Common Questions Answered on How to Stop a Puppy from Biting
Step 12 of 16 in the Dogly Puppy Channel
with Ruby Leslie of WelfareForAnimals, Training Advocate

Recorded on
Tuesday, Mar 29, 9 PM EDT

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How you can stop puppy biting before it becomes a habit.

Is your puppy a baby shark? Chewing, mouthing, and nipping on you, your family, furniture, plants, shoes, cords - anything and everything? You're in good company.

Puppy parents often ask us about nipping behaviors and how to help their puppy learn to get past the mouthiness. So we're sharing answers and management strategies to help you get ahead of biting behavior with your pup.

Starting where your puppy is...

Your puppy is doing what comes naturally during puppyhood. Puppies often mouth and chew things because they are teething which can be very painful for them. Chewing helps relieve that pain. If they don't have appropriate items to chew, they will chew everything that is in their vicinity.

And young puppies explore the world with their mouths, so it's normal for mouthiness and nipping to become part of their routine as they interact with everything around them - including us.


Why do puppies bite?

They may just be little puppy teeth, but puppy nipping hurts! Puppy teeth are sharp and can feel like needles when they meet human skin. We certainly want to help our puppies learn better behaviors long before nipping becomes a habit for them as adult dogs.

The first step to changing just about any puppy behavior is understanding the why behind it. In this case, why do puppies bite?

The reasons for puppy mouthing, chewing, and biting are many. The good news is all these can be addressed proactively with good proactive management:

  • Teething
  • Overstimulation
  • Lack of stimulation or proper outlets for puppy energy
  • Overexcitement
  • Overtiredness
  • Lack of space or too much space/freedom

How should you react when your puppy does bite?

What you do when your puppy shows biting behavior in play or other interactions influences whether you're helping your puppy stop biting or increasing the biting.

Some typical reactions you want to avoid:

  • Screaming
  • Running away
  • Yelling "owww!"
  • Any kind of negative or punitive response

All of these reactions can increase the energy and emotion around nipping and result in more biting. How you initiate interactions with your puppy can also trigger nippy, biting behaviors.

Ways of interacting you want to avoid that can encourage nippy behavior:

  • Playing near puppy's face/mouth
  • Handling a puppy in a rough-housing way that ratchets up the game feeling of body interaction
  • Making a puppy feel trapped or uncomfortable
  • Making biting your clothes, feet become a game due to your reactions

All these ways of interacting with your puppy can be triggers that can add up to taking your puppy over their threshold level and cause more reactive behaviors - like getting nippy and defensive.


What are threshold levels and how do they impact behaviors like biting?

You'll often hear dog trainers refer to your dog's threshold and triggers and "keeping your dog under threshold" in all kinds of training situations - whether it's puppy biting or reactivity at all ages on walks or in public spaces or at your own front door. Every dog has different triggers and different threshold levels. That's yet another reason it's important to "know your dog."

Your dog's threshold level is essentially your dog's emotional comfort level at any point. It helps to visualize a bucket, an emotional bucket:

  • The lowest level of the emotional bucket is your pup's initial exposure to triggers and experiences. That can cause subtle changes in your dog's emotional state.
  • Next levels - continued exposure to triggers keeps adding up and raising the level in the bucket. You'll see increases in emotional responses: stress, fear, and other reactivity.
  • When your dog is over threshold, his or her emotional bucket is overflowing. At this point, your dog is reacting NOT thinking.

What should you do when your puppy bites?

First, never use punishment of any kind.

  • No shouting, yelling, scolding, hitting, restraining, spraying with water - any form of punishment will only suppress the nipping rather than reinforce alternative behaviors to replace it
  • Any suppressed behavior will lead to increased potential for bites, aggressive behavior, or redirected bites at you or your family

What to do when your puppy bites you

  • Remove yourself from the room. Don't put your dog in isolation - that can feel too much like punishment and increase stress.
  • You're the source of attention your dog wants, so for now take the object of attention-seeking away.
  • When you return, you can use a positive reinforcing game like the bucket game or the pendulum/orientation game to calm your puppy and introduce paying attention and gentle touching with quick rewards (treats!).

What's the bucket game?

The bucket game is a calming game that gives your puppy a sense of choice and a good way to get comfortable with gentle handling and impulse control. You'll be reinforcing no-biting interactions with your pup.

How it works:

  1. Have a bucket or cup filled with high-value treats.
  2. Your puppy looks at the bucket.
  3. Wait for a short duration and mark and treat from the bucket.
  4. Increase duration and treat.
  5. Add in gentle handling and treat quickly after each touch (before your puppy gets a chance to bite).

Continue for several repetitions of touches and treating as long as your puppy is enjoying it.

Redirect your puppy to better alternative behaviors.

  • Use reward stations around your home to redirect in real time and reinforce alternative behaviors, or even better, preempt the bite with an alternative behavior before it happens.

Give me an example of reinforcing alternative behavior

When your puppy sits calmly at your feet or on your lap, reward this behavior by giving food treats quietly (don't shout GOOD DOG, just show by positive reinforcement - treats! - that this behavior is rewarding).

Or ask for an alternative behavior like a "sit," "down," or "touch" and reward with treats. You're redirecting your dog's focus to a positive behavior you want to see and rewarding it. Your puppy will get the message that this alternative behavior works for him or her!

What are reward stations - why & how do you use them with puppies?

Set up reward stations in areas around your home where your dog could use a little focus and reinforcing (the kitchen, near the front door, your desk/work area, etc.).

What exactly is a reward station?

They're small closed containers of bite-sized treats or bits of your dog's dry food. They're set up in advance and ready for you to use as rewards for behavior you want to see from your dog or as a redirect to reinforce alternative behavior in the moment when needed.

Why I love reward stations for puppies and all dogs:

  • They're super convenient...
  • Rewarding in real time
  • Strengthening for alternative wanted behaviors to replace unwanted behaviors like biting
  • Supportive for your dog's learning and retaining that learning.

Reward stations are a simple and effective tool for both redirection when biting happens and proactive management to prevent biting before it happens.

Remember, you get what you reward!

Note: If your puppy growls... that can be a sign and a natural reaction from your puppy that you've invaded his/her space in a way that feels like you're taking away a resource your dog values. Your puppy is asking for space! We never want to grab a toy or reach into our dog's food or anything that threatens their space or valued possession (even if it's a sock).

If your puppy has a pattern of growling when you're a good distance away and your pup has a toy or treat etc, it could be an indicator of resource guarding. If you suspect that might be the case, it's a good idea to reach out for additional support from a certified trainer, and check with your vet to make sure there's no medical issue or pain that's making your puppy uncomfortable and respond with growls to interaction.


Management: how can you use it proactively for stopping puppy biting behaviors?

And what is "management"... what are examples you can use?

Management means being aware of everything around your puppy, the environment, circumstances, and your puppy's tendencies and using that awareness to do everything you can to set your puppy up for success.

You want to remove temptations, avoid giving your puppy too much freedom, and in general, make it hard for your puppy to get into trouble. You're making it easy for your puppy to be successful with behaviors you want to see.

You'll often hear us talk about management and setting up your dog for success in all kinds of training situations. It's an important part of positive reinforcement training for puppies and dogs of all ages.

Management tips to set your puppy up for success

  • Preempt unwanted behaviors by placing your puppy in a playpen when tired, excited, aroused - not after your puppy is overtired, overexcited, over-aroused.
  • Start with basic training to teach your puppy appropriate behaviors. Added bonus: you'll have good alternative behaviors ready to offer as replacements when unwanted behaviors pop up.
  • Pick up your clothes and shoes and keep your puppy out of tempting trouble. And make plenty of chew toys always available for your pup instead!

How to manage your handling style to keep your puppy calm and happy

  • Always involve the consent test with handling.
  • If your dog is overstimulated with your hands getting near his/her face, then increase your distance.
  • Be mindful of areas your dog is sensitive/uncomfortable to touch.
  • Use calm, long strokes when petting.
  • Avoid your hands or body (or anyone else's) looming over your puppy.

What is the consent test?

Use your dog's body language to determine whether you're receiving a "yes" or "no" for petting and handling.

Yes: paws at you for more, nudges you, moves into your space, shows loose overall body language

No: does nothing, shrinks away, growls, shows stiff body language

How to test:

  1. Pet your dog where you think your pup likes it most like the chest or shoulders.
  2. Pet for only 3 seconds and stop or follow the rhythm of pet-pet-pause.
  3. If your dog says "yes," continue. If your dog says "no," stop.

Consistency isn't just you - Involve the whole family

Consistency is critical for your dog's successful learning. Training (of any kind) doesn't work if it's only one person following the training plan and other family members are sending mixed messages. EVERYONE in your household has to be involved and consistent with what you're doing to reduce puppy nipping!

Tips for consistency across all family members

  • Ask everyone to agree to slow and calm movements around your puppy - no "owwing" or screaming if your puppy approaches
  • No rough-housing or playing with hands around your puppy's face
  • No chase games or other interactions that make nipping seem like acceptable play


Match your puppy's sleep & exercise to uniquely puppy-age needs

To keep puppies' energy and emotions balanced, their need for sleep and exercise is quite different from other dogs and their activity needs.

Here's how to think about and manage your puppy's sleep/exercise schedule to keep your pup at his or her calm, happy best:

  • Puppies need 18-20 hours of sleep a day.
  • Puppies need much less exercise to keep from getting overtired.

Try this to calculate your puppy's exercise needs

Exercise rule of thumb:

  • 5 minutes of exercise a day per month of age twice a day. 1 month = 5 minutes of exercise 2x a day; 2 months = 10 minutes of exercise 2x a day, etc
  • Overexercise = increase in overstimulation, exhaustion, and over-threshold types of behaviors like biting

Use enrichment for positive mental exercise (+ good nutrition at the same time)

Preparing enrichment toys and chews to have handy for frequent, regular use is a wonderful management tool to engage your puppy mentally. Enrichment that involves chewing and licking is soothing emotionally and has the added bonus of delivering more good nutrition in a fun, occupying way to your growing puppy. And for teething puppies, toys that involve chewing help massage sore gums.

Try this

  • Use stuffable chew toys, licking mats, "snuffle" foraging mats, and slow feeders
  • Set aside time in advance to prep the stuffable chew toys and licking mats. Fill or spread them with good nutrition - feed the rainbow - and pop in the freezer. For the licking mat, healthful peanut butter and coconut oil work well.
  • You can prepare a slow feeder in advance and refrigerate or just use it for serving regular meals. Snuffle mats can be prepared quickly as needed with treats or less messy types of foods (including bites of apple or carrot, for example) although snuffle mats can be machine washable.
  • Use this as an opportunity for more good nutrition for your puppy as well as enrichment!

With all these proactive management tools and constructive reactions in the moment in your skill set, you and your puppy should be well on the way to getting past biting and on to better behaviors for everyone.

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Next up in the Puppy Channel on Dogly

Once you've put all these management tips to work to preempt your puppy's nipping, you and your puppy can enjoy a lot more fun together with a lot less mouthiness. Check out what's next in the Puppy Channel for more on all things puppy training.

Or jump over to the Life Stage Feeding Channel to find out which foods support your puppy's best growth and wellness, with recommendations from a certified canine nutritionist.

If you have any questions on training and your puppy, just ask us in the Community discussion!

Or get customized training help in your dog's plan here.

Ruby Leslie of WelfareForAnimals

Training Advocate
Dogly loves Ruby because she brings her rescue experiences to our dogs - to increase our bond, decrease behavior issues.

Ruby guides you

New Dogs - Manners - Enrichment - Reactivity - Barking - Walking

Ruby is certified

Low Stress Handling - Fear Free Veterinary Professional - Fear Free Shelters - Shelter Welfare - Enrichment - & Canine Behaviour