Puppy Nipping and How to Stop It

Why is my puppy biting me, my clothes, my stuff? Is this normal? How do I stop it? These are all common questions I get from clients. A lot of people get confused between typical puppy biting and a potential behavioral problem. So, let’s break it down!

Why Do Puppies Bite?

Dogs of all ages have a desire to chew. Unfortunately, they are not born with an idea of what they can or can’t chew on. It’s our job to teach them what they can chew on. There are a number of reasons why your pup may be chewing on your or your belongings. The first reason is: This is how puppies explore the world. Puppies don’t have hands to figure out what something is, so they use their mouth. They can actually learn a lot from biting things (you, other dogs, random objects in the house). A puppy's brain processes sensory information about how hard they can bite that object, what it tastes like, and even if they should bite that thing again.

Another reason is this is how puppies play. If you ever watch two dogs play together you will notice that dogs bite each other a lot. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s actually normal dog behavior. During puppyhood, dogs learn bite inhibition, which is how hard they can bite something (especially other dogs). So, as long as your pup isn’t biting hard enough to make the other dog yelp and run away, it’s okay.

The last reason I’m going to talk about is teething. Your pup’s adult teeth will start growing in between 12 and 16 weeks. During this time, your pup may be chewing more than ever. This is because teething makes their gums really sore and chewing helps with the discomfort.

What Do I Do When My Puppy Bites?

Before we get into this, here is what NOT TO DO: Do not use harsh or physical corrections. Yelling at your dog or hitting your dog doesn’t teach them what to do, but rather suppresses a behavior or teaches your dog to hide it from you. Using any form of punishment during training will always lead to worse problems down the line.

I always say that redirection is the best way to change any behavior. If your pup is chewing on you or something they aren’t supposed to, give them a toy to chew on. This way you are redirecting their focus off of you or the object they shouldn’t have in their mouth and onto a chew toy.

  • Make sure you have plenty of age appropriate toys for your pup in a basket on the floor so your pup can access them at any time.

  • If your puppy bites you, grab a toy and put it in front of them so they bite that instead. Your pup may do the thing where they inch their way back up to your hand. Just calmly redirect them back to the toy. I give my pups a “three strikes and you’re out” kind of deal. If I redirect three times and they still come back to bite me, I get up and walk away, often to a different room altogether. Your pup will learn that biting you makes you stop playing with them.

  • If your pup follows you, biting your ankles or feet, it may be time to give them a break in their crate. It is likely that they are too overstimulated at that moment to control themselves. Remember, you are not using the crate as a form of punishment, so use a crate command. If you don’t have a crate command yet, gently put them in the crate. Wait five minutes for them to calm down and try again.

Almost every puppy will outgrow this behavior, as long as you keep redirecting. It takes time and won’t happen overnight. Be patient and consistent and it will happen!

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