Puppy kisses and puppy breath – two joys of having a puppy. But those come with a price – sharp puppy teeth. Want to know how to get a puppy to stop biting? It only takes 4 steps.
1) Understand why puppies bite.
Puppies explore with their mouths. When they are first born, their eyes and ears are sealed, so they can’t see or hear the world around them. They do, however, have mouths – mouths that find mom and get milk. Within weeks, they use their mouths to discover different things – everything from the crunch of kibble to soft flaps of littermates’ ears. Their mouth is a big part of how they interact with their mom and littermates, their first experiences socializing with others. When they meet you, they do what comes naturally – they use their mouths.
So cute! For now...
This of course does not excuse the biting. As they grow, it will be less acceptable and more dangerous for a puppy to bite. But once you understand the biting, it’s easier to stop it.
2) Do not reward the biting.
If dogs get what they want when they do something, they learn to keep doing it. Oftentimes puppies hear nothing but cooing voices, even if they’re being reprimanded for something like biting. It’s hard to resist (we’ve all done it) but completely unproductive: puppies understand our tone, not the words we’re saying. So they bite, get reprimanded in a cooing voice, and to them that’s a reward.
Same goes for letting go of whatever toy they’re trying to get from you – of course we instinctively let go when they bite, but the effect is that they get the toy. Mission accomplished, and lesson learned for next time.
3) Discourage the biting.
There are several things you can do to discourage the biting instead of rewarding it. One is to stop play immediately. This takes away attention and fun from the puppy – two things they love most at that stage. If they learn that they lose what they want when they bite, they’ll stop.
Another is to do the opposite of cooing. Use a short word like a loud “AH!” or “NO!” A puppy can understand that short, distinct word used every time he does something wrong better than he can understand, “You silly puppy, no biting, those teeth hurt!” It’s also easier for you to put the upset tone into it and get your dog’s attention with a short word. It brings his attention to you and off of whatever he was trying to do.
Make biting uncomfortable. I’m not advocating hurting your dog here – that’s never ok. But if it’s not fun, the puppy won’t do it. Some trainers recommending balling your hand into a fist and inserting into the puppy's mouth. They don’t like it and will turn their attention to something else that is fun. If that happens every time they bite your hand, they learn that they don’t want to do it.
That method didn't feel right for me. So when Nala was a puppy, if she put her teeth on my hand I simply wrapped my hand around her bottom jaw. It didn’t hurt her, but it definitely ruined her game. That combined with “AH! NO!” let her know that biting wasn’t a game, it wasn’t ok, and she wouldn’t get what she wanted by doing it.
4) Channel the biting.
Again, puppies discover the world with their mouth. They are teething, just like human babies, and need to chew to relieve the irritation (and because it’s fun). So give them something they’re allowed to chew on.
Having a variety of toys is important. Playing with the same toy over and over gets boring for a puppy, so they’ll find other things that interest them – like your shoes and other things not intended as toys. A variety of toys also provides a variety of experiences, from sounds to textures to consistencies. That engages their brain as it develops and provides your puppy the feeling of exploring new things.
A couple of examples from our tough dog toys selection:
• Indestructible Dog Ball: Puppies can’t destroy it, no matter how much they chew, and they will have hours of fun pawing, nosing, and rolling around with it. It’s a different size, different shape, harder, and responds to their actions differently than the Kong.
• Plush Puppies Dog Toys: These plush toys have durable squeakers inside. It gives puppies the audio stimulation of a squeak toy, combined with the softness of a plush. It has more give to it than a Kong, offering a different chewing experience.
And that’s it. It takes some patience, but how to get a puppy to stop biting doesn’t have to be difficult. Puppies are trying to learn how to behave in the world, and it just takes some guidance from you and an outlet for their natural behaviors.
Then you’ll be able to enjoy the puppy kisses without fear of shark teeth!
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Photo credit: Kiwi NZ