Puppy biting – what you need to know

Bringing a puppy home for the first time is exciting, but play biting can be a serious and painful problem for many new dog owners.

Why does my puppy bite?

A bite from any dog can be a shock, but it’s important to remember that play biting is normal behaviour for any puppy.

Much like human babies, a puppy explores the world with their mouth. Learning what they can chew and bite and what they can’t is known as mouthing and often involves nibbling and play biting with their owner’s hands. In most cases, this happens when your pup is overexcited.

In my experience, breed can often play a part too. While it’s true that all dogs can bite, some breeds are more likely to display more severe play biting. Working dogs such as German Shepherd or Rottweiler are typically more predisposed to testing with their mouths, as are terrier breeds such as a Jack Russell.

At what age will my puppy grow out of play biting?

Mouthing and play biting is a common phase for most pups and I often reassure owners that their pet will almost always grow out of it when they’re around three to five months old. Biting is also part of the natural teething process – this normally lasts until your pup is around seven months of age.

How can I stop my puppy from biting?

Learning to read your puppy’s body language can help change biting behaviour. When you’re more aware of when your pup is uncomfortable, over stimulated, or overtired, you can remove them from the situation before they’re tempted to bite.

My advice is to always be calm around your puppy and if they become too playful or ‘bitey’, simply end any interaction. You can make sure that playful nipping doesn’t escalate by sticking to five consistent rules…

  1. Always avoid using hands directly and don’t encourage play biting. Instead, encourage puppies to mouth toys rather than nipping at clothes. Keep toys close to hand so you can redirect the nipping as soon as it occurs.
  2. Always be mindful that you’re not sending your puppy into a frenzy during play and if you feel like this is happening, stop, let the dog settle down and return to them later.
  3. If you find that your pup becomes overexcited and nipping behaviour continues, calmly walk out of the room, ignoring your pup until they have calmed. This will teach them that play biting results in the game stopping.
  4. As a part of your early training with your pup, you need to teach a ‘no’ command so that you’re communicating effectively with your growing dog.
  5. As with all forms of training, I always recommend using positive reinforcement – giving your pup a treat when they do the right thing. This will help their understanding of the right behaviour.

How should I react if my puppy bites?

Although it can be painful, try not to think of a bite from your pup as them being aggressive. If you find that your puppy is biting your hand, just move it away and use a simple command like ‘no biting’. But remember not to shout – just speak calmly and with a flat voice.

If that command doesn’t work and you’re feeling at a loss, then just stop there. In my experience, leaving the room and letting your dog calm down before returning a few minutes later will usually lead to a much calmer pup.

Do you recommend any toys to help with biting?

I get asked this a lot. As a general rule, toys that are strong and durable are the safest. Here’s what I recommend…

  • A rope with two loops – this toy can be used as a pulling game, but be careful not to overexcite your puppy with an aggressive game of tug of war as this could result in biting.
  • Rubber stuffable toy – you can put some soft dog food in this toy to help keep your puppy occupied for slightly longer periods of time.
  • Rag toy – this toy comes in different sizes and is therefore great for all breeds. The rag toy is perfect for dealing with puppy biting because it has many tassels that a puppy can really get into.

What else can I do?

Just like us humans, puppies can get irritable if they don’t have enough sleep, mental or physical stimulation, or if they feel hungry. All of this can lead to play biting.

So it’s important to make sure that your pups get the right amount of sleep and rest so they’re not overtired, eat regular meals throughout the day to stave off hunger, and get plenty of play and exercise to keep their minds active.

How should I manage play biting around children?

Children love puppies and vice versa – both have lots of energy and both can get overexcited. Unfortunately, this can often lead to play biting.

I always recommend that an adult supervise any interaction between young children and a puppy. Children can sometimes be a little rough in their handling and may unwittingly pester or corner a puppy. Helping children to understand how to play with a pup and behave in a calm, gentle manner is really important.

What can I do if play biting doesn’t stop?

If you’re worried about your puppy’s biting or any other difficult behaviour, consider contacting a specialist for help. Look for accreditations from the Canine & Feline Behaviour Association or Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors .

To find out more about how to stop a puppy play biting, watch this short video.

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