Getting a new puppy is always a great time; you get cuddles, face licks, and all the furry friendship you could want. But while puppies are usually friendly and fun to play with, many of them also tend to bite—and some of them can bite pretty hard.
Puppies have dozens of super sharp teeth, and even after their adult teeth come in, some dogs struggle to learn to moderate their biting instinct. In some cases, they might bite a little too roughly and hurt their pet parents or littermates.
That’s why it’s important to know how to train a dog not to bite, especially if it’s your first time raising a puppy. If you don’t know where to start, no worries: this training guide will break down everything you need to know and more.
Why Do Dogs Bite?
Dogs bite for all kinds of reasons; after all, they use their mouths to explore the world. They get plenty of important information and cues about whether something is good to eat, poisonous, and more from oral cues. We’re actually similar to dogs in this respect: Human babies also exhibit mouthy behavior and are keen to grab items around them to help them explore the world.
Dogs also communicate through their mouths. That’s one of the reasons why they’ll lick you to show their happiness when you come home from work.
But dogs can bite for a few other reasons, too.
Many puppies bite when they play, both with their siblings and with any human companions or parents. Play biting and wrestling is a normal part of development for all kinds of species, including puppies, house cats, and even larger animals like wolves and lions.
But play biting is usually gentle and short… at least for puppies. Puppies evolved to play bite their siblings and their parents, both of which have fur to protect them from those sharp little teeth. Human skin doesn't offer the same protection, so we have to teach our puppies not to bite when playing so that they don't accidentally hurt us or cause discomfort.
Puppies can also bite to get attention, and adult dogs may do this as well. A bite is a sharp pressure on your hand or leg, of course, so it’s almost impossible to ignore. Because of this, some dogs learn early on that biting their owners gets their attention reliably and will continue to do it even into adulthood unless proper obedience training calms down this urge.
Normally, dog mothers teach their puppies not to bite to get attention by growling at them or using other behaviors. We pet parents need to do the same thing.
Lastly, puppies and adult dogs may also bite out of fear or anger. You can see this in adult dogs that are terrified by something they haven't encountered before or if they are ever unsure about another dog they just met at the park or on a walk.
Dogs may bite to scare away another animal or person or bite as an attack. One of the most important responsibilities as a dog owner is teaching your dog not to bite in either of these circumstances.
Your dog must know not to bite out of fear or anger so you can safely take them to the dog park, so they can play with other dogs, and so they can be around other people and kids without being a danger.
Ultimately, dogs bite for all kinds of reasons. But no matter those reasons, it's our responsibility as pet parents to teach them not to bite.
Puppy Bite Inhibition
Bite inhibition is essentially self-control over the biting instinct for dogs. When you teach your dog bite inhibition, you teach them both not to bite when it's not necessary and how to control the force of their bites if they do ever need to nibble at something.
For example, many puppies will bite particularly hard when playing with your hand because they haven't yet learned bite inhibition. Once they learn these habits, they might still occasionally pounce and nip at your hand, but it will be gentle since they now know not to break the skin or bite hard enough that they hurt you.
Puppies naturally learn bite inhibition around other dogs. When they bite too hard, the other dog in question will yelp or growl at them and warn the puppy that they’re being a little too rough.
Humans can take a page out of this book and do the same thing. While you shouldn’t growl at your dog (ever!), you can make a loud “Ouch!” sound or similar response whenever your dog bites you a little too hard and then stop playing with them. Dogs’ ears are very sensitive, so you don’t need to scream. Simply raising your voice and saying the same word each time your puppy bites you too roughly should do the trick.
Dogs are also naturally empathetic. Once they realize that they’ve hurt you, they’re more likely to start moderating their bite force automatically. Note, of course, that you don’t actually have to say “Ouch” when you’re hurt. Simply saying that word each time your puppy bites a little too much for comfort is ideal, since you’ll moderate their bite force before they actually cause a minor injury.
How To Teach Puppy Bite Inhibition
You can also teach bite inhibition in a couple of other ways:
- Dogs (and especially puppies) thrive on attention, especially when you’re playing with them. If you want to teach bite inhibition quickly with a social pup, simply stand up and turn around whatever they bite you too roughly: don't resume play.
Don’t give them any attention, and your dog will quickly learn that playtime ends when they bite too hard.
- Try redirection. When your puppy gives you a hard bite, say "ouch" and then offer your puppy a chew toy instead of your hand. Doing this, again, removes them from the fun stimulus of playtime and teaches them a serious but gentle lesson; biting too roughly is never acceptable.
- Remember, consistency and patience are key to addressing your dog's mouthing behaviors.
Relate Biting to No Playtime
As touched on above, connecting hard biting with a sudden end to playtime is a very effective strategy when teaching your dog not to bite. When using this teaching tactic, keep in mind that there can never be any exceptions whatsoever.
If your dog bites too roughly or if they bite when they aren't supposed to (for example, when you're about to feed them, and they bite your ankle impatiently), you have to be firm and strict. Turn your back on them and don't give them any attention at all.
If you’re currently playing, put the toy away and end the play session. This teaches your dog quickly and firmly that biting is unacceptable. If you make an exception from time to time, your dog might be inspired to push the boundaries or real limits of your rules.
Why Doesn’t Negative Reinforcement Work?
What about more forceful responses? You should never be forceful with your puppy, and you should never strike them or yell at them if they bite you while playing or doing anything else.
This type of punishment is negative for a couple of major reasons:
- It teaches your dog to be afraid of you, which makes them less likely to listen to your commands. It may also lead to fearful or aggressive behavior down the line.
- It gives your dog attention. Like attention from the media for a rock star, any attention is good attention to your dog. In fact, canine companions are more likely to do bad behaviors and get bad attention than they are to voluntarily self-isolate or lose all attention from their owners. By giving your dog negative attention, you just contribute to a negative feedback loop.
Ignoring your dog or removing play toys are the best ways to teach your dog not to bite during playtime. Proper socialization is a huge part of your dog's ability to adapt to coexisting peacefully with their environments.
Offer Chew Alternatives
Some dog breeds or even just pups with big personalities may still bite from time to time or may have a problem with gnawing on furniture or other objects they aren’t supposed to be biting (especially if they have separation anxiety). In keeping with the goal of positive reinforcement, you should not punish your dog when they chew on things they aren’t supposed to.
Instead, offer chew alternatives to your dog. Keep a toy or chewing treat on-hand and out of sight. When your dog gets into trouble and tries to chew something they shouldn’t, offer them the chew toy instead. The chew toy in question needs to be tough enough to handle your dog’s aggression and give them something to take out their energy on.
Tug toys are great picks because of these reasons. For example, Wild One’s Triangle Tug Toy is perfect for diverting your dog’s excess physical energy and showing them what they can chew on safely. It’s made with tough materials to withstand biting from even the toughest, tiniest little puppy teeth.
This provides positive reinforcement and redirects your dog's behavior toward something they are allowed to chew or a high-value treat. Not only does this interaction improve the bond between you and your furry friend, but it also helps to teach your dog that some things are appropriate for chewing and some things are not. Make sure to praise them when they go for the correct toy or are on their best behavior.
Exercise Your Dog
Depending on their breed, age, and personality, your dog may also be acting out if they have too much energy. In these cases, your dog might just need to play fetch or go for a long walk to get rid of some of that extra jitteriness and boost their impulse control.
Lots of new dog owners may adopt dogs that are too big or too energetic for their property. Be sure to choose a dog that’s perfect for the size of your home and your activity level so you don’t accidentally adopt a pup that needs a lot of physical engagement and exercise when you can’t provide those things.
Ignore Bad Behavior
Once more, for emphasis! Ignoring your dog is the best remedy against bad behavior, whether they are biting your ankles, biting too hard during playtime, or chewing on things they aren’t supposed to.
If your dog gets a little bit of a rebellious attitude (which is common among puppies aged six months to one year old), then the best thing you can do is ignore their bad behavior rather than reward it with more attention. Puppies can and do get in a bit of a funk, or they might regress in their training from time to time.
Don’t get angry or frustrated with your dog. Just show them that bad behavior will get them nowhere by ignoring them or removing their toys. This is by far the most effective behavior remedying strategy for pet parents across the board.
Reinforce Good Behaviors
But if you want the ignoring part of your bite training to work, you also need to reinforce the good behaviors that your dog does.
For example, if your dog is biting too roughly and you tell them a command to stop, like, “No biting,” you should immediately reward them with a treat once they do what you ask.
Be sure that the treat is tasty and irresistible for your dog so that they feel properly rewarded. Try out Sweet Potato Treats, which are made with non-GMO ingredients. As an added bonus, these treats are great for your dog’s gut health – the better they perform, the healthier they’ll be.
Positive reinforcement shows your dog that they will get rewarded if they do the right thing and that it’s much better and tastier for them to do what’s expected of them rather than be “bad.”
Never Use Physical Punishment
Never, ever hit your dog under any circumstances, even if they are biting you while playing or while being a little too rough. The only time it's acceptable to get physical with your dog is if they are a danger to yourself or someone else.
But if your dog is play biting and you strike them, you only show them that you’ll be violent if you are displeased with their behavior. This makes them afraid of you, makes them more likely to bite you when they are scared, and ruins the training cycle.
Are Time-Outs Okay?
Sometimes, but it depends on the context.
Most pet parents these days use crate training to show their dogs that their crates are safe, secure places where they can retreat to at the end of the day for sleep or if they are overstimulated. If you treat your dog’s crate like a punishing cage, your dog won’t want to go to bed inside, and they may resist other aspects of crate training as well.
That said, you can give your dog a timeout from time to time, especially if you need to put your puppy down for a nap. Some younger dogs aren't able to self-regulate their nap times, so it's up to pet parents to put them down for sleep in the afternoon or evening. These instances are fine since your dog will go right to sleep and feel comfortable in their crate.
But if it’s in the middle of the day and your puppy isn’t about to go to sleep, you should only ever put them in a timeout if you have a secondary crate or playpen to place them in. A playpen is a great investment for new dog owners because it gives your dog a place to roll around and play by themselves without you having to watch them 24/7.
But the playpen can also be a great place for a gentle timeout. If your puppy is being a bit too rough, you can stop giving them attention without directly punishing them or making them feel bad by placing them in a playpen.
Ultimately, any pet parent can train their dog not to bite, even if they are starting with a pup that may have had a bad first home or who has some behavioral issues. Using positive reinforcement training techniques and showing your dog that they can hurt you by biting too hard will go a long way toward ensuring your pup will be a fun playtime companion.
If necessary, contact a professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist to help you teach your dog good manners about engaging in gentle play only.
Whether you need treats to reinforce good behaviors, toys to keep your pup entertained, or something else entirely, Wild One has just what you need.