How to train a puppy not to bite
Does your puppy bite? If so, you’ll need to quickly break this cycle without breaking your puppy’s spirit. The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to signal that biting needs to stop, all while reinforcing positive behaviour in your puppy. Once you train your puppy not to bite, you can move on to more fun things, like teaching him tricks.
Socialize Your Dog
If you’ve just brought home a puppy, the best thing you can do is introduce it to as many new places, people, and situations as possible. Keep things positive. This early exposure is referred to as socialization; a well-socialized puppy is far less likely to be fearful in new situations, and this lack of fear decreases the likelihood of aggression. If your dog is no longer a puppy, you can still work on adult socialization.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Given the right circumstances, any dog has the potential to bite.1 Too often people are bitten by dogs because they assume their dog won’t bite. Don’t assume that because a dog is a certain breed or size, or because it has never shown aggression in the past, that a dog won’t bite.
React consistently to bites
Every time your puppy bites, say “NO!” in a firm voice. Then just walk away and ignore the puppy. Social isolation and time outs can be an effective form of punishment for a pack animal. You can also yelp when your puppy bites too hard. It might seem silly but puppies in a litter will cry out if a sibling accidentally bites too hard. Yelping when your puppy lays teeth on your will give feedback to very young puppies about what is acceptable playing and what isn’t.
Teach Leave It
Teaching your dog ‘leave it’ is a powerful technique to get your dog to stop biting you. In its simplest form, the leave it behaviour is all about restraint.
A dog that can restrain from lunging and grabbing a treat on the ground, is much more likely to be able to leave your hand alone when you ask. If you haven’t yet taught your pup the behaviour ‘leave it’, I would go right now and sign up for our free online dog training class, 30 Day Perfect Pup. Sign up for free (yes, it’s 100% free) here.
In the meantime, I’ll give you a pretty quick breakdown of ‘leave it’.
HOW TO TEACH A DOG TO LEAVE IT
Step 1: Attract your pup’s attention by doing a simple sit and rewarding them with a treat or two.
Step 2: Show your pup a treat and then close your hand so your pup cannot access it. Your pup will likely try to get to the treat by licking, biting (hopefully not), or pawing at your hand where the treat is. When this happens, give a simple “no” (you don’t need to yell or be mean about it).
Once your pup shows restraint or stops attempting to get the treat, give a quick “yes” and then reward with a different treat.
Step 3: Practice that behaviour multiple times until your pup starts to generalize the concept. Once that happens, then you can introduce the cue word “leave it”. It’s best to introduce the word as your pup is in the motion.
So for example, when you close your hand around the treat and your pup diverts their attention away from the treat, say “leave it” immediately. Follow that with a “yes” or “good” and reward with another treat.
Step 4: The next step up in difficulty would be to leave the treat visible in your hand and work on them doing a ‘leave it’. The next step after that would be to try putting a treat on the ground and telling your pup to leave it. If they lunge, just block the treat with your hand and give a simple “no”.
Once your pup restrains, give a “yes” and reward with a different treat.
Step 5: Practice, practice, and then keep practicing. Practice having your pup ‘leave it’ with slippers, toys, socks, treats, and just about anything else! The idea is to help your pup understand that ‘leave it’ means something should not be touched, no matter what.
As you can likely see, teaching your pup a really solid ‘leave it’ will help them quit the puppy biting. If your pup starts biting into your skin, give the leave it command, and reward when they stop. Practice makes perfect!
Use a taste deterrent to keep your puppy from biting
Before you start playing with your puppy, spray a taste deterrent on areas of your body and clothes that your puppy likes to play rough with. When your puppy starts biting you, stop moving and wait for him to react to the taste deterrent. Once your puppy stops biting, praise him and continue playing. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water to get the material off your hands.
- Taste deterrents include: “Bitter Apple,” “Vicks Vapor Rub,” or white vinegar. Use these on your hands to make them taste unpleasant. Please note that tea tree oil can cause temporary paralysis in dogs; use products that are tested as safe for dogs/animals.
Be Aware of Body Language
Dogs use body language to communicate. Pay attention to what your dog’s body language is telling you. A dog who is afraid or unhappy about having its territory invaded has the potential to bite. Behaviours such as bared teeth, raised hackles, a lowered head, or ears lying flat against the head are signs that a dog is uncomfortable and may bite. If you notice a dog displaying this type of body language, give it some space and advise others to do so as well. Remove your dog from the situation as soon as you feel safe to do so.
Stop Puppy Biting With a Small Timeout
In conjunction with your pup understanding “no”, it can be beneficial to implement simple timeouts. By timeout, I don’t mean you are giving a serious punishment or scolding, rather a break away from what the pup desires.
Of course, you praise the positive moments but at times, you have to take away what your pup is desiring. In the instance of biting, pups are looking for playtime and engagement with us humans. So, if they can’t handle it properly, take yourself away from the situation.
Leave the room, put them in another room, or put them into a playpen for 5–10 minutes.
Implementing this method consistently will help your pup come to understand that when biting starts, playtime stops.
A note on this, in most cases it is best to not use the crate as a negative reinforcer like a timeout. Your pup’s crate should be something they only equate with positive moments and situations.
Puppy biting doesn’t always happen during playtime. Many dogs become fascinated with nipping at people’s feet or ankles as they walk. This is particularly true for herding breeds. To teach your puppy to stop nipping at your heels, keep a favourite toy in your pocket. When she bites at your heels, immediately stop moving and wave the toy around to distract her until she latches onto it.
Another method is to stop moving when she bites, and then, when she releases on her own, offer her the toy or a treat. Always praise your puppy when she releases from nipping at your heel. The idea is to teach your dog that good things happen when bad behaviour stops.
Puppy nipping and biting are natural behaviours for puppies but unwanted in adult dogs. Remember, a large majority of dogs surrendered to shelters by their owners are between 18 months and 2 years of age — the point at which “cute” puppy behaviour becomes frustrating to the owner. Taking these few simple steps now will help prevent that bad behaviour down the line and allow you to have a stress-free lifelong relationship when that little bundle of fur grows up.
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