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How to stop your puppy biting

Reading time: 3 minutes

Play-biting can be almost an unnoticed phase with some puppies, but for many owners, mouthing and play-biting can be a serious and painful problem that can escalate rapidly rather than improve of its own accord.

You may be the owner of a puppy with a tendency to chew – on you. Biting happens; a tiny puppy may take a petting session as an invitation to gnaw on your knuckles. But when does playful biting cross the line into something more worrying? And how can you be sure that your good-natured puppy’s friskiness will be a temporary developmental experience and not escalate into worse behaviour?

Just playing

Most play-biting in puppies is normal investigative behaviour, much like human babies, they explore the world with their mouths. This rarely develops into aggressive biting. However, unless it’s redirected to suitable items – rather than hands – it can hurt and may lead to you reacting badly. This causes confusion and frustration in your puppy, which may exacerbate the behaviour.

Responsible owners can ensure that playful nipping doesn’t escalate by sticking to a few rules and consistency is key:

1.  Always avoid using hands directly. Encourage puppies to mouth at toys rather than nipping at clothes. Keep toys close to hand so you can redirect the nipping as soon as it occurs.

2.  If you find nipping behaviour continues, calmly walk out of the room, ignoring your pup until he has calmed. This will teach that play-biting results in the game stopping.

3.  As a part of your early training and communication with your puppy you need to teach a ‘No’ command, as well as a ‘Yes’ command amongst others so that you are able to communicate effectively with your growing dog.

Born to bite?

It might come down to breed, too. While it’s obviously true that all dogs can bite, some breeds and individuals within those breeds, due to genetics, are more likely to display more severe play biting. Typically, the working dogs (Malionois, German Shepherd Dog, Rottweiler) are more predisposed to testing with their mouths as are the terrier breeds, such as the Jack Russell.

What you can do

You can go quite some way to changing biting behaviour by learning to read some of your puppy’s body language signals. That way, you’re more aware of when they’re uncomfortable or overstimulated, over tired or just looking for fun and can remove them from such situations before they’re tempted to chew on you.

Understanding how animals see the world differently to humans can lead us to more appropriate interactions. For example, animals are scent-driven, so they’ll use their noses when encountering new situations or people. We humans go straight in with physical greetings. We stand face-to-face, use eye contact and hug, kiss or hold. As this isn’t natural behaviour to your pet, it can cause miscommunication. Our actions aren’t perceived in the way we intend.

Generally, you should ignore a puppy until he has investigated you and displayed signs that he wishes to interact – a wagging tail and an alert, interested manner. Always encourage calm engagement and if the puppy becomes too playful or ‘bitey’ simply end the interaction.

Pets and kids

It is recommend that young children and puppies are supervised. Children can sometimes be a little rough or sudden in their handling and may unwittingly pester or corner a puppy. It’s about helping children to understand how to play with their beloved pups. Encourage little ones to behave in a calm, quiet and gentle manner around all animals.

If your child is overenthusiastic, you could try redirecting their energy to a more appropriate source (a toy, perhaps) and gently remove them from the situation if necessary. Rewarding ‘correct’ play with lots of praise may also help children to create an association between gentle handling of their puppy and positive attention from you – win-win all round.

Seeking specialist help

If you’re worried about your puppy’s biting or any other difficult behavioural issues, it’s worth contacting a specialist for help. Look for accreditations from the Canine & Feline Behaviour Association or Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.


Ross McCarthy is a Canine Behaviour Practitioner & Trainer based in London. He has over 20 years experience in full-time practice and a masters degree in canine behaviour and psychology. As a member of many specialist associations, Ross has a passion for dog safety education. In addition to his aged Pomeranian, he shares his home with three working Rottweilers with whom he competes in various competitive disciplines

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