Nip it in the Bud : 9 Tips to Stop Puppy Biting

New puppy teeth are like little needles.  They can give you a real sore one if they catch you and they can create a nasty hole in trouser legs if they get a good grip.  It may seem funny and cute the first time they get hold of your child’s pajama bottoms and are then pulled around the living room holding on. It can quickly become a scary experience for children in the house though if they are constantly greeted by a puppy that is nipping in their excitement and it can easily get out of control and lead onto bigger problems if it is not dealt with quickly and appropriately.

Don’t forget, your puppy is not being naughty, they are just being a puppy. It is one of the ways that they explore their environment and it is a natural behaviour.

1. If you are buying a puppy make sure they are from a reputable breeder

Crucial early socialisation is just one of many reasons why it is super important to go to a reputable breeder.  A good breeder will have ensured that pup is with mum and littermates. When the pups play, if one is too rough with their play biting, their sibling will let out a loud yelp and will stop playing. The pups then learn that to continue their play they need to adjust the amount of pressure they are applying with their mouth.

If the pup is removed from mum and/or littermates too early, the crucial start to teaching their bite inhibition will have been lost and this can increase problems at a later stage.

Play with littermates starts to process of puppies understanding about bite inhibition 

2. “Ouchie!”: Teaching Bite Inhibition

So, how do you teach your puppy not to nip?  Well, the short answer is, you don’t. This may sound counter-intuitive, but to help your dog learn to be gentle it is important to let them explore using their mouth in the beginning.  If you never allow them to do this, they will not learn how to control the force they use. It is a continuation of what they would have had with their littermates.

If your puppy is exploring with their mouth and they get too rough, mark the moment with a dramatic, high pitched “Ouch” and make sure that you immediately withdraw contact.  Don’t shout or scold them. If every time it happens you are consistent they will quickly start to understand that, to keep receiving attention, they can’t be too rough.

Wait for at least 30 – 60 seconds before you interact with your pup again.  You may have to repeat this process a number of times consistently for the puppy to start understanding what you are looking for.

Your dog needs to understand how to moderate their mouthing.  When they get too rough you have to let them know 

3. Be a Tree

Puppies often jump up to bite or grab hold of trouser bottoms.  When this happens, your natural reaction is to quickly run away.  This is not the best course of action though as this can seem like a game of chase to your puppy and it can make them even more excited and they will be more likely to continue their play biting.

We would recommend “becoming a tree”.  This is how it is often described to children as they often find it most difficult not to just ran away.  Stop and don’t move or engage with them until they stop biting. If they are not getting any interaction they will usually lose interest and move away.

Some pups are more relentless than others.  If they continue to nip even after you have stopped, you may have to go one step further and go out of the room.  Wait for them to nip again, make sure you use the “Ouch” noise and then immediately leave the room for at least 30 seconds.  If, when you return they go straight back to your trousers, repeat the process: “Ouch” and immediately leave the room.

With repetition, your pup will realise that nipping means attention is withdrawn.

If you want to know more about the “Be a Tree” campaign and get further safety tips for children around dogs we would recommend checking out Doggone Safe.

4. Introduce a long tuggy

For pups that are relentless trouser pullers, another option is to redirect their desire to grab hold onto a more appropriate item.  Using a long tuggy toy or something similar can work well in this instance. This is a great option to suggest for your children to use.

5. Redirect: Offer plenty safe alternatives

If your pup is teething they may be needing a chewing outlet to make them feel more comfortable.  Make sure that you are well stocked up with a variety of safe, long-lasting chews and toys. Some popular options are stuffed treat toys like Kongs or Nylabones.

Always mark a rough nip with an “Ouch” and then wait for them to stop before offering a treat toy.  You don’t want to offer the treat toy straight after they stop though as you don’t want them to associate a nip with getting rewarded with the toy.  It is a fine balance with redirection.

Don’t forget, if you don’t want something chewed, remove it.  Puppies will chew on pretty much anything. It is important to create a safe environment and minimise frustration if you come home to a chewed up pair of slippers.

If they do pick up something that you don’t want them to, trade it out for something more appropriate.  If they don’t want to give it up, don’t pull it from their mouth. Instead, ask them to swap it for a really tasty treat first and then offer them an alternative chew toy.

Remove things you don’t want to be chewed and offer safe alternatives as a more appropriate chewing outlet for teething puppies

6. Treats should be taken gently

Initially, it may be easier to get your pup to take treats dropped on the floor.  Not only does this take the focus away from your hands when they are excited about receiving something yummy but it saves you accidentally getting nipped by puppy teeth.  You can then gradually move onto asking them for calm behaviour when accepting a treat from the hand. If they are trying to snatch, close your hand around the treat into a fist and wait for them to back off from your hand for at least a few seconds. The moment they do this, open your palm flat with the treat on it for them to take it.  If you continually repeat this your pup will learn they only get the reward for calm, non-snatchy behaviour.

7. Boredom can lead to nipping: keep your puppy busy

Sometimes puppy biting can become frenzied when your puppy is just bored.  Whilst it is very important not to over exercise puppies when their young bones are still developing, it is still very important to ensure you keep them appropriately stimulated.

Alongside their daily walks, there are lots of other things you can introduce to help keep your pup stimulated.  Doing short training sessions is great for tiring them out and, of course, they are learning new skills along the way.  Using treat dispensing toys can also be great for mental stimulation.

A tired puppy is a less chewy puppy. Keep your dog stimulated to avoid biting out of boredom 

8. What NOT to do

a) Don’t encourage rough play

This is especially true if you have children who don’t understand that getting the puppy whipped up into a frenzy is likely to encourage nipping as part of the play. The nipping can get out of control when rough play is instigated.  It is important to encourage calm behaviour.

Encourage calm and gentle interaction rather than rough-housing

b) Don’t say “No”

If you just shout “No” at your dog every time they nip, the may get a bit of a fright the first time and stop but, over time, they will likely get desensitised to this and just start to ignore it.

Often a puppy learns to play bite because it gets them attention.  By constantly shouting no you are still rewarding the puppy with your attention.  You are not offering them any alternative or true incentive to stop.

c) Don’t try to hold your pup’s mouth shut to stop them biting

You may have someone tell you just to hold your pup’s mouth tightly shut whenever they play bite and that this will quickly resolve the issue.  Nope! It will just teach your pup to get frustrated or they may get frightened. This, in turn, can result in your dog having a more extreme reaction next time.  We always encourage using force free and positive training methods. Not only is it kinder, but it is also more effective in the longer term and it ensures you have a strong bond based on trust and rewarding them for the behaviour you want rather than punishing behaviour you don’t.

9. If you are feeling overwhelmed don’t be afraid to ask for help

In a busy household, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated when dealing with an excitable puppy.  If you are struggling to get on top of things don’t be afraid to ask for help. Getting guidance from a qualified dog behaviourist or trainer can help provide a clear plan of action.  If the trainer is observing your households interactions with pups, their experienced eye will be able to immediately point out where you may be going wrong.

The key though is to be kind, consistent, remove yourself from the behaviour you don’t want, reward the behaviour you do want and redirect when appropriate.  Following these strategies will mean you will have a puppy that learns quickly.

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