Are you struggling to stop your dog or puppy from biting and nipping? Do you wonder when your new puppy will stop biting? Or do you have an older dog that has a tendency to bite or nip people? If this sounds like you, read on to learn how to stop it.
Biting is a common problem that dog owners face and you will find that young puppies just love to sink their tiny teeth into you. Today we are going to look at how to stop a dog from biting people, clothes and other items.
Why Do Dogs and Puppies Bite?
Biting is one of the most natural things for a young puppy to do and there are a number of reasons why they do it. Older dogs usually bite for other reasons and the implications can be much greater.
Why Does My Puppy Bite?
Below we have listed some of the reasons a puppy may bite or nip.
It’s Fun and They Want to Play
Puppies love to bite because it gets them a reaction. Your puppy may be bored and wants to play, and all they have to do is sink their teeth into you or their siblings to get the action going. When a puppy bites one of their siblings, a game of chase or play fight will probably ensue. This gets attention focused on the biter, which is what they want.
When puppies bite humans the same thing happens. Your attention will focus back on your dog and they will get a reaction from you. Even if you tell them off your puppy has still go what they want. Remember that negative attention is still attention to a puppy.
They Love to Explore and Investigate
Puppies love to explore and investigate the world around them. The problem is, that unlike humans they do not have hands to grasp and touch the world around them. That means the only real way they can hold things is to use their mouth.
A puppy has the same incredible levels of curiosity as a child. Babies love to grab onto everything they can get their little hands on, and you will often see them use their mouth as well. Puppies have the exact same mindset as a human baby, but with paws instead of feet and hands.
Additionally, puppies can’t talk. They may be able to bark and whimper, but that is about it. A puppy’s mouth strength and biting ability can help them communicate and will determine their rank among the pack.
They Are Teething
While many dog owners associate biting or nipping with teething, it is not usually the main cause of the problem. Most biting is because they want to play, but teething can make the issue worse.
Puppies will usually have their adult teeth by the time they are about seven months old, but biting normally stop before this time. However, if a puppy is not trained to keep their teeth away from humans and redirected to appropriate chew toys, then mouthing and chewing can last well into adulthood.
Why Do Old Dogs Bite?
Elderly dogs will often bite with reasons that are totally different to the above.
They May Be in Pain
Pain is usually the main reason why elderly dogs bite or act aggressively. If your old dog suddenly becomes aggressive or starts to bite, you should take them to a veterinarian immediately. You vet will be able to rule out or treat any medical conditions or issues.
Dogs are pretty stoic about pain and aggressive behaviour is often the first sign of a problem. It is quite hard to know when a dog is hurting and by the time we know there is something wrong with them, the problem may be much worse.
An Older Dog Can Become Intolerant
Older dogs need a nice comfortable place where they know they can be safe. Even if your dog loves to be the centre of attention, they will need a safe place to retreat to. Disturbing and older dog can lead to aggressive behaviour or biting, and as they say “Let sleeping dogs lie”.
Elderly dogs may become impatient, and they can become annoyed if they are poked and prodded all day.
They May Be Confused
Just like some humans, dogs can become confused in their later years. You may see this sporadically, or there may be a steady decline. Dog dementia is a serious problem and you may notice the following symptoms if your dog is suffering from it.
- Sleep-wake cycle disturbances
- Generalized anxiety
- Lower threshold for aggression
- Decreased activity levels
- Inappropriate vocalization (howling, barking or whining)
- Repetitive behaviors (pacing)
- Elimination disorders
- Staring at walls
- Fewer social interactions
- Disorientation (getting “lost” in the house)
Their Eyesight and Hearing May Be Impaired
Carrying on from above, a dog that can’t see or hear can become confused. Approaching them from behind or surprising them can lead to aggressive behaviour and biting. If your dog’s eyesight or hearing is impaired, be careful about how you approach them.
Do All Dogs Bite?
Almost every single dog will bite or nip when they are a puppy. It is a natural thing for them to do and fortunately it is a temporary phase that they go through. Puppies will eventually grow out of it, but expect some bites along the way.
When it comes to older dogs it is slightly different. The majority of older dogs will not bite, but they can develop the habit as they age or when they become sick or injured.
Do Some Breeds of Dog Bite More Than Others?
If you are wondering if some dog breeds are more likely to bite than others, the answer is yes. Sporting breeds and those that have the drive to chase prey or protect their territory or more likely to bite than others.
The Canine Journal has a fantastic article on the statistics of dog bites in the United States. While this doesn’t really factor in puppy biting and mouthing, it is good information to look at if you are thinking about buying a new puppy or have one of the top biters. The top biters are as follows:
- Pit Bull
- German Shepherd
- Australian Shepherd
- Lhasa Apso
- Jack Russell Terrier
- Cocker Spaniel
- Bull Terrier
Remember that not all dogs are the same and they all have their own individual traits and characteristics. If your dog is on this list, you should not panic. Likewise, if your dog is not featured on the top biters list, you should not become complacent with them.
Play or Aggressive Biting in Puppies?
Sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether a puppy’s biting is due to aggression or play. Dog body language can be difficult to understand so we recommend that you check out this article.
Play Time Can Look Aggressive
It can be quite alarming when puppies play with each other. You’ll probably hear all sorts of yapping and barking, and it can really look like they are trying to hurt each other. Even when your puppy is playing by themselves they can make all sorts of aggressive sounding noises, but it is perfectly normal.
Biting will often accompany this sort of play and you will probably hear your puppy growl and snarl at other puppies or objects in their environment.
It is natural for inexperienced dog owners to worry that their puppy’s behaviour could be a sign that they have a dangerous animal in their house. Snarling, growling, biting and barking can be a shock to new dog owners, but most of the time it is just play.
Growling in Dogs
What If My Puppy Growls at Me?
When your puppy is playing they practice being scary and fierce. They turn themselves into a different animal and want to make as much noise as possible. All puppies tend to carry out this sort of behaviour when they are playing and you may be on the receiving end. Your puppy may try to entice you into a game by growling and yapping at you.
Your puppy’s mum and siblings understand this behaviour and are not bothered by it. Because of this, your puppy will have no idea that he is frightening you or other people in your house. Your puppy doesn’t understand that you think they are turning into a monster.
What About Elderly Dogs?
Now we know that puppy growling and aggressive behaviour is often harmless play, but what about older dogs?
Growling in older dogs happens for many of the same reasons as biting. We listed some of those earlier in this article, but in short it could be because they are in pain, afraid, annoyed or they are trying to protect their possessions or territory.
What About Resource Guarding
Alright, so most of the time aggressive behaviour in puppies is actually play, but what about when they are guarding something?
Some dogs can act aggressively if they are protecting something important to them, like a toy or food. We call this resource guarding.
When your dog wants to guard something they will stand over it to protect it from any possible threat. They may act aggressively and even start biting if a potential threat gets too close.
This sort of behaviour needs to be discouraged when they are puppies and it definitely shouldn’t happen when they are adults. If you have an older dog that does this, you need to fix the situation as soon as possible. Adult dogs and even puppies can have a serious bite on them and they may use it if you try to take away something important to them.
More Puppy Biting Information
In this next section of the article, we are going to be focusing on puppy biting. If you would like to learn more about stopping an older dog from biting, scroll down a bit further.
What Makes Puppy Biting Worse?
If you are trying to stop a puppy from biting, it is a good idea to know what encourages them. There are four main things that can make biting worse:
Excitement – An excited puppy is more likely to bite. The more excited a puppy is, the harder they will bite and with more frequency. Rough, physical play, chasing, tummy tickles and more will get your puppy bubbling with excitement that they cannot control. Additionally, noisy behaviour such as screams, shouting or crying will wind your puppy up and make them over excited.
Inappropriate play – This sort of goes with the above. If you let your dog chew on your fingers or if you wave your hands in front of your puppy’s face, expect to get a nasty nip. This sort of behaviour trains your puppy to associate your hands as a toy.
Attention – We all love to give our puppies attention, but giving them attention when they bite us only makes matters worse. You may not think you are rewarding your puppy for biting, but you are if you give them any attention when they do so. Puppies love attention and getting any is a massive reward for them.
Poor bite inhibition – A puppy with poor bite inhibition will bite harder than those with good bite inhibition. We are going to explain a bit more about bite inhibition below and how you can help your puppy improve theirs.
So How Do You Stop a Puppy from Biting?
Prevention Is Key
Avoiding situations where you put yourself in the position to be bitten is a big part of this training. You do not want to let your puppy associate you or somebody else’s body as a toy. The key with this is to redirect and prevent.
Control Your Puppy’s Excitement
An excited puppy is more likely to bite, so you need to control their level of excitement. If your puppy starts getting too excited, let them cool off for a bit. You can stop the game you are playing for a couple of minutes or leave the room. When you return your puppy should have calmed down and you can resume play time.
Redirect Attention with Hands and Toys
When you are training your puppy, make sure you always have toys to offer them. Puppies love to chew and bite anything they can get their paws on. They want to explore the world and do that via their teeth.
You need to use your hands to redirect them to some fun toys. Your job is to make the toys look as attractive as possible and much more interesting than your hands, feet and clothes. When redirecting your puppy’s attention, don’t make fast, jerky movements with your hands. This only makes your hands more interesting.
Stay in Control When Playing
You need to make sure you stay in control when you play games with your puppy. If your puppy attempts to bite you or starts causing trouble, simply walk away and return once they have cooled down.
Supervise Your Kids
Children are often on the receiving end of a bite. They love to play with dogs and they will wind them up until they are almost in a frenzy. You need to supervise any children who are playing with your puppy and show them how to play correctly.
This means that you shouldn’t let children run around a puppy without a toy. If a child is running around, the puppy will begin to focus on them as their main source of entertainment. Teach children to be calm around puppies and use toys to play with them.
Can You Punish a Puppy for Biting?
There are a number of trainers who advocate punishing a puppy if they bite. This may be by intimidating them with an angry, shouty voice or even physical punishment such as a light slap.
These sort of methods can work, but there are a number of problems with them. Negative training techniques can reduce the trust between you and your dog, leading to unwanted behaviour down the line.
In addition to this, puppies need to learn how to control their mouths and bite before they are taught not to bite at all.
What Is Bite Inhibition?
Bite inhibition simply means that the puppy learns not to apply too much force when they are biting. It is similar to how humans learn to not apply too much pressure when they perform a handshake with someone. Applying too much pressure in a handshake can crush the other person’s hand and cut off their blood supply.
Puppies learn to limit the pressure with their mouths by feedback from their siblings and mother. If they are playing with their siblings and one bites a little bit too hard, the other one will yelp loudly. The yelp indicates to the biting puppy that they are applying too much pressure and they need to let go.
Once this has happened, play will stop for a few minutes until they are ready to go again. The next time they play, the offending puppy will bite a little bit less hard than before.
This also happens with their mother. If they bite down on their mom too hard, she will growl at them and get up. This means that they will get no more dinner or attention from her.
So how does this apply to humans? A puppy may have learnt the acceptable force when biting their siblings, but unfortunately, humans do not have a nice fur coat to protect them. The level of force your puppy has learnt to use on their mother and siblings will be too painful for delicate human skin. Your puppy will not know this yet, but you are going to teach them.
Bite Inhibition Training
From the above, it can be seen that fun things stop when a puppy bites their mother or siblings. You need to apply this same theme to your puppy’s bite inhibition training to get the point across to them.
We have listed some steps and training tips below to teach your dog good bite inhibition.
- If your puppy bites too hard, make a load yelp or “Ouch!” sound.
- Once your puppy releases your hand, don’t pull it away quickly. Jerking your hand away from them quickly will make it look like something fun to chase and bite.
- Instead, let your puppy release your hand and then get up and move away. Completely ignore them while you are doing this. The idea is to teach your puppy that the fun stops when they bite you.
- Continue to ignore them for a couple of minutes and then return to them. Play with them and make sure you have some toys on hand. Praise your puppy when they interact with the toy.
- If your puppy bites you again, repeat the same process of walking away and ignoring them.
- You may find that your puppy tries to chase or follow you. If they do this, leave the room so they cannot follow you. Make sure your puppy is in a puppy-proof area, as they may take out their frustration or boredom on household items. Leave them lots of toys, so that they can interact with those.
- For those who don’t have a puppy-proof area, we recommend that you put a lead on your puppy. When they bite you, tie them up to something and walk away.
The main goal of this exercise is take away the fun when they bite you. Do not get angry at your dog and do not give them attention when they bite you.
Leaving your puppy for a couple of minutes after they bite you will give them time to cool down and reduce their excitement levels. Make sure you have plenty of toys and encourage them to play with the toys.
Why Don’t We Teach Them to Not Bite at All?
You are probably wondering why we don’t just teach a puppy to not bite at all. The reason for this is that a number of experts believe that a staged bite inhibition training process is important to get complete control over your dog’s biting in the present and future.
The idea of reducing biting gradually was popularised by Ian Dunbar. He believed that a dog that has learnt to control their bite will be less likely to harm a person if they bite in the future. Remember that a dog can always bite and there is no way to train them 100% not to.
As your puppy begins to understand that they need to be gentle, you can start asking more of them. If your puppy bites or mouths you, remember to walk away every time. They will slowly reduce the force of their bite and eventually you can get them to stop biting altogether.
Your whole goal is to help your puppy understand that playtime continues as long as they keep their teeth away from you and on their toys.
How to Train a Puppy Not to Bite in Steps
Now that we know why puppies bite, some of the things that make biting worse and methods to stop biting, let’s put all of that information together in easy to follow stages.
Stage One – Control Your Puppies Environment and Interactions
You need to control your puppy’s environment and have a place where they can calm down. This means that you shouldn’t give them the run of the house and you need to have a room or area where they can feel safe.
In addition to this, you need to control your puppy’s interactions with yourself and other people (especially kids). Make sure that children understand how to play with your puppy and have lots of toys on hand.
Make sure your puppy doesn’t get too excited when they are playing a game or meeting someone for the first time. Control their excitement levels and know when to give them a minute to cool down.
Stage Two – Don’t Make Things Worse
As we have stressed in this article, don’t get your puppy too excited and don’t reward them for biting. A puppy’s favourite reward is your attention, so don’t give it to them when they do something bad.
Make sure your puppy gets no rewards when they bite you or someone else. This is a vital step to stopping a puppy from biting.
In addition to this, don’t encourage biting by waving your hands or fingers in front of your puppy. Many puppies see fingers, hands, toes and feet as something to chase and play with.
Stage Three – Teach Your Puppy Some Mouth Control
This is all the bite inhibition training we talked about earlier in this article. You need to train your puppy to bite with less force and that biting hurts you.
Bite inhibition training takes a while so don’t think you are going to see success in a day. Your puppy needs to learn to reduce the power of their bite gradually and eventually stop biting all together.
As we wrote earlier, if your puppy bites make a load yelp or squeal and then walk away. Leave the room for a period of time and then come back once your puppy has calmed down. Your puppy will soon understand that fun things stop when they bite you.
Step Four – Redirect Their Attention
If your puppy looks like they are about to bite or they are starting to focus on you, introduce some distractions. Redirect your puppy’s attention away from your body and clothes to interesting toys. This way they will bite and chew the toy instead of you. Reward your puppy when they play with the toy.
Step Five – Teach Your Puppy Not to Bite
This is the part where we teach the puppy to let us touch them in any way we like, without them biting or mouthing.
The best way of doing this is to use a clicker and some delicious dog treats. However, for those that don’t have a clicker you can use a cue word such as ‘yes’, but make sure you still have treats to give your puppy.
We have laid out how to conduct the training exercise below:
- Move your hand towards your puppy in a slow, controlled manner.
- If they do not move their mouth towards your hand say “yes!” or give them a click if you have clicker trained them. Immediately following this, give your puppy a treat.
- Repeat the same process but get your hand closer to your puppy’s mouth. Eventually you want to be able to touch your puppy’s mouth without them biting you.
- Every time you do it say “yes” or give them a click and then follow with a treat.
Watch This Video for a Full Description of the Technique
What if My Puppy Bites Me?
If your puppy bites you while you are conducting this training session, walk away and ignore them. Remember that we want to show our puppy that biting is not okay and hurts us.
Let your puppy cool down for a couple of minutes and then return to the training exercise. This time, make smaller hand movements further away from your puppy until they ignore them. Gradually close the distance between your hand and your puppy’s mouth after each successful go.
More Options to Control Puppy Biting
While the above method is what we would recommend you do to stop your puppy’s biting, there are a few other things and techniques that can be used to reduce biting. Let’s look at them below:
If walking out of the room and leaving your puppy isn’t enough to stop them biting you, you can try taste deterrents to make your hands and feet less appealing.
The idea with these taste deterrent products is that they make anywhere you apply the product taste terrible. Something like Grannicks Bitter Apple is a product you can use to deter your puppy’s biting.
When your puppy releases their bite, praise them and redirect their attention to a toy.
Keep Your Puppy Exercised
Keeping your puppy exercised and mentally stimulated can go a long way to help the biting problem. If you take your puppy for regular walks and let them work up a sweet, they will be less likely to get too excited.
A well exercised and mentally stimulated puppy will be calmer than one that is kept inside all day. You can read more about dog exercise in our “How Much Exercise Do Dogs Need” article.
What About Dominant Puppies?
Just like humans, dogs and puppies have different personalities and characteristics. Most puppies are not trying to be dominant and just want to be part of the pack. However, as puppies grow older, some may try to use biting as a way to show their dominance.
If you believe that your puppy is trying to be dominant by biting you, do not yelp or shout at all. This can reinforce the bad behaviour and could be a sign that you are backing down. They will then believe they are the leader in the relationship.
For puppies or dogs that are trying to be dominant through biting, simply walk away if they do bite or attempt to. You can also put your puppy in a time-out room or use their lead to tether them in place.
How to Stop an Old Dog from Biting?
Now that we have looked at stopping a puppy from biting, let’s look at stopping elderly dogs from doing the same. Unfortunately, older dogs can be quite stubborn and the reasons for their biting are usually completely different to a puppy.
Help Their Illness or Pain
As we wrote at the start of this article, an older dog may bite because they are sick or in pain. It can be hard to recognise the signs of a sick dog as they are quite stoic about pain. Your dog may have hip or back issues, but you may be none the wiser.
Always keep a look out for any changes in behaviour and take your dog to the vets if you believe there is something wrong with them. Your vet may be able to treat the problem, or it may be a case of managing the condition.
If your dog is suffering from illness or pain, avoid doing things that could make it worse. Make sure they have plenty of rest and a safe place where they can be away from people. Don’t let young children jump all over your dog, as this could result in a nasty bite. Monitor any play with your dog and don’t overstress them.
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
We all know this quote and it really is true. Older dogs can become intolerant to people, kids and other dogs. Make sure they have a place to rest without being disturbed. Teach any children to leave the dog alone when they are resting and don’t let them have access to the dog when there is no one to supervise.
In addition to this, we recommend that you take your dog to the park and out for walks at none peak times. This means that there will be less dogs to potentially annoy your older dog.
Approach and Touch Them Appropriately
Older dogs may be confused or their hearing and eyesight could be impaired. Always approach your dog appropriately and don’t sneak up on them. If you can, always try to approach your dog from the front and say their name as you get near. This way they will know you are coming and won’t be surprised.
Don’t Put Your Dog in Situations They Don’t Like
This is sort of a combination of the above, but it is important. If your dog doesn’t enjoy doing something (even if they did before) don’t put them in a situation where they have to do it. This may mean that you don’t take them to the dog park or roll them on their back for a tummy tickle.
Walk Away if They Bite You
Just like when a puppy bites, don’t give your older dog attention and walk away from them. Leave them to cool down and do not physically harm them. Any negative training techniques could lead to harder biting in the future.
Train Bite Inhibition
Some dogs never learn to control their bite, but it never too late to start training them to do so. Simply do the same as you would with a puppy. Walk away when they bite and stop any fun things.
Summing Up How to Stop a Dogs and Puppies Biting
As you can see, there are loads of different reasons why a dog might bite. Usually, they are not to do with aggressive behaviour or trying to be dominant. For puppies it is simply a natural occurrence and you need to discourage biting through bite inhibition training and teaching them to stop.
When it comes to older dogs you may not be able to solve the problem completely, but you can control the factors that make it worse.
Remember that stopping your dog’s biting will not happen overnight and you need to be consistent. The alternative to not training your puppy or dog is a large animal putting their mouth on you or other people.
Always be patient with your dog and remember that biting is only natural for dogs, especially puppies. Show your puppy that biting hurts and they need to control their bite when interacting with people.