Puppies: adorable, fluffy, energetic, and enthusiastic. There’s a lot to love! However, puppies are brand-new to the world and need to learn what is appropriate and what’s not. Of the many behaviors they may display, puppy biting is one of the most concerning. You do not want your puppy to hurt you, a member of your family, a friend or anyone else.
Biting is a normal stage in puppy development for a lot of dogs, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be addressed. Puppies may begin biting for a variety of reasons. You will need to identify the possible reason for your puppy’s biting and develop a training plan around that to get the biting to stop.
Why Is My Puppy Biting?
It’s normal for puppies to use their mouth and teeth during play and exploration. Much like human babies, puppies may put everything in their mouths. This is because they are trying to figure out the world around them! Dogs have a strong sense of smell and taste. They’re motivated to discover their surroundings with their mouths. However, biting behavior is something you want to stop early. Keep reading to find out some common reasons a puppy may bite.
Puppies learn about the world through their senses – and that includes the mouth. A puppy may bite objects, humans and other pets to learn about them. Puppies test their limits by biting other dogs in the litter from a very young age. Puppies also bite to learn about objects. If they like the taste or texture of a certain object, they may be drawn to bite or chew on it. They are more likely to chew or bite something that has your scent on it. This can be a bummer if it’s a new pair of shoes!
Puppies usually start teething around 12–16 weeks of age. They will lose their puppy teeth and as adult teeth grow in their place, their gums will be sore and painful. This prompts them to chew on items or even people. This biting behavior is a reaction to the pain they feel. They are trying to soothe their discomfort. Human babies go through a very similar development stage!
Some puppies exhibit a “play bow” when trying to get other dogs to play with them. Others might let out an excited bark, and some will nip at the legs or feet of other dogs to try to get them to join in on playing with them!
This is an important process for a puppy. When play biting, puppies learn bite inhibition. They can test their limits on littermates and household dogs to see how hard they can bite and what is unacceptable during play.
If Puppy C is playing with Puppy D, and Puppy C bites Puppy D too hard, Puppy D will make a loud yelp or otherwise show they’re in pain. This will cause Puppy D to walk away from the play situation. In this scenario, Puppy C learns if they bite too hard, they might not have anyone to play with.
Some puppies learn bite inhibition sooner than others. Some only need one or two negative reactions from another dog to learn how to gauge an appropriate bite. Others may take months of socialization to understand fully. Sometimes puppies will try to “play bite” their humans because they see you as a friend. You need to teach them you are authority and develop a training plan, so they know you don’t like bites, even if it’s intended to be playful.
What to Do About Different Types of Puppy Biting
Now that we have outlined some of the most common reasons why puppies bite, it’s time to talk about how to teach them not to bite appropriately.
How to Stop ‘Exploration’ Biting
Exploration biting occurs when puppies are trying to discover and understand the house, animals and humans in it. This can result in your puppy chewing on precious belongings like shoes or carpets. There are some easy steps you can follow to discourage this behavior in your dog.
Give plenty of interesting dog toys to your puppy. Remove any items from the puppy’s reach that it might like to chew on.
If you catch your puppy biting on an item they shouldn’t be, call their name and distract them with another toy. Do not yell; negative associations rarely help. Instead, divert their attention. Remove the item they shouldn’t be chewing on from their reach.
Make sure your puppy is getting plenty of playtime! Exercise and mental stimulation are key to keeping your puppy from being bored. Boredom can cause a puppy to chew on something it shouldn’t!
How to Stop Biting from Teething
This might not be the news you are looking for, but you may not be able to completely stop the biting that happens while a puppy is teething. Teething naturally causes discomfort that makes the puppy chew on things! However, you can mitigate and control what the puppy chews on.
Follow these tips to keep your puppy comfortable while teething, and to keep your personal items safe.
Remove any personal items that are easy for the puppy to access and chew on (keep shoes off the floor, tape down/remove all wires, hide curtain strings, etc.)
Buy some puppy teething toys
For an extra boost, put a puppy teething toy in the freezer for an hour or two before giving it to your pup
If you catch your puppy chewing on something they shouldn’t be, do not yell or punish them
Teething should be a short and very natural stage of puppyhood. Teething starts at 12–16 weeks (about four months old) and can continue until the puppy is six months old. By six months old, all baby teeth should have fallen out, and most adult teeth should be grown in. If you feel like your dog has been teething for too long or is in an especially large amount of pain from teething, it’s never a bad idea to visit the vet and get their advice.
How to Stop Play Biting
Again, play biting is natural and okay in some situations. Puppies learn bite inhibition and social cues from play biting. However, some puppies may try to bite their humans during play or bite other household dogs much too hard.
To teach your puppy appropriate play biting, do the following:
Never encourage or entice your puppy to ‘chase’ your arms, hands, legs, or feet. This teaches them you see it as a game and will make them more likely to play-bite you.
If your puppy starts to bite while you are playing with them, make a loud and high-pitched squeaking noise whenever their teeth hit your skin. This will teach them bite inhibition but for humans. You should teach them that any teeth on human skin are a no-no, and you do this by making a high-pitched and loud squeal/scream, even if their play-bite didn’t hurt or wasn’t hard.
Carefully monitor the time your puppy gets with other dogs. If you have other dogs in the house, carefully monitor their play. If you bring your puppy to socialize with other dogs, you should do the same. Puppies who are playing safely should be:
Showing a ‘play bow’ – head and front hands down, back legs and hips up, with tail wagging and relaxed
Not showing teeth or growling
Backing off on play biting whenever the other dog shows discomfort, pain, or frustration
By teaching your dog you don’t like to be bitten at all, even if it is playfully, and by monitoring socialization with other dogs, you should be able to keep play biting safe.
There are many reasons why a puppy may be biting. Thankfully, in most cases, puppy biting can be explained by a range of natural behaviors. Most of these behaviors should dissipate as the dog matures. However, making sure you are setting expectations and teaching your puppy what’s appropriate is very important.
A dog who is not taught boundaries at a young age may continue with bad behaviors, like inappropriate biting, into adulthood. Any habit that follows a puppy into adulthood will be much harder to break. So, start early with redirecting and setting boundaries with your puppy. They should be holding back on the biting in no time!
Puppy Teething Timeline — How Long Does Puppy Teething Last? (akc.org)