborhood. Do not attempt to soothe or stroke a puppy while they are riled up, or you may get bit by your puppy. Just don’t let the nipping predict the walk. First, immediately remove yourself from the room as mentioned above and then after about 30 seconds call him or go to him and put his harness on, etc.
- If you yelp very loud and short, it may startle a puppy. This interrupter technique mimics what other litter mates would do if a puppy bit them too hard while playing. The yelping technique only works with some puppies.
- Adjust the environment, your body language, and posture to avoid a puppy bite. Also changing the environment can alter a puppy’s mindset and change their behavior.
- Remove your body parts and appendages from harm’s way, put your hair up, wear clothes that are not dangling or draping, and turn away if your puppy starts getting hyperactive and rowdy. Play with your puppy. However, only use toys, not your hands.
- Redirect a puppy’s attention and mouthing to something appropriate and productive like a chew toy or puppy toy. This is the single most important thing a parent can do. Put a toy in your puppy’s mouth and carry one in your back pocket at all times.
- Make sure your puppy is well socialized both with people but also with other puppies, dogs, and animals. Socialization is important in all life stages but vital during your puppy’s biologically predetermined growth phase. AKA, a puppy’s sensitive period (roughly 3~13 weeks old).
- Make sure your puppy is adequately exercised. Don’t go running your puppy for miles because doing so is unhealthy. Vigorously exercising a puppy before they are done growing is dangerous for a puppy’s bones and growth plates. However, do make sure your puppy is allowed to run, adequately exercised and fulfilled energetically.
- Teach your puppy to take food and treats gently. To do this, make a fist with your puppies low-value kibble in your fist, and hold it at your puppy’s nose/head level. When your puppy begins to paw at your hand and nibble at your fingers, keep or close your fist. The moment your puppy moves away from your hand, open your hand and feed your puppy slowly. If your puppy eats the food too fast or is too aroused, close your fist again and start the cycle again until they eat the food slower.
- Your puppy may be biting out of pain or a medical issue. Make sure your puppy’s medical issues and health needs are taken care of. Also, your puppy might simply be hungry, thirsty, or have to eliminate.
- Use timeouts effectively. To do so, you must immediately remove the puppy or yourself from the environment the moment a transgression occurs. Give your puppy time to cool-off and self-soothe and make the association between hard bites on a person’s hand or skin = removal of a person. If your puppy won’t stop biting you, immediately leave the room and go elsewhere for at least 30 seconds then come back and try again.
If you remove your dog to a crate or X-pen to give him time out make sure to use his crate positively by placing your dog in the crate and then providing him with a high-value food reward as you don’t want to negatively associate the crate/X-pen with punishment.
You may also use a boring empty room, such as a closet or bathroom, or any room that is prepared beforehand to be boring where he won’t be able to entertain himself or get into trouble. He shouldn’t have toys or anything to do in this room that is interesting. Just a boring room for 30 seconds. Then let him out and do one of the activities mentioned above.
- If your puppy bites you or the leash when on a walk, stop walking and don’t tug back on the leash as that will encourage your puppy to keep pulling. If your puppy is nippy at you when you’re on a walk try playing with natural objects instead of dog toys.
For example, pick up a tree branch, leaf, palm frond, etc. and gently tap the floor with it or your puppy’s mouth. Move the stick or item away from your puppy making clicking or high pitch noises while scraping the stick on the ground will surely get your puppy engaged.
Remember toys don’t entertain puppies, people do! If your dog doesn’t like toys read the article above. Make sure to animate the stick, palm frond, etc. Move it around, run with your puppy and play tug, etc.
- Always have a toy in your back pocket or with you. Anywhere your puppy is, you need to have a chew toy ready to go at all times.
Pro Tip 1: Don’t rough house or tease a puppy with your fingers or hands or any part of your body that you don’t want your puppy to bite. This is confusing to your puppy because erratic fast movement encourages a puppy to pounce, play, bite, chase, and pull. If you rile up your puppy make sure you can calm them down just as easily.
Pro Tip 2: Don’t tug on things you want back from your dog. Tugging or pulling an object quickly away from your puppy will encourage your puppy to lunge after it or want to pull back. Instead, if you want a puppy to drop something from their mouth, try placing a high-value food treat in front of your puppy’s nose instead and watch how fast he opens his mouth!
Just make sure the food item is a higher value than the thing in your dog’s mouth or the cue Drop it won’t work.
Pro Tip 3: For most puppies, biting is simply a red flag that something needs to be addressed. Usually, it is something as simple as being overtired or bored. Puppies need lots of sleep and structured naps like any baby. Most of the time a puppy won’t know to give themselves a time-out to nap or rest and will keep biting you simply because you’re in front of them.
Make sure to have a crate/Xpen always set up to give your puppy a nice restful nap even when you think they don’t need one.
Puppy Teething Toys
How to get a puppy to stop biting? As mentioned above you may also stop puppy biting with puppy teething toys, appropriate dog bite toys and your active participation!
Puppy teething typically begins when a puppy is around 2 months old when permanent teeth begin to appear and commences when a puppy is about 6 months old when all of a puppy’s permanent adult teeth are in place.
The best way to keep a puppy from biting is to give them something they prefer (and you want) them to chew instead of biting you.
Creating good chew toy habits early on will teach a puppy what is appropriate to chew and what is not. This may also help to stop dog barking, and with separation anxiety down the road.
Also, make sure to read my article that will prepare you for a new puppy or dog. This outlines all of the essential items we use and recommend to purchase before getting a new puppy or dog.
Get Professional Puppy Training Help
If your puppy’s biting hard and you can’t get him to stop, you might benefit from calling a Certified Dog Behaviorist and Trainer. Additionally, if you notice your puppy is fearful, hyper-vigilant, or has general anxiety, it would be a great investment to hire a Certified Pet Professional to help ASAP.
We work with puppy biting, aggression, fear, and anxiety cases here in Los Angeles and all over the world with our Phone/Video Consultations. If you are having puppy biting issues or want professional help for any problems or questions you have about your pets please fill out this short form for an expert Certified Dog Behaviorist and Trainer to help you with your puppy training and behavior problems today!