Help! My Puppy Is Biting Me!
Oh precious puppyhood. You were so excited to get this fluffy little baby puppy and were envisioning all the cuddles and petting soft puppy fur. A few days were just like that with your new little friend and suddenly all he wants is to bite you… HARD…you’re bleeding, you’re crying…there is no cuddling or petting. This is more like Sharknado or dinosaur wrestling! Puppy biting hurts and it can be scary.
Don’t worry! The chances that you have an aggressive puppy are very, very slim. This is a normal part of puppyhood. All puppies bite to some extent. Mouthy breeds like labs, goldens and shepherds especially tend to do a lot of puppy biting.
Just like human babies, puppies explore the world with their mouths. This includes you, your clothes, your furniture and anything that your puppy can spot on the ground.
How to minimize biting in puppies
Puppies need a lot of sleep, up to 18 hours a day. When they are between 8 and 10 weeks they tend to not be able to stay awake for much longer than an hour before getting grumpy (= bitey!). The longer your puppy is awake the harder the bites usually get.
Owners often give their puppy too much room to explore when they get a new puppy. Don’t feel like you are depriving your puppy by setting him up in a playpen. You are setting him and you up for success. This will also help with house training, and putting your puppy in his pen or crate for structured nap time will decrease biting significantly.
Puppies are little eating machines, and when they feel hungry they will start chewing on you and everything else they can get their little mouths on. Make sure to feed at least 3 meals a day, and if your puppy seems hungry maybe even a snack in between.
Children and men more often encourage wrestling, exciting chase games and biting. Make sure to supervise closely and set your puppy up for calm interactions instead of wrestling, biting and chase games.
Teach your puppy from the first day on what you like him to chew on and to play with. Chasing toys, gripping tugs and gnawing on appropriate chews (collagen chews, Kong and Toppl toys) will save your skin and gives you a bit of time to spend on yourself.
Meet your puppies needs
When your puppy is biting you or your family members, it is more often than not trying to communicate a need. This can be needing to relieve himself, a nap, something to eat, to be played with, or the need to be left alone for a bit.
Don’t play with your hands
Try to encourage playing with you and a toy instead of your hands. Be consistent in teaching the puppy that hands are for petting and not for biting. If your puppy nips your hand when playing be very still for about 30 seconds to communicate that you didn’t like that. Try to avoid yelling, pushing the puppy away, or using any kind of overt punishment.
Puppy biting comes in spurts, often it gets worse after a couple weeks in your home, then gets better, than worse again when the teething stage around 16 weeks starts. At about 25 weeks all adult teeth are in and biting/mouthing should become much less prominent.
Puppy biting is not a problem behavior
It is a normal stage in your puppy’s development. If you don’t make it worse by yelling, physical punishment such as pinching or other outdated methods people might tell you to use, it will get better and soon you will have the soft cuddly friend you were longing for.
Realize that human babies also put everything in their mouths and no one teaches a baby to stop. We keep them safe and away from things that can harm them. It is just part of growing up.
Common advice that can make biting behaviors worse or destroy your puppy’s trust in you
My neighbor/friend/YouTube/the guy on the street that saw me with my puppy said: Push your hand down the puppy’s throat when he bites.
Why this is a bad idea: Your puppy will learn that human hands in his mouth are bad. You are scaring him, he might interpret this as you being aggressive and increase biting. Instead, if your hand/arm is in your puppy’s mouth you can push a tiny bit in so you can get your hand back without scraping along those sharp little needle teeth.
My neighbor/friend/YouTube/the guy on the street that saw me with my puppy said: Yelp loudly to startle the puppy.
This can work for some puppies but there are many pups that think making you squeal is big fun! Why do dog toys usually have a squeaker? They increase prey instinct. The animal is squealing in pain, time to bite harder to kill. (Sorry—I know your sweet baby puppy doesn’t look like it but he is still a predator!)
My neighbor/friend/YouTube/the guy on the street that saw me with my puppy said: Hold your puppy’s mouth closed.
Again, this is only teaching the puppy that hands near his face or around his mouth are bad news. You don’t want to teach your puppy to bite hands that are coming in close, so avoid using aversive techniques like this.
My neighbor/friend/YouTube/the guy on the street that saw me with my puppy said: Pop the puppy on the nose.
You want your puppy to trust and not fear being near you. Avoid any hitting, popping, or kicking. This is an emotional being with needs. You didn’t pop your children on the nose when they were teething, right? Why not? Because you knew that they are miserable and in pain. Soothing teething pain is a great idea. Use cold/ frozen washcloths (if safe, some puppies will shred and ingest these, so be careful) and give frozen toys and chews to the puppy to soothe the pain of teething.
My neighbor/friend/YouTube/the guy on the street that saw me with my puppy said: Spray the puppy in the mouth with bitter apple, vinegar etc.
Not only are you going to teach the puppy that all sprays are terrifying, but you can also hurt your puppy by spraying it with these substances. If the spray hits his eye, you may injure and irritate the corner. These substances can also irritate the mouth and digestive tissues.
My neighbor/friend/YouTube/the guy on the street that saw me with my puppy said: Bite the puppy when he bites you.
Your puppy might learn that human faces near him are scary and try to avoid these. Children often put their faces very close to adult dogs and puppies. Do you want the puppy to have a fight/flight reaction whenever a face is near his?
My neighbor/friend/YouTube/the guy on the street that saw me with my puppy said: Pin the puppy down by the neck.
This is just another behavior that will make your puppy think that sometimes you are out of control and aggressive. Aggression begets more aggression; your puppy is thinking he must fight for his life. At some point he might lay still and not move, this is a freeze reaction. He is pretending to be dead so that you stop being so aggressive and he can hurry off away from you.
Don’t be cruel to your puppy, instead build a relationship of trust, empathy and compassion. Your puppy is an emotional, sensitive being! You will have many wonderful years together with cuddles, laying by your feet and your dog wanting to be close to you. The puppy biting phase is just a short part of your life with your dog.
If you are still having issues with biting after consistently applying the strategies in the first paragraph, please hire a certified positive reinforcement trainer that can help you and your puppy through this phase!
Interested in another blogpost on puppy biting?