How To Nip Puppy Biting in the Bud—Before It Becomes a Problem
If you've ever had a puppy – or even been around puppies – you know that nipping is a thing. Puppies explore the world around them with their mouths, and biting is a completely natural behavior.
This doesn't mean that it's okay to allow your puppy to bite – in fact, letting a puppy bite and doing nothing about it is a recipe for disaster, and could ultimately lead to a dog's demise. Puppies need to learn that nipping isn't okay, and it's up to us as pet parents to kindly encourage them to play and interact with humans minus the mouthing.
Puppy biting isn't cute
Even though biting is part of a puppy’s natural behavior, and even though those first nibbles might seem adorable, this behavior should never be encouraged. Skaug Law reports on their site that in 2017, the average settlement paid by insurance companies for dog bites was a staggering $33,230. In other words, if your playful pup ends up biting you - or worse a baby or child - it could end up causing you and your family extreme financial pain. In addition to that, the longer you let puppy biting or nipping continue, the more confused your puppy will be when you do move into bite inhibition training.
Discourage your puppy from biting beginning from the very first time they nibble at your fingers or nip at your ankles. Even if those razor-sharp teeth might be too small to cause you much pain, let out a loud yelp or say "ouch" in a voice that’s loud enough to startle the pup. Simultaneously relax your hand or the other affected body part, but don't tug it away from the puppy.
There's a very important reason not to tug: Tugging automatically activates your puppy's chase instinct, and actually encourages them to bite again. It's fine to play tug games with appropriate tug toys, but not with your clothing or body parts.
When your puppy releases the bite, breathe and silently count to 10. Calmly resume playing with your puppy and repeat the lesson every time they try to nip you. They’ll eventually learn that fun ends when they bite and resumes when they stop.
Consistency is key
Puppies need consistent reinforcement each time they learn a new lesson. Bite inhibition training needs to come from everyone they play with. This means all of your family members and friends who might interact with the puppy need to know how to respond appropriately if the puppy nips. If young kids aren't able to follow through, then they'll need to interact with the puppy only under close supervision, and only when the puppy is calm.
Never hit a puppy for biting or other behavior. This can lead to aggression and make matters worse. If you begin to feel frustrated or if your puppy is having a case of the crazies and not paying attention to cues, it's time to provide them with a timeout.
Pet Food Sherpa explains that puppies - and dogs - hate to be ignored. In fact, it is one of the most effective corrections you can provide: “To a dog, being ignored is a form of exclusion from their pack. The amount of time your puppy spends in timeout should be long enough for them to quiet down and for you to regain a sense of calm as well.”
Here's the right way to put a puppy in timeout: Calmly take the puppy to their crate. Make sure that they have an appropriate teething toy to chew on while they are inside. Place them in their crate or in another designated area. Close the door and turn your back. Leave the room if you can and ignore any yelping, unless it seems like they have injured themselves – which is something that can happen if they bite the crate or accidentally jam a paw into a tight spot.
Once your puppy has been quiet for 30 seconds to a minute, you can release them from timeout. Make a habit of taking your puppy outside for a bathroom break every time you remove them from their crate. Give them appropriate toys to chew and play with once you come inside. Repeat the lesson if your puppy bites you again. Because puppies take time to learn new things, it's quite likely that you will have to reinforce bite inhibition training dozens of times.
Redirect your puppy if you see them attempting to bite
Redirecting means moving your puppy into a desirable behavior when you notice that they are about to engage in an unwanted behavior. If you think your puppy is about to bite, you can grab a toy and encourage them to grab it and play with it instead. This way, they quickly learn that toys are for playing, and that it is far more enjoyable to bite their toys than it is to bite you.
All puppies bite
It doesn't matter whether your puppy is a Chihuahua or a Pit Bull: Biting is a natural behavior. Unfortunately, statistics show that some dogs are more likely to bite than others. This isn't the dog's fault; instead it's the result of poor training. Some people encourage puppies to play rough and this can lead to a habit of biting. Irresponsible owners have given breeds such as German shepherds, Rottweilers, and pit bulls reputations as biters when in fact proper training can help any dog develop a friendly, positive mindset from the very beginning.
If you're having difficulty teaching a puppy not to bite, don't let frustration get the better of you. Harsh punishments lead to aggression and can make matters worse. Instead of punishing your puppy, get in touch with a dog trainer. They'll work with you and your puppy, putting in into your frustration and stopping potentially harmful biting behaviors.