Biting is something every puppy goes through and this happens for two main reasons.
They use their mouths to explore the world
Hopefully, you’ve noticed that dogs don’t have hands, so how else do you expect them to explore the world, if not with their mouths? They interact with almost everything with their mouths, so the objective isn’t to stop biting altogether, but to help them to learn how to use their mouths to interact without causing pain.
Just like babies, they’re teething
So, in this instance, the purpose is to redirect your puppy’s efforts towards things they should bite i.e. chew toys.
Before we go through the techniques used to stop puppy biting, let’s go through a few things to remember first:
- Be Patient and Consistent: puppy biting tends to last for 6 months, so don’t get frustrated. It is innate in your dog to bite too hard for the first 6 months of their lives (which we will explain later), so it’s going to take a while to teach them otherwise.
- Start Training Them at a Young Age: as the process takes a long time, it is important to start them as young as is feasible. If you have just brought your dog home and he/she hasn’t got teeth yet, you can let them go a few days whilst they get comfortable with their new home. A big advantage of playing with your dog is that it helps you grow a bond, so making them feel comfortable should be the priority, prior to jumping into training mode. It also makes it harder to train them when you can’t give them treats as they’re still eating mushed up food.
- Play With Them First: the less energy your dog has, the less biting they will do and the easier they are to train.
So let’s get onto the techniques...
In the wild, puppies would play with each other and bite each other. If one puppy bites too hard, their sibling would yelp or react in an unfavourable way. This, eventually, would teach them not to bite too hard when playing. The same approach can be taken by yourself.
When you are playing with your dog and they bite you too hard, simply say ‘ow!’ (or yelp, if you’re capable) to show your puppy that it was wrong to bite so hard. When you do this, removes your hands by putting them in your pocket and stop playing with them. You will become less exciting and your puppy will soon get bored of you. Once they have stopped attempting to play with you, carry on doing this.
If it has been a while and you see no progress, or your dog doesn’t recognise your attempts to stop playing, you can always use ‘time-out’ areas (yes, just like with children!). This can be a confined area you put your dog in with no toys or anything fun (tip: don’t use their crate/sleeping area - you don’t want them to confuse bedtime with being punished), or you could use ‘reverse time-out,’ where the human leaves the room. This should be for no more than a minute, or even less if you think your puppy needs extra supervision.
At first, you should only react to hard biting. This shows your puppy not to bite hard. The problem with stopping here is that, although it may not bother you when your puppy playfully bites you, those who meet your dog for the first time do not know that they only bite soft. You want your friends to be able to meet your dog without being scared, right? Also, if your dog is around children quite a lot, it is important to recognise that your version of ‘too hard’ will be a lot harder than the child’s.
Therefore, it is important to react to softer bites, too (once your dog has learned to stop biting hard). Eventually your puppy should go from biting to licking and interacting with their mouths that way. When you play with them and they don’t bite you, reward them for good behaviour
So as a recap:
- Stop playing when your dog bites you hard and say “ow!”
- Once they’ve learned to stop biting hard, increase your sensitivity to bites
- Reward whenever you play with them and they don’t bite
- Use time-out if you need to
Remember to be patient and consistent. The number one cause of a failure in training your dog is the owner getting frustrated too easily.
For this technique, you should have a toy with you at all times. The aim is to stop your puppy biting your hands and clothes altogether by placing a more appropriate object to bite in front of them. There’s no step-by-step process with this, but there are a few things to consider.
The aim is to show what is acceptable to bite and what isn’t, so make sure you’re fast to react. Once you get to know your dog, you’ll be able to see it in their eyes when they’re about to start biting. When you recognise this feeling, get the toy out and wave it in their face. They’ll bite the toy and the association with ‘play time’/‘bite time’ will go with the toys and not you. Great!
Don’t worry about getting your dog excited. In fact, it’s a good thing as it gets rid of their energy. As mentioned in our previous article ‘3 Universal Dog Training Tips,’ tired dogs are obedient dogs, so they will be easier to train. Just make sure they aren’t too tired to play.
As well as redirecting with toys, you can also use treats. This calms your dog’s biting down, as they’re in food mode, so biting is less vigorous. If you puppy tends to be a snatcher when it comes to food and you fear for your fingers, try treating them open palm. You should start to see more of a calmness with your hands after a while and hopefully your puppy will start to lick where they previously used to bite.
As with Bite Inhibition, you can always leave the room until your dog calms down and then come back in after no more than a minute. This will show your puppy that, if he/she gets too excited, the fun will stop, meaning that their behaviour will improve over time.
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