Your new puppy is surely the cutest little dog you’ve ever seen, but they’re probably practicing puppy mouthing on anything they can get their tiny teeth around. When a puppy grabs something to put in their mouth, it’s because puppies explore the world in this way. Mouthing and play biting are both big parts of puppy life, which can be unfortunate for puppy owners and their very delicate human skin.
To stop puppy biting, you might not need the help of a dog trainer. Bite inhibition can become a part of your puppy training schedule without any issues, and it’s a fairly easy skill for a new puppy owner to teach their pup.
Why Do Puppies Bite?
Let’s start this off with a quick look into the most common reason that puppies bite. As silly as it may sound, puppies bite hard because they don’t know any better. A puppy typically learns bite inhibition when they’re playing with their littermates. Nipping and biting are both completely normal parts of puppy play, and the young dogs will loudly let each other know if they bite too hard or play too rough.
All pups, both puppies and adult dogs, explore the world using their senses. Dogs sniff things, they put them in their mouths, they grab at them with their paws and claws. They use their eyes and ears to get a lot of information, but they need to use their other senses, too. Because of this, biting is a common practice. Puppies, especially, will want to learn as much about the world as possible. They’re curious little things, and learning, to them, means putting new things in their mouth to nibble on and taste.
These aren’t the only reasons, but they are certainly the most typical ones to explain a young pup’s sharp teeth sinking into your favorite pair of shoes.
What is Bite Inhibition?
Bite inhibition is a phrase that you’ll read and hear a lot when you research dogs and puppies that bite. Also referred to as “soft mouth”, this is a canine behavior that dogs learn as puppies which helps them figure out how strong they can bite without causing pain.
As we’ve already mentioned, puppies learn this behavior when they spend time with their littermates and mother. During their early weeks of life, puppies will often spend time nipping and biting each other. When the other dogs react to a pup’s bite, that pup starts to learn what level of biting is acceptable to their brothers and sisters. Through trial and error, this enables the pups to moderate their biting behavior to a tolerable level.
Why Didn’t My Puppy Learn Bite Inhibition?
If you have a new puppy that doesn’t seem to understand the concept of moderating their biting force, they may not have learned bite inhibition when they were supposed to. Bite inhibition is a natural learning curve for puppies, they aren’t taught the skill by humans, but through their daily interactions with other dogs.
In the event that your puppy (or your adult dog) doesn’t lessen the strength of their bites, it’s likely that something stopped them from having the interactions necessary to learn proper biting technique and behavior. It could be that your puppy left the rest of their litter too early – puppies who leave their mother and littermates early don’t have the chance to learn all of the proper canine behaviors that they should learn at a young age. Alternatively, the puppy may have been separated from the rest of their litter for one reason or another (such as a pup who was abandoned).
Essentially, it all comes down to that puppy not being given the appropriate amount of time with their fellow pups. Puppies are not supposed to be separated from their litter or their mother until after they are 8 weeks old, and this is one of the many reasons for that requirement.
Puppy Biting Phases
Puppies start teething around 3 weeks old, so you may notice an influx of mouthing and biting behavior around that age. Stopping puppy biting during this age is extremely difficult because teething causes puppy mouths to become very uncomfortable and painful. Between the ages of 3 to 6 weeks, it’s best to have some appropriate chew toys at the ready to provide mental stimulation and a biting deterrent for young puppies. This way, you can wait until your puppy is a little older to see if you need to teach your puppy to regular their biting habits.
Teething and Biting Timeline
- 3 weeks: Puppies start teething, starting with the growth of their incisors and fangs.
- 3 to 5 weeks: Expect puppies to mouth, nip, and bite while their teeth are growing in.
- 6 weeks: All the puppy’s teeth have grown in.
- 6 to 8 weeks: Puppies learn how to regulate their biting behaviors with their littermates.
- 8 weeks: Puppies can leave their littermates and mother.
- 12 weeks: Puppy teeth fall out, making way for their adult teeth.
- 6 months: All adult teeth will have grown in by this time.
When Does a Puppy Stop Biting?
Puppies will grow out of play-biting phases around the age of 8 to 10 months. As they become adolescents, they start to understand the world around them more, and they will become socialized enough to know that biting isn’t always the best course of action to take when they want your attention.
Adult dogs older than 3 years almost never resort to mouthing. If your dog is older than this and they’re still mouthing and biting, it might be best to enroll them into an obedience school or employ a dog trainer to assist you.
Outside of teething and general rough play, there are other instances where young pups may feel the need to use their baby teeth.
Fear periods are a period of time in the early development of a dog. They usually occur once or twice in their first year of life, and they can be very alarming to new dog owners because of the sudden change from a puppy’s regular behavior and their normal developmental period to this new, fearful or aggressive behavior. Your pup may be constantly jumping at sounds or sudden movements, they may tear up their favorite stuffed toy, or they may seem much more alert than usual.
When a canine feels scared, they don’t always hide away. Like humans, dogs have a fight, freeze, or flight reaction to any stressful situation. Though it may not seem like normal behavior, these fear periods are totally normal because your dog is essentially developing their brain, which causes them to act out of sorts for a short time. Fear periods allow your dog to become more self-sufficient and independent.
It’s crucial that a dog learns to recognize things and patterns that are safe for them. Common times for fear periods are between 8 and 11 weeks of age and between 6 months to 14 months of age. The first fear period of a dog happens during the time they are being transferred from one home to another – which is why not all dogs have two fear periods. A puppy who is staying with their littermates and not moving homes may not have this first fear period.
The second fear period happens while the dog is going through adolescence. They may exhibit unwanted behavior as they test their boundaries in your home, and it can take quite a while for them to calm down. Just remember that this is a biological process, which is necessary for every dog to go through so that they can fully settle into adult life without the worries they carry with them as a pup.
During these periods, play gently with your dog, give them positive reinforcement and attention, be sure to reassure them when they come to you, and remember to socialize your dog so that they aren’t scared of other animals or people.
Stopping Puppy Biting When Your Dog is Excited
To stop a puppy biting you when they’re excited, offer them an alternative that they will find more pleasing than your skin or clothing. Play biting is a normal part of puppy behavior, but it’s not usually something that pet enjoys enjoy their dog doing.
The first way to stop puppy biting is to try giving your dog age-appropriate toys that will give them an outlet for their excitement. Many dogs that are of a young age don’t quite know what to do with themselves when they get hyped up. You could play tug of war, offer them some different teething toys, or take them out for some physical exercise. Your dog needs to shake off the energy that comes from being excited – and puppies are extremely excitable creatures!
Remember, do not punish your puppy for nipping or biting you. Punishing your dog is cruel and unnecessary. Instead, walk away from your dog to let them know that you’re not pleased with their actions. A baby gate or door can help create a barrier between you and your dog when you want to get your point across.
Take a look at our article on the Best Dog Gates.
How to Teach Your Puppy Bite Inhibition
To teach your puppy that their bite is painful, you need to react in the same way other puppies would when being bitten. Puppy bites are controlled when other dogs react to them because this lets the biting puppy know that their bite was too strong and caused pain. In the case that you have a pup who doesn’t understand their biting force, the best thing you can do for them is act as their littermates would.
The second your puppy bites you, register how hard the bite was and whether or not you (as the owner) believe that bite was too much. If it was, you can let out a sharp dog-like yelp or whimper. Your puppy will respond to these sounds as distress sounds because their littermates would have made similar noises.
Doing this should enable your puppy to come to the conclusion that the next bite needs to be softer. Your puppy is not trying to hurt you, after all. They just want to play!
If your puppy’s behavior doesn’t improve after using this tactic, it may be time to think about calling a dog trainer and signing your pup up for classes that can make sure your puppy learns what behavior is acceptable when it comes to mouthing and biting.
Things You Should Never Do if Your Puppy is Biting
If your puppy is biting, you should never use or do any of the following in their training or puppy classes:
- Strike your puppy
- Force your puppy’s mouth open/closed
- Separate your dog from other puppies in their litter
- Force your puppy to be in situations they don’t want to be in (such as interacting with young children who may be pulling them around)
- Scream at them
Even if you have puppies biting everything in your home, dogs don’t respond to negative reinforcement such as yelling or being struck. These behaviors as an owner will only serve to make your dog scared of you.
What if My Puppy’s Biting Getting Worse? Should I Be Concerned?
Before you worry yourself too much, calculate the age of your pup. Are they within the age range of either fear period that young dogs usually go through? If they are, this could be the leading cause behind your dog’s biting becoming a problem. That doesn’t mean you should ignore the issue, but do be aware that your canine is changing and they need to be eased through their biological process.
Your dog’s breed may also play a part in the strength of their bite. Some breeds of dog have extremely strong biting strength, so it makes sense for a puppy that just got their teeth or an adolescent dog with their new adult teeth to have a strong bite. Here are some breeds with particularly hefty jaw strength:
- American Pitbull
- Dutch Shepherd
- English Mastiff
- German Shepherd
Of these, it is believed that the Mastiff has the strongest biting power.
Q: Why does my puppy bite me when I pet him?
In this situation, it could be that you have disturbed your puppy and they do not want to be fussed over at that particular time. However, it’s more likely that they’re taking your touch as an invitation to play and they are biting on you to encourage playtime. Instead of flinching away when bitten, react to the bite and try to figure out what your puppy wants to tell you through their actions.
Q: What to do if a puppy bites you and draws blood?
If your puppy bites you and manages to make the bite hard enough to draw blood, immediately step away from your dog and make a sound of distress similar to a yelp or whimper. This will let your puppy know that their bite was too hard and help teach them that it wasn’t an appropriate biting force to use. If they continue to bite you after this, remove yourself from the room and make sure they can’t follow you.
Q: Why do puppies bite children?
Puppies see children as other puppies that they can play with. It’s unlikely that your puppy will hurt a child, and they may just be mouthing on their skin or clothing (mouthing doesn’t employ the use of a dog’s teeth). Always supervise your children and dogs when they are playing together so that you can appropriately react to any incidences that may occur.