How To Stop Your Puppy From Biting - Canine Mouthing Explored
The dreaded phase has arrived. Your puppy’s terrible twos are awash with “bad” behaviour. Chewing furniture, stealing food and biting. Today we’re going to tackle puppy play biting. Why do puppies bite during this phase? Do they grow out of it? And how can you stop a puppy from biting before their adult chompers come in and cause more damage?
Let’s get into it!
Why Does My Puppy Bite Me?
Let’s start with the obvious question: why do puppies bite? There are a few common reasons why puppies play bite.
Puppies use their mouth to explore
The better question that will help us get to the bottom of this issue is: why do puppies mouth?
Mouthing is an easier way of looking at this because it helps to understand biting as a tool for exploration. Like babies, puppies explore the world with their mouths.
Remember, puppies don’t have hands so their mouths and noses are their primary means of exploring the world when they’re young.
Puppies get overexcited
Another huge reason why your puppy is biting you is that they’re excited. Overstimulated and excitable puppies can get carried away as they are playing, and can end up playing rough.
When my dog Blue was young, she unwittingly ripped off the bottom half of my jean leg with her tiny sharp teeth because she lunged in excitement to see me. 14-year-old me was not amused.
So overexcitement and hyperactivity are common reasons why lay biting occurs.
Puppies lack bite control
Part of learning how to be a good member of canine society is bite pressure. When mouthing items, dogs, and people, they will get a sensory reaction that will teach them to be gentler. We’ll get to the training part later but keep in mind that puppies don’t have much bite control naturally.
Puppies get bored and chew
Of course, there are other reasons why puppies bite. They could be chewing furniture because of teething or boredom. When provoked, they can also bite out of aggression, though again, this tension can be redirected with consistent gentle training.
Related: The Best Puppy Teething Toys.
Is your puppy being aggressive?
You’ll notice that none of my common reasons for play biting includes aggression. That’s not to say that puppies can’t be aggressive. They absolutely can. But we tend to jump to aggression too quickly.
Play biting rarely comes from a place of anger or personal attack. Puppies (and dogs in general) are rarely aggressive for no reason. It can feel that way but more often than not, your puppy is just playing. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
If you fear that your puppy is being aggressive, here are some body language signs to look out for:
If your puppy is being aggressive, don’t jump to conclusions or panic just yet.
“Too many owners assume that an aggressive dog is out of control and must be re-homed or euthanised. However, once you take steps to resolve the situations causing your dog to act out, you'll often find that the aggression disappears or is greatly reduced.” - Amy Bender, The Spruce Pets. (2)
Oddly enough, if it’s going to happen, it’s better that your puppy displays aggression now, rather than in later adulthood. Puppies are like sponges so you can shape them much more easily when they are young.
When do puppies stop biting?
Puppies tend to grow out of the puppy nipping/play biting/mouthing stage between 3 and 5 months of age. (3)
Oddly enough this aligns with the teething stage that happens around 3 to 6 months of age.
If your puppy is still mouthing and play biting at 7 months when their full set of adult teeth is in, it’s time to involve a professional.
Play-biting is far more dangerous once your dog has big teeth!
So, with all that in mind, let’s get to the tips to stop your puppy from biting before it’s too late.
How To Stop Your Puppy From Biting
The better way to consider this problem is “how to train your puppy to stop biting?”
To a degree, the biting and mouthing phase is just that. A phase. That said, biting in puppyhood can become an issue if you don’t nip it in the bud. After all, that’s what your puppy’s mother would do!
Now that you’re a dog mother or father, here’s how to move your pup away from biting and mouthing their way through life.
Withdraw and ignore your puppy when they bite
What’s the most effective way to stop your puppy biting? It’s this simple mantra:
Biting means game over!
Essentially, if your puppy nips you, you instantly stop the game and ignore them until they have calmed down.
Your puppy wants to play so they’ll do anything to avoid ending the game early.
After your puppy has calmed down, gently reward your pup with sweet words and perhaps a treat. You can then go back to playing - hopefully with their teeth in check!
Of course, they won’t get the message after just one time. You have to repeat this routine until they stop lunging and play biting you during playtime.
Eventually, they’ll associate unruly teeth with an early end to the game and stop biting altogether.
Use misdirection to fight the lunge
When your puppy is hyperactive and wants to play, they may lunge forward, teeth out ready to play bite. The lunge is the best time to redirect your puppy to bite-appropriate toys.
That’s ultimately how to stop a puppy from biting your clothes. Usually, your puppy ends up latching onto your clothes in a giddy flurry of excitement.
As they lunge at you to play, quickly direct their attention to a rope toy or chew toy. If your pup wants to play with you, they need to keep their teeth away from your skin and clothes or game over.
PRO TIP: I’d avoid wearing any loose or floaty clothes around your puppy during this time as they will likely ruin them!
Sign up for a puppy training class
Puppy training classes are fabulous for a few reasons. First, they are great for socialising your puppy with other dogs and humans. Second, you get access to a professional dog trainer for a fraction of the price of a private dog trainer – and we all love that!
So take advantage of this unique opportunity to get some professional training with your pup and learn ways to steer your puppy away from biting.
Ask as many questions as you need about puppy biting so that you can reinforce what you’ve learnt at home.
How NOT To Stop Your Puppy Biting
This is my inelegant way of saying there are mistakes you can make in this training cycle. Here are the things to avoid when your puppy bites you:
Don’t yell or hit your puppy
You must fight against any impulse to shout, yell, or even hurt your puppy. Gentility, self-control, and calm discipline are crucial to getting this right.
“Verbal and physical corrections do not teach your puppy how to behave; they only teach a puppy to suppress behaviour. Using punishment to train your puppy will lead to fear and anxiety.” - Wailani Sung, DVM, PetMD. (1)
Instead, misdirection or ignoring your puppy when they bite you are better tactics to use than yelling.
Don’t shriek or yelp when your puppy bites you, unless…*
Dogs yelp when they’re bitten. Should you mimic that sound?
The jury’s out on this one. I’ll give you my personal experience. When my dog was going through her mouthing and biting phase, I tried the high-pitched shriek to signal that her biting was harmful.
Did it make her take a sober step back and rethink her life choices?
Not quite. Instead, she got more excited, perceiving my shriek as excitement too.
That’s not to say that this technique won’t work for you. You can always try it out and see if your puppy responds. But I think this depends on your puppy’s personality.
If your pup perceives your reaction as a game, you’ll end up inadvertently reinforcing the behaviour. So I’d say avoid squealing or yelping just for safe measure. Ignoring is a safer bet.
Don’t use your hands as toys
This is an odd one but stay with me. Some puppy owners find it cute when their puppy plays with their hands.
And it is adorable when they’re small. Not so cute when they get older!
So my point here is to not encourage this behaviour – even if it looks sweet.
You can take things a step further and discourage contact play until your puppy stops lunging. Try no-contact toys like retrieving toys and rope toys.
Be cautious when playing tug-of-war with puppies aged 3 to 6 months old as they will likely be teething at this stage. You might cause their teeth to grow through strangely or cause damage to their sore gums.
How To Stop Your Puppy Chewing Everything
Chewing and mouthing are two different things. When we talk about chewing, we’re referring to destructive chewing. That nasty habit of our mischievous puppies takes out their boredom on every innocent piece of furniture and clothing they can get their paws on.
Biting and mouthing are exploratory and play. They aren’t destructive.
We’ve written an entire article on how to stop your dog from chewing so I won’t go into too much detail here. But if you’re dealing with a chewing puppy, here are three steps to follow:
It might take some reinforcement before your puppy stops destructive chewing but keep at it! Increase their mental stimulation so they aren’t bored and enrich their lives with toys.
If you continue to have issues, involve a professional dog trainer.
Final Thoughts: Surviving the puppy nipping phase
If there’s one major takeaway from this article, it’s this:
Try not to overreact when your puppy bites you!
It’s part of their growing and socialisation process that they go through this phase. They’re not attacking you. It’s not personal. It’s part of growing up.
I hope these tips were helpful for you in understanding why puppies bite and how you can nip this behaviour in the bud (pun intended.)
Comment below what topic we should tackle next!
Punishment is the wrong word and the wrong mindset. You can correct your puppy away from play biting by way of gentle training techniques. Punishing your puppy with an aggressive voice or physical aggression will just traumatise them and they won’t want to play with you in future. You don’t want to break the delicate trust that you have to build when your puppy is young. So favour gentle correction over “punishment”. It’ll be more effective and won’t put your bond in jeopardy.
The way to calm an overexcited biting puppy is to reward calm behaviour and not encourage hyperactivity. What does that mean? If you keep your energy calm in reaction to your puppy’s excitement, generally they’ll eventually calm down too. You don’t want to meet their buzzy energy with high-pitched voices or waving arms. You’ll end up riling them up even more! If your puppy is sufficiently exercised, it will reduce the number of mad half hours they have.
If you’ve tried calming your puppy down, but they are still too hyper, try giving them a “time out”. This just means having a quiet room for your pup to simmer down. If your puppy is crate trained, then having a quiet moment in the crate may work too.
- Sung, W. July 31, 2022. “How to Stop Puppy Biting”. PetMD. Retrieved December 19, 2022. https://www.petmd.com/dog/training/puppy-biting
- Bender, A. October 13, 2022. “Reasons Why Dogs Get Aggressive and How to Stop It”. The Spruce Pets. Retrieved December 19, 2022. https://www.thesprucepets.com/top-causes-of-aggression-in-dogs-1117877
- “Puppy biting and mouthing”. Blue Cross Editorial. Retrieved December 19, 2022. https://www.bluecross.org.uk/advice/dog/puppy-biting-and-mouthing