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  • Kristen VanNess

Puppy Piranhas: Handling Puppy Biting

Why does my puppy bite?

Puppies explore the world with their mouths. Puppy biting is a developmentally normal puppy behavior. While this behavior can be enjoyable between puppies, it is not as fun when it is directed at us. We are more sensitive and can find it painful or unpleasant.

Some puppies will also bite if they are nervous or uncomfortable. This might be a puppy who is nervous about his leash being attached, a puppy who doesn’t want to be picked up, or a puppy who is afraid of being put into the crate.

How to Get a Puppy to Stop Biting

You can use different strategies depending on the type of puppy biting. For example, if a puppy is biting out of fear, more play will not decrease his biting when he is picked up. Past behavior can help you learn more about possible causes. Always consult a professional if you have any concerns about safety.

Play

Some puppy biting is about play and interaction. When puppies play together, they will chase, be chased, wrestle, play with toys, and play near each other. Unfortunately, we are not able to do most of these behaviors just like another dog would.

You can use toys as a way to interact with a puppy and provide social play. Tug games are a great way to let a puppy play with us, to use his mouth, and for you to be comfortable with the interaction.

Puppies need a lot of sleep, and puppies benefit from a lot of play. Short, intense play sessions throughout the day can help provide an outlet for your puppy to get his social play.

Take a Nap

While a biting puppy may look like he needs more exercise or more activity, many puppies may get more bitey when they are tired. Look for patterns for when your puppy may benefit from a break in his crate or pen to take a nap. Do your best to put your puppy in his nap area before he starts biting rather than just as a consequence for nipping. If your puppy is often difficult to handle at 8pm, you might let him rest in his crate with a stuffed kong toy at 7:50.

Distractions

While you don’t usually want to use distractions as a technique, there are some behaviors that puppies will outgrow as long as you do not reward the behavior.

Many puppies will get wiggly when you attach a leash or collar. You can distract your puppy with a few treats or pieces of food on the ground while you are attaching the leash or putting on a harness. Another way to do this is to let a puppy lick canned food, kong paste, or a similar product off of a dog bowl while you are leashing him up.

Distractions can be a great option for some basic brushing for some puppies with short or medium coats. If your puppy stops eating the treats and turns to puppy bite at the brush, then you can stop the session and make a note to come back with a training plan rather than simple distraction techniques.

Train your puppy to communicate requests

Puppy biting is an effective way for many puppies to get attention. If your puppy has other ways he can ask for attention, he will be more likely to use those other strategies.

Everyone has met dogs who sit when the dog sees a bag of treats. The dog has learned that under that circumstance, sitting is a great way to get the desired result of a treat. You can use the same concept and teach your dog that he can get your attention by sitting, looking at you, chewing his own toys, or resting on his bed. Throughout the day, find ways to reward your puppy for these behaviors. You might reward your puppy with eye contact, a smile, a tossed treat, a walk, a training game, or anything he likes. Your puppy is likely to quickly learn he can make requests in ways that are more acceptable to people.

How to stop a puppy from biting when playing

An ideal response to puppy biting may vary depending on the age of a puppy, the size of the puppy, the training history of the puppy, and the context. Please consult with a professional for more specific advice.

In general, when a puppy is playfully nipping, he is likely asking for interaction. Many puppies will perceive pushing away, pulling pants away, or scolding as additional play or competition. Quietly removing yourself from the area by stepping over a gate could be a good option. Or, you may calmly put your puppy in his rest area. The goal is not punishment, but to give him a safe place to be while his heart rate returns to normal. Doing nothing can be fun or frustrating for many puppies.

Common advice is to direct a puppy to a toy, chew object, or activity like training or a walk. While this can be successful for some puppies, many puppies will learn to start puppy biting to get human interaction with toys, games, or activities.

Puppy Fear Aggression

Some puppies may bite out of fear or discomfort. If this is something you see with your puppy, please consult a professional for advice that is specific to you and to your puppy.

Do your best to avoid situations that are overwhelming for your puppy. When you are working with fear, you don’t want to break trust by accidentally scaring your puppy.

You can use skill training and confidence building opportunities to build your puppy’s confidence with challenges that previously may have been difficult for him. A professional can help you determine an appropriate plan for your puppy.

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