Teaching your puppy to stop biting starts as soon as you bring home your furry bundle of joy. Or, to put it more accurately: You’ll start teaching your puppy to bite the right things (e.g., her dog toys and dog treats) and keep her choppers off the wrong things (e.g., your fingers and toes).
Read on to learn why puppies bite, essential methods for curbing the unwanted behavior, and the answers to other gnawing questions about puppy bites.
Why Does Your Puppy Keep Biting You?
Biting, gnawing, and mouthing in puppies is normal. The teething process hurts, whether your puppy’s milk teeth or adult teeth are coming in. Puppies will gnaw anything and everything to minimize the pain.
Evolution has also given puppies an instinct to grab and explore things with their mouths, making them infamous for their mouthy destructive behavior.
Finally, developmental play for puppies includes mouthing and light nipping. It’s part of the socialization process for dogs and an essential part of learning their boundaries.
If you’ve ever seen a litter of puppies in action, you know they spend a lot of time rolling around, wrestling and biting each other. During this play, they’ll at times bite too hard—eliciting a startled yelp from their playmate and possibly a puppy who wants to take a break from playtime. A swift rebuke may even come from the mother if she is in the immediate proximity. It doesn’t take puppies long to start giving ‘inhibited’ bites in which they close their jaws gently on their playmates rather than biting with full force.
Once they leave their littermates, it’s your responsibility to nip your puppy’s biting in the bud (pun intended). Don’t make the mistake of considering mouthing and light nipping harmless. Those sharp puppy teeth don’t typically inflict much damage—but you want the biting tendency under control by the time the adult teeth arrive. And, though you can train an older dog, it’s best to establish boundaries from the start.
How to Prevent Your Puppy from Biting
For teething-related chewing and biting, you need to give your puppy plenty of options besides your hand or the cuff of your pants. Bring home an array of sturdy dog toys in different textures and shapes, and rotate them to keep her interested. Rope toys are a good choice for teething, as are rugged treat toys that keep your puppy occupied.
To curb developmental biting, you need three things: patience, perseverance, and playtime. And get in the habit of keeping a baggie of dog treats in your pockets most of the time, so you’re always ready to reward wanted behaviors.
Training your puppy begins immediately. (Ideally, you’ll have read how-tos like this one, and other dog training resources so you know what to do from the jump.)
We’ve outlined our how-tos in steps, but it’s essential to understand this process won’t move along in a neat progression. Your puppy will seem to ‘get it’ one day, and then regress the next. This is where patience and perseverance pay off. If you’re consistent, she’ll eventually learn that biting anything other than her dog toys is unacceptable.
Step 1: Get everyone on the same page. Make sure every member of the household understands the rules around puppy biting and the methods for getting your new puppy to stop biting. Also commit to avoid yelling, hitting, and harsh punishments as part of the training process. Severe responses undermine training and can contribute to anxiety in dogs.
Step 2: Teach your puppy to bite her dog toys. Whenever your puppy bites or chews your hands or feet, say a firm “no” or “no biting” while offering her a dog toy. When she cooperates and grabs the toy, tell her “good girl!” and give her a dog treat—this positive reinforcement helps drive the lesson home over time.
Do the same when your puppy tries to bite at your ankles or the hem of your pants, or attempts to nip or gnaw at another pet in the house. Offer alternatives, and your puppy will learn her teeth should make contact only with her toys.
Step 3: Teach your puppy biting equals pain. Some dog experts recommend replicating the yelps that teach boundaries during puppy play. Let your puppy mouth your hand, but as soon as the bite pressure borders on painful, mimic a puppy’s “yelp” and drop your hand as if it was injured. When your puppy stops, pet her and offer praise. As you repeat this process during brief training sessions, your puppy should start to put less pressure on your hand with her teeth. Begin yelping in steps for lighter and lighter bites, until there is little pressure from her mouthing.
Step 4: Teach your puppy biting equals the end of playtime. More than anything, your puppy wants to play with you—she’ll learn to curb her biting if the fun ends abruptly following a nip or bite. When your puppy bites, say a firm “no biting” and stop playing immediately, ignoring her for 30 seconds or thereabouts. Depending on your puppy’s tenacity, you may need to stand up, walk calmly away, or even leave her in a puppy-proofed room for a minute. After the brief time-out, return to your puppy and continue playing, repeating the process as needed.
Step 5: Socialize your puppy. Invite friends and family over to play with your dog, and stay close so you can repeat the above steps whenever she bites. When she’s had all of her vaccinations—generally by four months of age—set up playdates with other dogs in the neighborhood and bring her to the dog park where older and wiser dogs can teach her appropriate behaviors.
Observe the scene at the dog park before walking through the gate. If several dogs are roughhousing, it’s wise to hold off until there are more low-key role models in the park. When the time is right, ask other dog owners if you can make introductions. You can even suggest playdates with the owners of particularly well-behaved dogs.
Your puppy will have additional opportunities to learn from other dogs if she’s enrolled in doggy daycare, or obedience and socialization classes.
What to Do If You Can’t Pet Your Puppy Without Her Biting You
If your puppy tries to bite you each time you pet her, hand her a toy every time. This strategy will require diligence, but she will eventually get the message.
Also, if you keep a close watch, there are probably moments where she lets you pet her without trying to bite, such as when she’s tired at the end of a long day. Pet her during these low-key moments and praise her when she doesn’t bite.
When Does a Puppy’s Biting Stop?
Unless puppies are taught that biting is unacceptable, they may continue biting into adulthood. Teaching your puppy not to bite is one of the most important lessons you can offer her. You must always be aware of her behavior around other dogs and strangers—but having a dog who bites is particularly stressful and worrying.
Puppies usually have all their milk teeth by five to six weeks of age. And when your puppy comes home with you (typically from 8 to 12 weeks of age), teething is in full swing. By the time she’s six months old, she’ll have lost all of her 28 puppy teeth and 42 adult teeth will have emerged in their place. You can see why training your puppy not to bite is important early on!
Why Your Puppy Is Biting an Older Dog—and How to Stop It
If you have an older dog in the household, your puppy will view him as a playmate. Same goes for all the dogs in the dog park, whether old or young. Often, older dogs will set boundaries themselves. But if your puppy bites an older dog who doesn’t gently correct your puppy, you’ll have to intervene and follow the above behavior corrections with the other dog. Stay close to your puppy when she’s with an older dog so you can distract her with a chew toy when needed. Praise her each time she plays without biting. If she bites, say “no biting” and take her away from the older dog. If she continues biting, separate her from the older dog and try again later.
Is Puppy Biting Dangerous?
Yes. If left unchecked, puppy biting can be dangerous. Milk teeth are sharp and can cause a cut or scrape, which requires cleaning to prevent infection. Also, puppies who can’t control their biting may grow into adult dogs who bite—a much more dire scenario. Prevent this by training your puppy not to bite.
How to Stop Your Puppy From Biting Your Ankles and Clothes
Your puppy considers you a playmate, and when you’re walking past she may bite your ankles and pants cuffs to get you to play. The above tactics should help in this scenario. Also try carrying a long rope dog toy as you walk. Each time your puppy goes after your legs or pants, offer her the rope toy and praise her when she chews on the substitute.
Why Is Your Puppy Biting Her Paws?
Chronic paw biting and licking is a problem whether it occurs in puppies or adult dogs. It can be a sign of several paw issues, including an injury, a bug bite or tick, burrs, allergic reactions, and infections. If the biting is constant, bring your puppy to the veterinarian to look for root causes.
Do Puppy Bites Have Rabies?
Puppies can get rabies if bitten by an infected animal before they get their rabies vaccination. In the US, state laws mandate the rabies vaccine. The vaccination schedule for rabies is between 12 and 24 weeks, between 12 and 16 months, and then every one to three years after that, according to state law requirements.
When Is Puppy Biting a Problem?
Puppy biting is a problem when the above strategies don’t produce a change in behavior. In that case, you may need to work with a professional dog behaviorist. Look for Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB) and Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Behavior (Dip ACVB), who are veterinarians with a specialty in animal behavioral health. Your veterinarian may also have recommendations.
While perfectly normal, biting is a pressing issue in the early months with your four-legged best friend. Address it early and often, and soon enough she’ll keep her teeth to herself—and you can visit friends and hit the dog park with confidence.