When you welcome a new puppy into your home, you’ll spend plenty of time getting to know each other. Part of that getting-to-know-you period involves teaching your puppy about which behaviors are and aren’t acceptable in your home—like the importance of going outside to pee, not chewing on your shoes, and refraining from nipping at the mailman’s heels.
Biting is a natural behavior in pups, and they do it for many reasons, most of which aren’t aggressive. But even if they mean well, your dog needs to learn that biting is not acceptable—and it’s your job to help teach this lesson.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Why do puppies bite?
- 4 ways to stop a puppy’s biting habit
- What not to do when your puppy bites you
- When is biting a sign of aggression?
Why do puppies bite?
Puppies both bite and “mouth” when they’re young—and there’s a key difference in both of these behaviors. When puppies mouth, they will lightly chew on something, almost like they’re taste-testing it. Biting is a firmer, sharper action, and it can be pretty painful if you’re on the receiving end.
Understanding why your dog is nipping or biting can help you to determine how to stop that unwanted puppy behavior.
Exploration: Puppies gain important sensory information each time they bite a different object, and biting and mouthing helps puppies learn about the world. If your puppy is gnawing or nibbles on your hands, shoes, clothes or other objects, they may just be checking these things out and learning more about them.
Herding. Puppies who have a natural herding instinct will try to herd their family members, particularly young children. They will instinctively nip at their heels—an effective method for sheep, but less so for a rambunctious toddler.
Overstimulation. If puppies get wound up and overexcited, they may channel some of that extra energy into biting. They just can’t help themselves!
Hunger. When puppies are hungry, they may mouth or bite objects more as they look around for food. A puppy who has learned their mealtime schedule might be tempted to bite your foot or leg to remind you that it’s time to eat.
Teething. You might notice an increase in your puppy’s biting and chewing activity when the pup is teething. Most puppies start to get their adult teeth when they’re 12 to 16 weeks old. Much like with human babies, the process can be quite painful. Your pup might try to relieve sore gums by chewing and biting on things, including you.
Play. Puppies bite during playtime with their littermates, and it’s through this play that they learn how hard they can safely bite. If another pup yelps after it’s bitten, the puppy who did the biting will adjust their bite intensity, and will be more gentle the next time. Through play biting, puppies learn how to play safely together.
Aggression. Although uncommon, puppies can also bite out of aggression. These bites tend to be accompanied by aggressive body language—like growling and hard, fixed stares. Aggression can be caused by many different situations, including a puppy who’s feeling possessive over food, or who is stressed by a new environment or event.
4 ways to stop a puppy’s biting habit
There are multiple ways to put a stop to your puppy’s biting behavior. No matter which method you choose, it’s important to stay consistent with your training and make sure that everyone in the family uses the same training methods.
Use chew toys
Provide your puppy with plenty of appropriate chew toys. If your puppy often runs to you and bites, present the pup with a chew toy and praise them when they chew on the toy instead of you.
If your puppy is chewing because they’re teething, consider getting some teething toys that you can put in the fridge or freezer to chill. The cold surface and chewing action can help to relieve your pup’s discomfort.
Pretend you’re a puppy
Ok, hear us out. When your puppy bites you, respond as one of your pup’s littermates would. Let out a yelp and pull away, indicating that the bite hurt. Your puppy should eventually learn your boundaries and stop biting. You’ll only feel a little bit silly in the process.
Redirect the biting behavior
Once you start teaching your puppy some basic commands like sit and stay, you can use these commands to redirect your puppy when they bite. If your pup tries to bite you, immediately make a noise to distract them from biting. Then, give them a command, like sit or stay. When they perform the command, reward them with treats and lots of praise.
You can build training sessions into your puppy’s daily schedule, teaching your pup more commands and teaching them to stop biting at the same time.
Give a time out
If your puppy is overstimulated, giving them a time out is often the best way to stop the biting behavior. Stop the play session immediately and put the puppy in a play pen or crate for a little cool-down time so they can refocus and calm down.
What not to do when your puppy bites you
Puppy teeth can be painful on human skin, and it’s understandable if you’re tired of being chomped on. But even if you’re frustrated, it’s important not to yell at, shake, hit (!), or scare your puppy. Doing so could lead to physical and emotional harm for your pup.
Remember, biting is a typical puppy behavior, and chances are there’s a cause behind your puppy’s actions. If one of the training methods isn’t working, then you’ll need to try out a different technique to get to the root of the problem. If you need help, consider looking for a dog trainer who can help you to use positive reinforcement to change the behavior.
Here are some of our favorite dog training videos to get started.
When is biting a sign of aggression?
Puppies who bite out of aggression often display other behaviors and warning signs that they aren’t comfortable. They might growl, snarl, curl their lips, make constant eye contact, and bark excessively.
Biting out of aggression may be based on fear, possessiveness, lack of socialization, or other issues. Try to determine when your puppy starts to behave aggressively and look for situations that might be making them uncomfortable, like if they get aggressive if you approach them mid-meal.
If after several months your puppy continues to bite with aggression, or is continuously resource-guarding, it might be time to visit the vet, where the issue could be diagnosed as a behavioral issue.
If you sign your puppy up for Lemonade Pet early, and opt in to our behavioral add-on before they start an aggressive streak, your policy could help cover the costs of vet-recommended therapy or medication for behavioral issues like aggression and resource-guarding.
Before we go…
Puppy and dog training requires patience. If you want to stop puppy biting, you may need to try several different techniques before you find one that works for your fur fam. Still, it’s important to stay persistent so that puppies grow into well-trained adult dogs.
Lemonade Pet offers a preventative care package designed especially for puppies and kittens. If you sign your puppy up for pet insurance, you can get them covered for up to 6 annual vaccinations or boosters, spaying or neutering, microchipping, two annual wellness exams, heartworm and flea medication, and blood and fecal tests.