How To Stop A Puppy From Nipping, Biting and Mouthing

As your puppy chews relentlessly on the corner of your jeans or sinks their teeth into a piece of furniture for the umpteenth time, you might start to wonder if you happen to have the chewiest little dog in the entire world.

Here’s the good news – you don’t! It’s completely normal for puppies to want to bite and chew on everything in their reach. It’s definitely not a very favourable sort of behaviour, though.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to discourage this behaviour in a way that your puppy will understand. Here’s our guide on stopping a puppy from biting.

So Why Do Puppies Bite?

Biting is a very natural part of a puppy’s growth. But why, exactly, does a little pup want to use their teeth on everything? Understanding the reasons behind it can help you take better steps to combat the problem.

Learning and Exploration

Think, for a moment, of how toddlers learn. They reach out to touch things, pick things up, and throw them around.

Puppies don’t have that luxury – they don’t have opposable thumbs and their paws aren’t particularly gifted at picking things up. Instead, they have a set of sharp pearly whites that they can unleash on the world!

This means that a pup’s only way to interact with the huge, incredible, and very large world around them is to use their mouths and teeth.

As they explore the world and learn more about their surroundings, they are likely to grab things to chew on, just like babies pick objects up and put them in their mouths.

Communication

Babies cry to communicate because they haven’t learned to speak yet. Dogs aren’t much of the crying type, so your puppy’s nipping is essentially the canine version – to some degree.

Of course, puppies can whine and cry, too, but this is a little different to that. It communicates something separate to what a whine or bark would.

When a puppy bites you or your trousers and shoes as you wear them, they’re likely looking to grab your attention. It’s their way of saying “Hey, Mom/Dad, look at this!” Since they can’t speak, this is the next best thing!

Attention

Tying into our previous point, if a puppy wants attention, it’s only natural that they opt for biting you or another object. Why? Because they’ve learned it gets a reaction.

If they bite your hand, you jerk it away, simulating play to them. If they nibble on the sofa, you come running to tell them off. If they latch onto your jeans, you look down and talk to them.

Basically, your actions may have accidentally reinforced the idea that biting means attention. It doesn’t even matter if you’re scolding your puppy – to a little dog, all attention, even the negative kind, is good attention.

If they’re being ignored, delivering a sharp nip to your toe will have the attention swivel right back onto them!

Social Hierarchy

For a puppy who is living with other puppies, their social rank is largely determined during their play fights. A stronger bite means a stronger dog, which means a better position in the pack’s hierarchy.

Essentially, a good, tough bite is almost equal to gaining respect in the canine world, even if a puppy never truly wants to hurt their littermates.

Teething

Just like humans, most animals also go through a teething phase. It can be a painful and uncomfortable time for any puppy and makes them want to chew on things. That’s why you should buy him toys or rawhide chews.

Virtually all puppies will experience a teething phase that can start as early as at 6 weeks of age and stick around for until the pup is 8 months old.

Because of the lengthy process that teething can be, it’s more important than ever that chewing furniture, clothing, or other people are discouraged and the need to bite is redirected to better alternatives.

It’s In Their Blood

Some breeds are simply more likely to bite than others. Examples of these are Labradors and other retrievers, and most sporting type breeds.

This is because these breeds have been specifically bred for decades to chase after game and prey, carrying them in their mouths back to their owners.

Puppies from breeds like these may instinctively feel the need to bite anything that moves. With proper training, they can outgrow this behaviour.

Is The Biting Aggressive Or Playful?

It depends on what the puppy is doing. As aforementioned, puppies use their teeth and mouths for a lot of different things.

For example, you can watch a litter of puppies play fighting and it might look like they’re all trying to eat each other, but they’re not actually being aggressive – even when snarls and growling are involved!

It’s all in good fun to them. Their bodies wiggle around, their mouths and faces are open and happy, their body language is relaxed, and they move easily. Aggressive puppy biting and body language are fairly easy to discern. Here are some examples of them:

  • Hard, intense stares
  • Low growls or snarls
  • A closed mouth
  • Standing still, almost like a statue
  • Licking lips
  • Tense body
  • The fur on back standing

Aggressive behaviour is also more likely to happen in puppies who have just been reprimanded or prevented from doing something they want to do or made to do something they didn’t want to do – even if it’s what’s good for them.

Think of it like a toddler’s temper tantrums. So, if you’re getting bitten right after giving your puppy a scolding, it may be an aggressive move.

A puppy may also bite in an aggressive manner if they are guarding their resources, such as food, a treat, or a toy. In this situation, they will likely be standing over the item in question when they exhibit aggression.

A puppy who behaves overly aggressively may need professional help in order to better manage behaviour. Speak to a vet or professional trainer about options.

What Is Biting Inhibition And How Do I Teach It?

Biting inhibition refers to a puppy’s knowledge of how hard they bite and how it affects those they bite. Most puppies who are surrounded by littermates or other young animals will learn this on their own fairly easily.

Here’s how this works. When playing, a puppy may bite too hard on a friend, and that friend will yelp, squeal, or express a negative and pained sound when this happens.

In turn, the puppy stops all play and processes this, realizing that their actions have caused this. Then, play resumes, and the puppy is now wiser about their bites and how rough they can be before going too far.

Sometimes, puppies may also learn this when nursing from their mothers. A too-hard bite will cause their mother to growl and express discomfort, then stand up. In both cases – with play and with nursing – the puppy grows to understand that nipping too hard will stop the positive things that are happening.

To teach bite inhibition in a puppy, you have to be ready to catch mouthing when it happens. For example, if you’re petting the dog and they bite you, make a high-pitch pained yelping sound.

Don’t jerk the hand away, as this sends a playful signal to a puppy. Instead, simply allow your hand to go limp. This will surprise and startle the puppy.

When your hand is free, slowly move the hand away and move away, ignoring the puppy completely. This teaches the pup that biting means the fun and games cease. Repeat as necessary when the pup does this again.

If your puppy continues to initiate play after your yelp, leave the room and shut the door, or go through a barrier they can’t cross, effectively ending all play.

Make sure space is puppy-safe if you can’t supervise them from your new location. Don’t act angry or intimidating – just walk away and ignore. Give the puppy time to calm down before returning.

In brand new puppies, ease this training in slowly.

Start by only putting a stop to play when very hard bites occur, then slowly work your way down until your puppy is taught to no longer bite at all. Patient progress will teach the puppy how to have a soft, gentle mouth.

How to Stop a Puppy Biting

Apart from boredom or curiosity, there are three main triggers that cause puppies to bite at you instead of at toys or inanimate objects.

It’s very important to correct these behaviours as what seem like small, harmless moves now will be much harder to handle once your pup has grown to full size. Here’s what the common biting triggers are and how to redirect them elsewhere.

Hands

If you play with your puppy using your hands, you’re teaching them that hands are toys or that fingers are chewable. Of course, training bite inhibition as explained in our previous section will work well, but you can do more than that.

Make sure you have a toy on hand to replace your hand if your puppy decides to nibble at your fingers. Try not to move too quickly or suddenly with your hands, instead, directing your puppy’s attention to bright and attractive toys that they’d like much more than your limbs.

Feet and Ankles

This is especially prevalent in hunting breeds. An ankle or foot moves by quickly, which can entice a puppy to attack it as this will arouse their prey drive. This is especially true since your feet are basically eye-level for a puppy.

To redirect this, have a toy with you in your pocket during the time your dog seems most obsessed with your ankles. When you see that they are about to make a grab for your ankles, before they come too close and engage, distract them with the toy instead.

Optionally, you can tie a toy to your belt or belt loops that will drag on the floor as you walk – much more interesting than feet!

Children

Young children and kids have a tendency to move and run in more energetic ways than adults do, and they also make a lot of funny noises that a puppy might think is exciting. With a child bouncing and moving so erratically, puppies might associate them with toys or play time.

Redirecting the mouthing energy when kids are involved can be more difficult. The first step may be to teach the kids in question not to move so suddenly when a puppy is around.

Have them sit like a statue or “be a tree”. You should have toys on hand for redirection. If all else fails, refer to the methods in our next section!

What Other Ways Can I Train A Puppy To Stop Biting?

1. A Time-Out Room

This method should only be used if your puppy really isn’t reacting well to any teaching or attempts to redirect attention. It’s an especially useful method if young children are involved.

This traces back to a dog’s natural instincts, as a pack of wild dogs would isolate a member who was behaving badly or couldn’t calm down.

To do this, when your puppy is exhibiting bad behaviour and will not stop, separate them from the area and put them in a puppy-safe room, isolated from anyone else.

Do so in a calm manner, place a teething toy or two with them, and leave them be for a few minutes until they calm down. Try not to go longer than 5 minutes as a puppy may forget why they were placed in there in the first place.

It should be noted that a crate should never be used for time-outs or negative reinforcement, as you want your puppy to associate a crate with good, positive things.

2. Use a Taste Deterrent

If your puppy isn’t getting the message, buy a taste deterrent. As the name suggests, they taste horrible and will quickly prevent your puppy from biting on things.

Spray this on your hands or the areas your puppy tends to bite. Wait for them to register the negative taste and let go, they reward them with praise and redirect attention to a toy or even a treat.

3. Teach “Leave It”

The “leave it” command is so valuable because it doesn’t just apply to bite – it can save a puppy’s life in some cases. Here’s a general overview of how to teach this.

  • Step 1: Take two treats and hold one in each hand.
  • Step 2: Show your puppy one of your closed fists that contains a treat. Say “Leave it.”
  • Step 3: Ignore your puppy as they try to do anything in their power to get the treat. Do not respond or react at all to any actions.
  • Step 4: Once your puppy stops attempting to get the treat, take your other hand and reveal the treat inside, allowing them to eat it.

Of course, this process takes patience and you can further the training into more complex scenarios. Be consistent and always reward good behaviour! I hope you enjoyed our article about how to stop a puppy biting, nipping and mouthing and hope to see you soon.

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