10 Ways to Stop puppy biting

Babies explore the world with their mouths, puppies do the same. The only difference is that babies have gums, while puppies have needles! 

Everyone seems to expect a bit of puppy nipping when they get a puppy. According to my oft-quoted maxim that “What you expect is what you get”, this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

I can also add that “What you accept is what you get”! And I find many new puppy-owners accept a level of savagery from their puppy which astonishes me. I’m often shown arms covered with scratches and nasty bruises. And I’m here to tell you that this is totally unacceptable!


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This is a frequent cry from first-time puppy-owners - or first-time-since-they-had-children puppy-owners. The perfect family home - full of joy and laughter - that they anticipated when they brought a puppy into their midst is crumbling about their ears. They start to regard the puppy as the enemy, instead of a welcome friend. He’s a nuisance, and has to be kept under increasing control. This is not a good way to start any relationship.

When the puppy is very new and very tiny and wants to play roly-poly with their small child, this may elicit approving nods and smiles from the parents. But they soon learn that the puppy develops at a much faster rate than their baby, and is also armed with sharp claws, sharp teeth, and an astonishing ability to jump high! It’s only when their puppy hits teen-weeks (about fourteen weeks and up) and they realise these games are getting out of hand - when their toddler’s happy gurgles turn to wails of pain and fear - that they decide Something Needs To Be Done. And by now it’s all become a well-established habit. 

The answer is simple, but multi-faceted. There’s a lot going on here.

I can honestly say that my own puppies learn that dogs’ teeth never touch human skin - very, very fast. And they will never have been yelled at. Here’s how it’s done:


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Ten ways to stop puppy nipping


1. The ideal age to get a puppy is eight weeks. There are many reasons for this, but for the purposes of this post we’ll focus on how this lowers the chances of the puppy nipping and biting us. By six weeks or so, the bitch has usually had enough of her pups and will often be separated from them for most of the time. But this doesn’t mean they’re not learning! The time from six to eight weeks of age is prime socialising time. They find out what works with their littermates and what doesn’t. Now puppies have a thick fur coat, so the immature jaw control doesn’t do them any damage. But a pup will soon tell his brother if the play got too rough, and the biting too hard. A puppy who is bullying his littermates will become Billy-no-mates until he learns to tone down his enthusiasm. He’ll learn this quickly - and what he’s learning is called Bite Inhibition. He can use his mouth with exquisite control - he can grip without biting, touch without ripping. This is one major reason for getting your puppy at the right age. 


2. Once he arrives with you, the puppy should have a safe den (a crate is ideal) where he can retire or be taken when tired, and which is totally out of bounds to children and other animals. A young puppy should be going down to sleep every hour or two throughout the day, and all night. To find out how to get your pup to sleep through the night from Day 1, read this post.


3. Never leave any child alone with any dog, not even for a moment. If you have to leave the room, take one of them with you. 


4. The same goes for any older dog in the household. They didn’t choose to get a puppy - you did. So to maintain harmony in the home, you need to protect your older dog from endless puppy attention. A general rule would be a maximum of twenty minutes a day of free play, which would be closely supervised, in five-minute bursts. The puppy is not free to pester people, children, or other household residents, whenever he feels like it. Protect older dogs, cats, and small children from too much attention. How much is too much? That depends on the victim. When they say it’s enough, it’s enough.


5. Supervision should be active, not simply a distracted presence in the same house. When puppy and child are both loose at the same time, this should be the parent’s focus. Clever manipulation of sleep and mealtimes may minimise these times a lot, and allow the adult to devote all attention to either the child or the puppy (or, occasionally, themselves!). You have to be sure that you spend time on your puppy and not just drop him into the mix as a tagalong: this puppy is not going to train himself!


6. Both child and pup need to learn manners and boundaries. In neither case is this done by shouting, saying NO, or scolding. Showing and encouraging is the way to go.

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7. No-one should ever play with the puppy without a soft toy in their hand. The pup should always be encouraged to play with the toy, down at floor level - not leaping up to grab it from the hand. Releasing the toy is rewarded with another quick game, or a treat if playtime is over. Teeth on skin causes the game to stop for a moment for all sides to regroup and remember the rules. Then the game can resume. If the puppy has gone wild and over the top, this is a sure sign that he’s tired and is no longer able to make rational decisions: an hour or two’s napping in his crate will restore equilibrium. And if your toddler is also screeching and squawking, it looks like you’re going to get a peaceful couple of hours while they both have a nap!


8. No-one may interact with the puppy at all unless all his four feet are on the floor. This gets easier as time goes by, and you’ll have a shorter and shorter time to wait before you can address your pup. Start on Day 1, at eight weeks old! No attention is given till feet are all on the floor. The split second the feet arrive on the floor you reward with attention - down at his level. He’ll learn very fast!


9. Teach the puppy which games or parts of games are acceptable. It’s quite possible for a dog to understand that they may chase something but not bring it down. Think Border Collie - these amazing dogs can replicate their instinctive hunting patterns by stalking, flanking, driving and chasing sheep, but they never close in for the kill. Friendly chase games in the garden are great for using up lots of energy from both the child and the dog. A very mouthy puppy can be encouraged to carry a soft toy in his mouth, so there’s no danger of grabbing. Teach your children to play statues the moment the pup gets over-excited and tries to grab a trouser-leg or sleeve. Once the “prey” is still, the hunt is over, and pup will let go - especially if a moving toy is whizzed past his nose. It goes without saying - but I’ll say it anyway - that such games must always be very closely supervised.


10. Practice makes perfect! The more you play controlled tug games with your puppy, the better he’ll get at instantly releasing the toy when you ask (to start with, just hold a tasty treat to his nostrils and wait for him to let go) and waiting patiently for the game to start again. He’ll learn that the opportunity to play is dependent on demonstrating impulse control.


You got a puppy for your family because you wanted your children to enjoy their childhood with a dependable friend - perhaps as you did when you were a child. But don’t toss natural safeguards out of the window!


In time your adult dog will be your growing children’s very best friend. But while he’s still a baby your puppy needs a lot of guidance and management. You can’t expect to toss the puppy into the family and let him sink or swim. You were already busy every moment of the day before your puppy arrived. So you’re going to need to carve out some time for playing with him and teaching him what he can do to please you, while still having a whale of a time being a dog.

If you haven’t been near a dog training school for years, you’ll be glad to know that many have changed beyond recognition! The very best schools now teach mostly through games, and they are entirely force-free. You should feel that you and your children are welcome at the class, and you should also feel confident that the trainer could “train” your toddler in the same way as they show you how to train your puppy, without you being concerned for your child. No doubt you teach your toddler with kindness and patience. There’s no need to act differently with your puppy - who’s merely another toddler in your family, and who has to be managed, and learn to follow the rules, just the same as the other children. 


You simply have to show him how.

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10 ways to stop puppy nipping
10 ways to teach your puppy to stop biting

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