How to Stop Puppy Mouthing and Biting
"One common question from new dog parents is
how to stop puppy mouthing, nipping and biting. Puppies, being like a
newborn, explore with their mouth
and will engage in play biting along with nipping the pet parent's
ankles, arms and hands. The problem is when the sharp puppy teeth break
the skin when interacting with everyone that wants to touch the new
pup. This form of "play aggression" is often a bit over the top without
any inhibition. If the behavior is not corrected when young it can turn
into something more dangerous as the dog gets larger.
Teaching methods using games are a great way
to reinforce bite inhibition. The use of positive (treats) and
negative (stopping game time, moving away) are both ways to eliminate
puppy biting and nipping behavior. In general, to prevent puppy
mouthing do not encourage a puppy to play with arms and hands and be
sure to never hit your pup when training."
Video on How To Stop Puppy Biting and Mouthing
Normal Puppy Play Biting and
It is normal for puppies to engage in playful nipping and mouthing
behaviors. The behavior begins some time between age 2 and 4 weeks, and
continues through age 4 and 14 weeks. During this time puppies learn
what is appropriate biting etiquette from litter mates. When a
litter mate bites too hard, the recipient of the bite yelps, signaling
to the biting puppy that it was too hard. Puppies frequently
correct each other's behavior during play. For this reason, it is
important that puppies aren't removed from the litter too early.
If a puppy is removed too early, then it is up to the dog parent
(you) to provide the necessary training. Not every technique is
for every puppy so you will have to match temperment to training.
Always provide praise once the biting or mouthing has stopped.
are Prematurely Separated
From Litter mates Do Not Learn How to Avoid Bites that Injure the Skin
Photo Credit: Washington University
How To Train A Puppy That Keeps Biting
There are several tactics that can be used to stop puppy
mouthing and biting behaviors. Most are based on Thorndike's law
which states that behaviors just prior to a pleasant event are more
likely to be repeated; behaviors just prior to unpleasant events are
more likely to diminish.
- Timeouts: Teach your
puppy that playtime ends when the pup nips
too much. When this happens stand, turn and walk away. When the puppy
sits calmly, play can start up again. You can put the puppy in
her kennel or behind a baby gate in another room. Combine techniques
such as saying "yipe." If the biting doesn't stop, then move to a time
out. Don't use this method if the puppy already associates the
kennel or cage with being negative. Some puppies hate being
- Play Gently: Act like a
litter mate when bitten. Let out a high
pitched yelp when the pups teeth contact your skin (try and sound like
another puppy). Don't yank your hand from the mouth since quick rapid
moves can trigger an instinct used with prey. Make your hand go limp
and then move it away. If playing with toys such as a ball it is
only natural for the puppy to try and use the mouth as she lunges for
the toy. Just use the "yelp" approach each time you feel the
teeth. Remember, use a negative, the stoppage of the game when
puppy nips you.
Once the puppy only gently nips you, the next step is to teach
not to bite at all. The way to do this is to loudly yell "yipe" when
bitten, then put the toy away. Do not start play again for a few
minutes. After the puppy has calmed down, play can resume. This way the
puppy learns that biting the toy is ok, but biting a human puppy parent
is not. When you stop play use the words "game over." Over time
the puppy will not want to hear those words.
Instead of saying "yipe," some puppies will respond better to
using a lower vocal pitch. To a puppy a lower sound could be
interpreted as a growl, causing them to back off. Provide praise when
the puppy backs off and then provide a reward. Yelling "ow" is also
effective. Some owners like to use a firm "no" or negative
reinforcement such as a shake can. Mixing up the types of reinforcement
is a good way to approach the problem. The goal however is to
gravitate toward one method which could be "yipe" or "no."
Note that 90% of puppies will stop after a high peached "yelp."
stop you can continue the game. 10% of the time puppies that are over
stimulated or over-tired will not stop, In this case a time out is
- Do Not Hold the Mouth Closed
When the Puppy Nips: This can be
seen as a punishment that may cause the puppy to bite harder next
time. This aggressive behavior on your part can cause the pup to not
stop puppy mouthing. You can hold the puppy gently and firmly
until her body
relaxes. Then say "okay" and release.
- Avoid Hand Wrestling: Do
not tease a puppy with your hand over
the muzzle. The puppy shouldn't be able to jump on your toes as well.
Using the toes and hand is teaching the puppy to use the mouth instead
of curbing the behavior.
- Limit games: Not all
puppy games are created equal. Look for game
outlets that focus on behaviors such as fetching and pulling. This
includes tug-of-war type games and fetching toys. One tip is to teach
the puppy to drop the toy when commanded to do so. This teaches a
beginning and end to the game.
- Chew toys can help:
Remember that as the teeth grow the puppy's
gums can hurt. Chew toys can help to relieve the pain. You should
also note the times of day since this can be when the puppy experiences
more pain. Freezing a chew toy can help relieve some of the
Teething Toy Can Ease Gum Pain While Providing A Positive Place
For Puppy Mouthing and Biting Behavior
- Encourage licking behavior as a
substitute for nipping: Rub some
type of appealing food on your hand such as peanut butter or turkey.
When the puppy goes to lick it off, say "lick" and praise the pup along
with a treat. Now when you puppy goes to nip you say "lick" to redirect
the behavior. You can also lick the palm of your hand and then let the
pup lick your saliva.
- Leave the room: If the
puppy nips, leave the room and say "time
out" as soon as you feel the nip. This keeps things simple since you do
not have to move the puppy to her time-out spot. You will need to place
a gate between you and the puppy for this method to work.
- Puppy school: A local
training class can go a long way to
teaching the correct behaviors (for both the puppy and the puppy parent.
Prevention of Puppy Biting
You can prevent or stop puppy mouthing and biting by doing these things:
- Obedience training in a class
- Frequent exercise. Note that larger dogs need more than 3 walks
per day and may be mouthing out of excessive energy, frustration or
just plain boredom.
- Play dates with other puppies
- Keep the puppy occupied with toys such as Kong Toys with food
Teach Other Puppy Behaviors At The Same Time
Teaching the puppy to sit before common activities reinforces
discipline. A puppy should sit on cue before:
- Interacting with visitors
- Playing games
- Before going for a walk and having the leash clipped on
For a Puppy Biting Feet and Ankles
Sitting can also be used when a puppy nips the ankles of feet while
are walking. Teach the puppy to sit when you approach and reward with a
treat after you pass by. You can also as an alternative toss a treat to
your side as you walk by your puppy. If the puppy comes to your feet
after retrieving the treat, send another treat off to the side. Add a
voice cue such as "excuse me" or "find it" before tossing the treat.
Soon the puppy will hang back away from your legs waiting for a treat
to be thrown.
Signs of Puppy Aggression
If you see signs that indicate aggressive behavior such as
posture or growling, consult a trainer or behaviorist. These should be
corrected immediately before they become a problem.
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