How to stop a puppy from biting you
February 04, 2020
Survival guide - Part 3Comments
This is part 3 of our survival guide. If you didn’t know this already, you’re in for a treat! Unless you’ve got the skin of a rhino, you are going to find out just how painful the nip of a puppy can be. It doesn’t take much for their razor-sharp needle teeth to break your skin. You need to have a plan in place to teach your puppy from the start that they are not allowed to bite humans.
Some puppies are more mouthy than others and for us, Betty was a particularly mouthy puppy. We had battle scars all over our hands and arms and feet and legs and… you get the picture. Although it can be entertaining at first, this behaviour can soon become a problem, especially if you have small children in the house.
You need to teach your puppy right away that biting humans is not acceptable. I’m not saying you’re going to stop them biting altogether here - they are puppies and will be teething after all.
There are some easy to follow strategies to stop your puppy biting you. Good luck!
Firstly, though, and I’ll mention this quite a lot because you need to understand it and remember it, “Your puppy shouldn’t expect to get something for nothing”. So, don’t put their food down on the floor until they’ve properly assumed the sit position. Or if you have a tasty treat for them, you’ll hold onto it until they have given you their paw or sat, for example.
Every single interaction is your chance to cram in some basic obedience training. One of the first things you should teach your puppy is how to take food out of your hand without snatching, clawing or biting at your hand.
Strategy 1: Hand feeding
To stop your puppy snatching and biting at your hands whilst giving treats and playing, you should hand feed them following these instructions.
To teach your puppy this important skill you’ll want to set aside one of their meals and hand-feed them every single piece of it. Take a bit of their food, show them it and then hold it in a clenched fist. They’re going to paw and nibble at your fist and you’re going to be resolute and hold firm. You’re waiting for the moment that your puppy leaves your hand alone (even for a second to start with). As soon as they do, issue your reward cue (“good girl/boy”) and reward them with the food.
You might think that they’re never going to get it at first, but trust me, they will try everything to get that reward. They will eventually try stepping backwards, looking away or even sitting. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t expect miracles from your first session. You should be happy if they just leave your hand alone for a couple of seconds. Anything else will be a bonus. Eventually, you want to build this length of time up, though.
Also, when you give your puppy the food you’re going to introduce a new phrase to them… “Take it”. So when your puppy has left your hand alone and as you open your hand, you’ll say “take it”. We won’t kid ourselves into thinking they’re following our orders here, but it will associate that phrase with them taking something from you. We’ll use that in later training sessions! That is for another time, though. We’re just surviving the first month in this guide.
You might also want to simplify this at first by literally just hand feeding them bit-by-bit and saying “Take it” as you give them their food. Remember they’re new to this and their first attempts to take the food will be a bit snappy, so you can expect a bit of pain initially! They’ll soon get the hang of it.
We’ll expand this basic training later, but the above will be enough work for the first month of life with your new puppy. Like I said, this guide is just aimed at surviving the first month.
So the above should help bites from feeding and giving treats. What about biting from playing and when they’re just over-excited? Well, we move onto these next few strategies.
Strategy 2: Yelping
If you’ve observed puppies with their litter-mates you might have seen some rough play with one another. Although this looks like aggression, it is all normal and just a learning process for them.
When this rough play goes too far, one of the puppies will give a high pitched yelp and play will stop, if not, a reciprocal bite will come from the other litter-mate, and from this interaction they learn how hard they’re allowed to bite. This is known as bite inhibition. As I mentioned, Betty was a very mouthy puppy. Betty’s litter was almost all male, so my guess is she had to learn to be a bit more mouthy to stand up for herself. When we first visited her litter she was this little timid thing. When we picked her up she was this hyperactive biting, pooing machine!
You’ll collect your puppy at around 8 weeks old, by that time they will have started to develop a sense of how hard they’re allowed to bite when playing. The issue is that you don’t have a layer of protective fur like their litter-mates. This problem is even worse if you collect your puppy before 8 weeks (which you should not do). They won’t have had time to build up any bite inhibition by playing with their litter-mates. You need to have them moderate or inhibit their biting to a threshold you can take (without your protective fur on), then have them realise any forms of contact with you and their teeth are not acceptable.
Okay onto the advice. When your puppy puts their little razor teeth on you, you will let out a yelp mimicking what their litter-mate would do. You just won’t bite back if they continue. Instead, you move onto the second part of the strategy. We had mixed results yelping with Betty. She’d moderate her bite but then come back for more and if she was overexcited you could forget about yelping because that just made the game more fun. If this happens to you, move onto the next strategy.
Strategy 3: Redirection
The first rule of puppy club is always be prepared. You need to have a toy nearby whenever your new shark mouth friend is around. When the biting starts you reach for the toy and make it the most interesting thing in the room. Squeak it, shake it, move it around. Redirect your puppy from your hand or arm or whatever is being gnawed at the time over to the toy. This is simple but effective advice that will eventually pay off as they learn what they can chew and what they can not chew.
Strategy 4: Withdraw your attention
So your puppy has put their little needle teeth on you and you’ve let out the yelp and that only encouraged them to continue with the biting game. You deployed the toy to redirect them only for them to come straight back at you. In this situation, you withdraw the one thing your puppy craves… your attention. So stop the game you’re playing, stand up and turn your back on them. If they get the message you can continue with your game. If not you need to remove yourself from the room and let them calm down before continuing. If that’s not possible, remove the puppy by putting them in an area you have set aside for them. There’s no need for theatrics here. Just calmly remove them from the room and let them have a short timeout to lower their excitement level.
Follow and repeat the above advice and you will eventually get the message across to little needle teeth. Whatever you do, don’t run away or flail your arms because that’ll turn it into a game.
After a while, when Betty would bite, you could see her jaw rapidly and gently moving and you could tell she was gauging how hard she was biting. Even if it doesn’t hurt you have to pretend it does. Pretend to be a wuss! Eventually, it was funny to watch as she’d go to bite you and you’d see her suddenly remember she wasn’t allowed and she’d change the bite into a yawn or just rest her teeth on you.
As with all training everyone involved has to be consistent. You can’t have one person taking the bites because they like the scars and everyone else is following the plan!