My Puppy Bites

Why do puppies bite?

Puppies bite for a handful of reasons. Often, your pup is treating you like another puppy. Puppies frequently do this out of a dominance game mentality. They are exploring to find their place in the overall social hierarchy. Probably the worst and most widely spread advice on internet forums and online articles regarding puppy biting is to say ouch or squeal in pain to make the puppy feel as though it hurt you. Believe me, as a professional protection dog trainer who trains dogs to bite people who need biting. THIS DOES NOT WORK for all but the tiniest fraction of dogs. Puppies do not empathize in this way. They actually get gratified by the reaction you produce and bite more frequently and harder when they find out they can make you more entertaining by biting you. Certain dogs that are very socially sensitive and submissive may respond to this but if you have a problem biter... you don't likely have a socially sensitive slightly submissive dog. Likely the opposite.

Here are a few of the reasons why puppies bite:

  • Overstimulation

  • Frustration

  • Hunger

  • Exhaustion/needs a nap

  • Dominance interactions

  • Defensiveness (things that put the puppy into fight or flight.)

  • It works. It gets a response. It gets a reward or a redirection

  • Prey drive is activated

Have you experienced your puppy biting during any of these circumstances? If so, the question becomes - how do you solve this?

First, What job do you want for your puppy? Do you want your puppy to use its mouth to play vigorously (and appropriately?) Games like tug, fetch and even bite sports or personal protection? If so the approach to dealing with puppy biting may be a bit different than if you are training a family pet or a service animal that we want to be very unlikely to ever bite.

For a family pet or service animal the goal should be to gently create bite inhibition without damaging the puppy's confidence. Bite inhibition is created when a puppy is corrected for biting. The puppy must perceive the consequence of the bite directly as less desirable than not biting. We cannot simply redirect the young dog after a bite onto something the puppy finds rewarding. That will look like a reward or an “on switch” for play. For the puppy to perceive what you are doing as a correction it must change the behavior.

In the case of a family pet or service animal a high degree of bite inhibition may be preferred. There are a number of techniques to apply that may allow your puppy to feel corrected while they bite. For any correction you must not initiate the biting by overly baiting the pup. If you do, the pup is likely to see you as the aggressor and themselves as a victim of your overbearing attack.

One such technique is to trigger a gag reflex with your thumb by applying it to the rear of the puppy’s tongue as they mouth at you. I will hold the lower jaw with my hand as I do this. (A glove helps as puppy teeth are quite sharp.) This is mildly unpleasant and for many puppies gives them a moment’s pause and helps them to reconsider the choice to bite. Allow this unpleasant feeling to last a moment until the puppy tries to escape the bite and allow them to quit. If the puppy is a particularly hard biter you may want protective gloves to perform any of these techniques. Another option is to roll the puppy’s upper lip between your hand and their teeth as they bite you. In this way when they apply pressure on your hand their own skin feels the pressure. Either of these techniques should be accompanied by a firm yet gentle “no.” Do not allow yourself to sound stressed. A low tone of voice but not too extreme is desired. For very hard biting, more dominant or higher drive dogs a leash and training collar may be required.

For working dogs or dogs that you want to engage in bite sports:

We have found that most all puppy mouthing and biting can be solved by non-reinforcement (maybe 98%.) This means when the puppy mouths or bites at us we remove the opportunity for biting/play/attention/touch/food. Stop the fun your puppy is getting. A simple “no” without any social pressure or energy in ou