How do I stop nipping and biting me?!
It starts as play. It’s what puppies do with each other. It’s what puppies do with just about everything they encounter. And some adult dogs still do it when they want you to play with them. Nipping and biting might seem cute and playful at first. But puppies have sharp tiny teeth that feel like piranha bites so it doesn’t feel so cute when they use you as a teething ring. I often hear from clients, ‘my puppy is aggressive’ simply because of how painful these puppy bites can be.
Whether you have a puppy or a grown adult dog, I have some tips for you to prevent and reduce biting and nipping. The sooner we can teach our puppies when this sort of play is appropriate and what is appropriate for them to chew and bite, the easier it will be to curb this behavior.
- Management. First and foremost: management. Try not to be a welcoming target. Don’t wave your fingers or toes at your pup – instead drag or squeak a toy. To an active young dog, this is an invitation to pounce and bite. Puppies love to bite and pounce on moving things, it’s like catching bugs outside, it’s a fun game! If yours really likes to go for the feet, stick to closed-toe shoes during the teething phases. If you don’t want something chewed on by the dog, keep it out of his reach or in another room. This is a great time to practice your own organizational skills – remember that if it’s on the floor, the dog thinks it’s fair game. Most people realize this after they have a collection of single socks.
- Reduce stimulation and praise calmness. When puppies – and some older dogs – get really excited during play, they’ll start nipping. This is very common and normal dog behavior. However, you can teach them not to do this. When you’re playing with your pup and you can see he’s getting to the point of starting to nip, this is the time to end the play session. Now you can work on ‘sit’ and ‘down’, give some belly rubs, talk to him calmly and focus on developing relaxation. As he starts to get quiet, tell him how good he’s being. He’ll enjoy the praise. (If you think he needs more playtime, you can start another play session in ten minutes, then go through the calming process again). Pay attention to when the biting occurs to help avoid it – often time’s it is when they are overly excited during play, need to go potty, or are overstimulated such as when a lot of people are over.
- Step away. When your pup nips you, say ‘Ow!’ and stand up and remove yourself from his space so that he can’t nip you again. This will give him a moment to calm down. If he’s been going for your arms, you can cross your arms to take them away from him as you stand up. Another option is to physically separate yourself from him – go on the other side of a pet/baby gate, step inside his exercise pen, go behind the counter. Wait five seconds, then go back to the dog, repeating as necessary if he nips again. Your dog will soon figure out that play ends and you go away if he bites.
- Trade him toys. Often when puppies are teething, it feels really good to them to bite and chew. But it’s important that they’re chewing the right things. I love stuffed Kongs, bully sticks, frozen braided toys, and Bionic toys to help ease the discomfort of teething. Puppies may enjoy an antler-type toy, but I limit this to just puppies- see our full list of durable toys here for tough chewers and a list of our favorite teething toys down below. Make sure you praise your pet when he’s chewing these toys so that they’ll be more inclined to choose these toys when they want to chew. If you catch your pup chewing something on the banned list, say ‘No!’ and take it away. Then give him an appropriate chewing toy and give him lots of praise when he takes it. Remember we want to reward the good behaviors. Pro tip: Trade your dog for something of similar texture, chewing on a chair leg? Give him something hard to chew like the petstages fake antler toy below, chewing on a sock trade for a soft squeaky toy.
- Make it taste bad. Whatever your dog is chewing on is enjoyable for him. But if it doesn’t taste good he’s less likely to chew. Try spraying Skout’s Honor’s Bitter apply spray when your pet is biting, they will quickly learn this doesn’t taste good – then do step 5 and give him an appropriate toy to chew. You can get the bitter apple spray here (Or use Amazon link above) and use code Ellis20 to save 20%.
- Need a nap? Food? Puppies often bite more when they need to eat or are overly tired, it might be time for dinner or time to chill out away from the excitement and sleep in the crate for a little.
- Still need help? If your dog keeps chewing the wrong things (you OR furniture), try wrapping an item in tin foil and/or spraying it with either bitter apple or tabasco. This will stop most dogs from chewing on something and then you should provide them something appropriate to chew on.
Toys for sharp puppy teeth
As always, remember to be consistent, reward appropriate behavior tell your dog he’s good when he’s chewing the correct toys, and remove anything enticing – from wiggling toes to favorite shoes to pens and pencils – and in time your pup will learn what to chew and what not to chew.