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How To Stop Puppy Biting

Puppy biting and nipping, it's SO common... but causes a lot of concern for new puppy owners.

Does Fido bite you, or other family members? Does he nip and 'mouth' your hands, arms, legs, pants, shoes, hair?

If so, you're not alone.

All that biting is actually perfectly normal canine behavior, but it does need to be discouraged early on to prevent it becoming a (bad) habit.

Nipping or biting is VERY RARELY a sign of aggression or that you have a 'bad' puppy.

It's simply the way puppies play and communicate.

So.... even if you're convinced that Fido should have had a bit part in the classic movie 'Jaws' you can relax, he's just a perfectly normal puppy!

Black German Shepherd puppy showing his teeth


Nipping and biting their siblings or momma comes naturally to every puppy, and the reaction that they get to their biting is how they learn 'bite inhibition' (how hard they can bite without getting into big trouble!).

This knowledge will be very important to them as they grow up.

Think of herding dogs who need to 'nip' their flock (but not take off a leg), or guardian breeds who may need to 'warn' an intruder without drawing blood.

Even in squabbles with another dog it's important that each one knows how hard they can bite without breaking the skin. Most dog 'fights' are 99% noise!

Although all puppies nip, many times it's working breeds who use their mouths to herd, hunt, retrieve or guard, who are the most persistent and stubborn about it.

If you have a pup from one of these breeds you'll need a good supply of patience to stop this deep-rooted, instinctive behavior.

Why Do Puppies Bite So Much?

Nipping and biting is rooted in basic canine behavior and is purely instinctive - and tends to peak during the teething stage.

One of the ways that puppies establish their place in their doggy family's 'pecking order' is by 'play biting'.

If you watch a litter of puppies at play, you'll see them 'mouthing' and nipping at each other ALL the time.

The rolling around, squealing and growling is all part of the way they learn acceptable canine interaction.

If one of them bites too hard, another puppy will yelp and likely bite back harder.... lesson learned!

And watch what happens if one brave little puppy decides to try sharpening his teeth on his momma or another nearby adult. He gets told in no uncertain terms that this is NOT okay.

But although puppy biting is normal, and has an important role to play in puppy development, all puppies need to learn that they are not allowed to nip, mouth or bite humans - ever.

Puppies of various breeds playing

As pups mature that puppy biting is often an attempt to dominate other members of his family (remember the doggy family pecking order?).

If he's allowed to put his teeth on you - or any other person - he will begin to think that he's 'in charge'.

Nipping might seem funny when Fido's tiny, but if he's allowed to be bossy and nippy, he won't be willing to renegotiate his position later on.

Luckily there are lots of very simple ways to do this and the most important part of training a puppy to stop biting is correcting him propery and consistently.

Teaching Your Puppy Not To Bite

So, how exactly do you stop all that puppy biting?

I've raised more than my share of puppies of all different sizes and breeds, and have found that there are several different puppy biting corrections that are simple and effective.

Not all of them will work with every puppy, a lot on your individual puppy's temperament, his breed, how old he is and how persistent or stubborn he is about nipping.

It's best to start out using the easiest and least confrontational method first, and to be consistent with it for at least 2 weeks before you decide whether or not you need to try a less subtle approach.

Being consistent is hugely important. All members of the family need to be 'on the same page' and to use the same correction technique every single time your puppy nips or bites.

It's also important not to expect instant results!

All puppy training takes time because puppies learn through repetition and by associating cause-with-effect (ie 'I bite momma and she won't play with me anymore.... hmmm, maybe I'd better not bite her!').

This is why it's so important to be consistent and to give Fido the time to make the connection between his behavior and your reaction.

These techniques DO work and all you need to do is find the right fit for your puppy's personality and stick with it.

Verbal Correction + Loss of Attention

The simplest no-bite technique for puppies is to simply let him know it hurts and to withdraw your attention when he misbehaves in this way.

Every time little Fido's sharp little puppy teeth touch your skin say "OUCH" loudly.

This lets him know that his puppy biting hurts and may surprise him into stopping (at least temporarily).

Also, immediately stop interacting with him by breaking eye-contact and/or walking away.

Be sure to follow this procedure every single time he nips or bites and he'll soon get the message.

All your puppy wants is to be with you and to have your attention so when he realizes that if he bites or nips you'll stop playing with him he'll stop.

Of course, be sure to praise him and love on him when he plays nicely without biting.

It's just as important to reward good behavior as it is to discourage the bad.

If your little guy is a bit stubborn or dominant, or if he's from one of the more 'mouthy' breeds (such as German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Border Collies and many Terriers), you may need to be a touch more dominant yourself!

So, you'll make your "OUCH" louder and more forceful and add the word "No!" Fido has no idea what the word means but your tone of voice will help him get the picture.

You can also try spraying your hands with one of those little minty breath-sprays - dogs and puppies usually hate the taste.

Bitter apple spray (available at pet stores) works in the same way as the breath spray.

Both of these products can dry out, or irritate your skin though, so wearing a pair of thick cotton gloves that are liberally sprayed with either nasty-tasting substance can be a good idea.

Simple & Effective - The 'Squirt Method'

A simple and very effective way to put an end to your puppy's biting is to squirt him, but you need to do it right in order for it to work.


Fill a small, dollar store spray bottle with water and set it to 'stream' (not the fine mist spray).

The next time your pup decides to sink his teeth into you, shout "OUCH, NO!" loudly and shoot a quick jet of water right on his nose.

The surprise should stop your little Piranha is his tracks. It's a good idea to have 2 or 3 of these spray bottles around the house so there's always one handy when Fido is struck by the biting bug.

Occasionally you'll get a puppy who actually doesn't mind being squirted with water, which makes the above tactic seem more like a game to him.

In that case, stop the nipping by replacing the water with a vinegar water solution instead.

The strength of the solution you use depends on how stubborn your puppy is about nipping, or how much he doesn't object to the taste of vinegar.

Start of with a 1:10 or 2:10 (vinegar:water dilution) and work up. I have a German Shepherd pup who needed a 50:50 solution before he decided it didn't taste that great!

Vinegar/Water Solution

If your puppy doesn't mind being squirted with water, up your game by replacing the water with a vinegar water solution instead.

The strength of the solution you use depends on how stubborn your puppy is about nipping, or how much he doesn't object to the taste of vinegar.

Start of with a 1:10 or 2:10 (vinegar:water dilution) and work up. I have a German Shepherd pup who needed a 50:50 solution before he decided it didn't taste that great!

Breath Spray

Or you can buy a couple of those tiny breath-mint sprays and give him a shot of the breath spray directly on his tongue whenever he nips. Be very careful with these sprays though, you don't want to spray his eyes or nose

NOTE: Make sure the spray you use doesn't contain the artificial sweetener, Xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.

If you can't find a suitable breath spray, Bitter Apple spray (available in pet stores) is a good, safe, alternative.

Pet-Corrector Compressed Air Spray

The Pet Corrector compressed air spray is like a little can of magic!

So simple, yet so effective... and it works to discourage all types of misbehavior, not just puppy biting.

One quick press of the nozzle and you'll get a sharp hissing sound which instantly gets the attention it deserves. 

I've found that most puppies or dogs are startled by the sound, and they don't like it. So the perfect deterrent. It worked better than anything else to stop my VERY nippy GSD puppy from shredding my pants, shoes, hands, ankles etc. etc.

For this you don't want to spray it into your pup's mouth/face and you don't even need to spray it in his direction.

The noise is loud enough to get the attention it deserves,  and that noise is all you need.

I'd recommend getting the PetCorrector two-pack as the can is pretty small and you don't want to run out before you've got that little land-shark completely under control.

The Muzzle Wrap Technique for Puppy Biting

There's one more puppy training technique that you can use if you have a puppy who is very stubborn about biting and nipping and who doesn't respond to ANY of the corrections you've tried (but remember, it takes time to stop this type of behavior and you need to be patient and consistent and not expect overnight success!).

This final correction I call the 'Muzzle Wrap' because that's how you stop this puppy biting behavior... by wrapping your hand around his muzzle.

Do this gently and hold his mouth closed for a few seconds (start with 5 seconds the first couple of times, you can increase it to about 15 if necessary) while repeating the 'No bite' command.

It's very important to stay calm and firm but gentle, don't grab him angrily or roughly, or use force, that will turn the whole situation into a battle and he'll either be angry or scared.

This 'stop puppy biting' technique has worked with every pup I've ever met, even the 'mouthiest' ones.... eventually.  Of course, some puppies 'get it' right away, but others take a little longer.

Occasionally a pup may come back at you biting more strongly, or even barking. If this happens, repeat the correction calmly and firmly, it may take 3 or 4 repetitions before the penny drops.

Use the same correction every time the puppy starts biting.

If after 4 muzzle-wraps your little guy is still doing his 'Jaws' impression, simply give him a time-out in his crate to calm down and try again next time.

Very rarely a pup will get so upset by this correction method that he won't settle down, and instead gets angry and combative.

If, after you've tried this technique on several different occasions, you still have a combative puppy then this is not the right correction for your particular pup and you need to try a different tactic.

Clicker training is a simple and fun way to teach all sorts of lessons and tricks, and to reshape unwanted behaviors.

Check out this article... Take The Clicker Approach To Puppy Nipping to find out how dog training expert Karen Pryor can help you get your pup's biting under control!

An Ounce Of Prevention......

Even though the instinct to bite and nip is strong in all puppies, it can be increased by certain situations or behaviors.

Just like little children, puppies get excited when there's a lot of noise or boisterous behavior around them.

They express this pent-up excitement by chasing, nipping or barking.

Also, many dog breeds have highly developed herding instincts or prey drive.

This means that they have an in-built need to chase fast moving objects. It's hard-wired into their brains and is an automatic, unconscious and reflexive behavior.

It doesn't matter if it's a cat, an unsuspecting cyclist or your squealing 5 year old, anything that moves fast (even better if it's making a high-pitched noise too) is a target.

This canine instinct is one of the factors involved in many dog bites and and attacks on young children.

It's important to bear this in mind and always supervise your puppy and children when they're playing together.

Reduce the excitement-induced puppy biting by keeping your household as calm as possible: 

  • Keep shouting and roughhousing to a minimum and discourage the kids (and other adults) from playing rough with your puppy.
  • Don't allow children to run squealing through the house, or to tease Fido by riding their bikes around him, swipe his toys or generally 'wind him up'.
  • Puppies are also attracted to flapping, twitching movements. Encourage everyone to use slow, deliberate hand movements which will reduce your pup's desire to bite and mouth on your fingers.

For most families, the dinner time hour can be a bit crazy.... there's a lot of noise, everyone is tired and hungry and whiny!

At times like these it's often a good idea to put your pup in his crate, playpen etc. to help keep him out of the mix.

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