Welcome home puppy! Your new life as a dog parent begins, and it’s full of soft puppy cuddles and mutual affection – right? The reality is often your cute, cuddly ball of fluff has teeth like needles, and seems intent on using them on you. So, how can you teach a puppy not to bite?
First things first, don’t panic
Often at this point owners become concerned about the seemingly endless biting. They even become worried these are signs their puppy is ‘aggressive’.
This can be even more of a concern if there are children or vulnerable adults in the household.
Here is an important news flash!
Every single puppy will go through a puppy biting phase. It’s completely normal, and an important part of puppy development. But you need to both understand it – and have a survival guide! So here it is.
Understanding Puppy Biting
- This isn’t a puppy being naughty or aggressive. Puppy biting is a totally normal behaviour. Until now, a puppy’s only social interactions have been with their mum and their littermates – and the only way puppies can play with each other is using their mouths and their teeth.
- It’s not just play. It’s an important developmental period, where dogs begin to learn how to interact with others – and limit their biting when their teeth are sharp but their jaws are weak. So the good news is while painful, bites won’t cause serious injury.
- When puppies bite too hard in play and hurt their mum or sibling, they’ll stop playing with the biter. This way puppies begin to learn that if they want to play, they have to be gentle with those needle-sharp teeth.
- Play biting is a bonding behaviour for puppies, and up until now, it’s been how your puppy has interacted with their family. Now you are their family, they’ll continue to play in the only way they know. They have a strong desire to build a bond with you – so it’s unfair to tell them off for trying to build a relationship.
None of that changes the fact puppy biting hurts. So you have to teach them a different way to interact, so they don’t grow up thinking biting in play is acceptable or desirable!
Thankfully this is easy – as long as you’re consistent and make sure everyone in your household follows the rules.
Why Do Puppies Bite?
- Playing with puppies using your hands. Often people push puppies about in play – effectively teaching them that hands are for playing with.
- There can be other reasons your puppy is biting. One of these is lack of sleep – just like children, an over-tired puppy is often a fractious puppy.
- Another is that play has got overly exciting. Many puppies will bite though excitement, as they haven’t got many ways to deal with that except for grabbing and biting.
- Many of the most popular family breeds are from the gundog group – breeds that are hardwired to use their mouths to pick things up and carry them. So it’s hardly surprising they tend to be very mouth-focused in their interactions and play.
- Other breeds or crosses who are bred to use their mouths in their job are often similarly mouth-focussed – and some of these are harder-mouthed than gundogs.
How to stop a puppy from play biting – the top 10 rules
Expect your puppy to go through a bitey phase – it will happen – so start as you mean to go on.
- Never punish them for biting. Remember they’re trying to play and interact with you in the only way they know. It will make them fearful of you and your hands, damage your relationship, and potentially make biting behaviours worse.
- Don’t play rough games that will overexcite your puppy, and don’t make your hands into toys by pushing your puppy in play. All touch from hands should be gentle and non-arousing. Make sure everyone does the same.
- Ensure your puppy gets enough sleep. An eight-week-old puppy needs 18-20 hours a day to recharge and have the energy needed to grow and learn. Without that, they can be slower to develop, struggle with learning, and be fractious!
- Puppies need to bite and chew to develop their jaws. Make sure you provide appropriate things for them to chew on. There are plenty of safe toys on the market – some can be stuffed with food to make them the most rewarding thing around for your puppy.
- Provide enrichment opportunities for your puppy’s need to gnaw, chew and rip. Some breeds need this more – but all will enjoy it. Treats inside an old kitchen roll tube with the ends folded over can make for a cheap destructible toy.
- Have safe, chewable toys handy so if your puppy starts biting you can deflect them onto these so they learn that while they may feel the desire to bite, you’re not for gnawing!
- If a toy isn’t interesting, try something else – like a ‘hunting for treats on the floor’ game. This will both be rewarding and take their attention away from biting.
- If biting continues and your puppy won’t be distracted, discontinue your interaction for a while – this might mean standing up or moving away. Have a think about what caused this spell of toothiness. Tiredness? Was your interaction getting too exciting? Are they bored? Overstimulated? Whatever the answer, address the cause – not just the symptom.
- Children playing exciting games? This is a good time for puppy to be in a play pen with something rewarding to keep them occupied. This lets them watch, but not able get overexcited by play and start leaping around biting hands and even feet.
- If you have children, you’ll be really keen they have a great relationship with your puppy. There’s a huge temptation to encourage games, play, and cuddling. Often for a puppy who doesn’t know anything about their new life, this is either stressful or hugely exciting – and leads to biting. Start by teaching your children a hands-off approach to building this bond – throwing treats, giving them their dinner, playing with toys etc. The love will grow – and better still, along with it, trust.
The tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth
Puppy biting is an important part of development. You get to teach your puppy while to trust your hands, and how to interact with people in a way that doesn’t involve teeth.
This is a vital lesson to learn before they grow – and have a mouth full of adult teeth!