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How To Stop Puppy From Biting, Nipping, And Ruining Your Once-Simple Lives

August 07, 201811 min read
How to Stop Your Puppy From Ruining Your Once-Simple Lives

How To Stop Puppy From Biting, Chewing, And Ruining Your Once-Simple Lives

Puppies are so cute, which is probably a life-saving trait considering they also bite - hard - with razor sharp daggers for teeth.

Those sharp puppy teeth will begin to fall out at about 4 months of age and their new molars come in at 7-9 months, and chewing continues apace throughout the first and into the second year.

So, you've got a lot of teething and chewing energy to plan for. Especially since dog play is naturally bitey, and your dog will never grow out of wanting to have fun.

...We hope!

All puppies bite when they play.

This is normal play behavior. Just the way kids will play cops and robbers and have nerf gun battles and pillow fights, puppies play-fight.

Play fighting is actually a trust-building activity.

The difference between screaming in hysterical fear or laughing hysterically when a grown up whips you upside down and swings you around by your ankles is TRUST.

Your puppy is going to want to play-fight with you, because that's the only kind of game they know.

Teaching Puppy New Rules

You need to explain to your puppy that humans don't like bitey play, but we're still hecking good fun.

Introduce toys that are soft on the mouth, make fun crinkles and squeaks, and are good for cooperative games like tug. Encourage your puppy and show interest whenever they explore these toys, and make the toys run around, wrestle with them, and play tug with them.

Even the most aggressive biters are calm and not seeking attention some of the time. Notice that when it happens. Notice your calm puppy and go play gently and calmly with them.

Go Wild and Freeze

Dogs say "please don't" by removing eye contact and freezing. That's the best way to suggest to your pup that the game isn't fun for you anymore.

Allow them to mouth your hands, getting plenty of practice figuring out exactly how much pressure they can use with their teeth on human skin.

When you feel a bite that is too hard, yelp loudly at that very instant - with a high pitched, surprised "OW!!"

Make it a high-pitched cry; let them know they hurt you! Act betrayed.

Remove eye contact, lift up your hands and stand up, and freeze entirely. You aren't speaking to them right now.

Hold it for maybe as long as 20 seconds if your pup is very excited, so that they understand that when play gets too rough, play stops.

When your puppy finally sits or freezes with you, reward that by "unfreezing" sooner than you would if your puppy were still jumping and trying to get you to re-engage in play.

image of puppy kissing child

Your puppy will learn to play gently in order to avoid interruptions, and to freeze when you freeze.

Always yelp and stop play when your puppy bites your clothing or your hair- these are extensions of our skin and we want dogs to be gentle with them.

For older and bigger puppies, standing up suddenly, with hands up and eyes on the sky is the perfect body language to teach your dog the "off" cue, too.

I use this same 'Go Wild and Freeze' game to teach dogs not to jump on people. Simply stop play the instant your dog is too rough, bites too hard, or jumps up.

Every dog has the potential to bite; even the friendliest dog can be startled on a bad day by someone accidentally bumping a sore hip.

We hope that if and when your dog bites, they will use one of these soft, inhibited bites that we've taught them are more than enough to hurt to a human being.

You should initiate play when they aren't begging for your attention. A good time to start a game is right after your dog does something you like, such as coming when called or leaving the garbage alone when you ask them to.

It is best for kids to always have a toy available for their puppy to bite instead of them, but adults need to spend time teaching bite inhibition with hand-play.

As your puppy's bites get softer, you'll find they will happily choose to focus their bites on toys, because they can bite hard and enjoy playing with you like they do another dog.

Note: Be a little gentle with tug-of-war until those puppy teeth fall out.

I Can't Freeze - It Hurts Too Much!

Children and people with extremely sensitive toes find it hard to stand still and frozen while a frustrated puppy bites them.

If this is the case for you or a family member, consider playing with the pup in a pen that you can step out of, or tethering the puppy with harness and leash to something solid like a tree, a post, or Dad, when playing.

That way when the puppy gets too rough, you can leave their sphere of influence entirely and wait for them to freeze before re-entering play.

This strategy works well too, when you have a shy puppy and a not-shy-enough puppy. Put Miss Ruff Stuff on a leash and let Shy Guy come in and out of her range as he feels comfortable.

Puppies learn soon enough that if they want their playmate to stick around, they have to play nicely.

My Puppy Gets Possessed By the Devil

At 5 am and 8 pm

Most puppies have periods of high activity at morning and night when they sometimes make you wish you had access to an Exorcist.

Be prepared for your puppy's Witching Hour with rubber boots and oven mitts if necessary!

Puppies also get too rough when they are overstimulated or overtired.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your puppy is usher them to their crate and let them crash.

Just like an overtired toddler, puppies don't always know when they need a nap, but you'll know soon enough - if the puppy crashes within a five or ten minutes of non-stimulation, then yup - they were wiped out.

Clear Communication, Consistency, and Good Timing Are Key

A small puppy curled up in a lap

If you fail to notice your dog being good often enough, or only seem to be yelping when puppy get bored and comes to bite, or if you don't freeze or leave the area long enough after the yelp, then your efforts won't be sufficient for your puppy to get the idea.

Your yelping might even backfire on you; your puppy will see biting as the best way to get your attention and the most interesting thing you've done all day.

If your puppy is biting someone other than you, such as you child, and you see a bite or hear a yelp from your child, make sure that play is stopped, at least briefly.

It is important that if puppies keep biting after a child yelps, then parents will step in with leashes, gates, or time-outs to keep the message consistent.

The puppy is destroying everything!

Make sure that each day begins with a NEW positive outlet for chewing.

You can rotate chew objects and experiment to figure out which ones entire your puppy the most.

Don't wait until they get bored and go looking for a table leg to gnaw on.

  • Offer them raw bones, antlers, Kongs, tug-toys, teething toys, baby-safe wooden toys, carrots, apples, licky-matts, or simply soak a dishrag in chicken broth and freeze it.

  • Give them torn up old towels and encourage a game of rip-the-rag. (Make it clear that dog towels are very different from people towels!)

  • Feed their entire (water-soaked) meal of kibble frozen in a big meatball.

  • Puzzle toys and treat dispensing toys abound at the pet store and there are great DIY videos on Youtube.

Don't quit coming up with ways to keep those teeth busy!

pitbull puppy picture

An easy way to ensure your puppy doesn't chew your most beloved possessions is to keep them out of puppy's reach.

Seriously. Get down on the floor and if there's anything puppy can reach that shouldn't be chewed, either remove it or block puppy from reaching it.

Of course, you COULD just leave forbidden items around everywhere. You'll just need to supervise 100% of the time.

If puppy does find something forbidden, a simple 'ah-ah!' should be enough to deter them from grabbing it, so long as you have good timing and you are consistent... But if you're doing it all day long, your pup will learn to ignore you.

Bitter apple, cayenne pepper and similar anti-chewing tactics are strangely pleasant to some dogs and even if the dog doesn't like it, they will work only if re-applied constantly to chewable areas in conjunction with your supervision... so it's best to just prevent your dog from accessing contraband to begin with.

Access to forbidden items should be restricted with baby gates, exercise pens, leashes, and kennels.

If your puppy does get something, try to turn it into a fetching game instead of a chew object. It's better for your puppy to learn that dropping used kleenex at your feet makes liver treats appear, rather than discovering how much fun they are to shred.

Unless their health and safety is at risk and you have no other alternative, do NOT chase your puppy to get an item back or snatch an item for your puppy's mouth.

Chased puppies WILL run, they can run faster than you, and you might as well stick a neon sign on that object reading "HUMANS WILL BE INTERESTING IF YOU GRAB THIS!"

Your puppy will ABSOLUTELY do it again.

image of puppy with shoe

Instead, accidentally on-purpose drop some treats or become very interested in one of the dog's toys. The dog will usually drop what they are holding to come engage with you.

If it's something your pup can interact with safely, try encouraging a fetch by telling them how clever they are for holding that sock in their mouth! Puppies who carry socks around get HOT DOGS!

Ask your puppy to hand you that sock again and again, and they get a new treat every time!

After a while they find that putting the sock in the laundry hamper gets them a bonanza and a game of tug.

Soon a sock on the floor will mean clean-up time, not catch-me-if-you-can time.

"My puppy tugs on the leash!"

Sounds like that puppy needs some interaction!

Make sure you aren't turning it into a fun game of tug-of-war, and make sure this isn't their only chance to get your attention on a walk. Carry a tug rope they can tug on, or bring a target stick smeared with peanut butter or cheese whiz that they can lick and snatch at. Encourage them to carry the traffic handle on their leash for brief periods and give them treats for walking themselves so nicely.

Try your best to keep them busy with other tasks like jumping over logs, or doing tricks on the sidewalk. Talk to them about the sights and sounds out in the world.

Take shorter walks with a more tired, less antsy dog. Play tug-of-war with them at home, and practice games like get it, tug, and drop it daily.

If your dog has already had lots of fun tug time with you at home before leaving they'll enjoy smelling the flowers more and pester you less.

$15 dollar toys only last 15 minutes!

Some dogs just love to destroy toys, and that's okay, as long as it is supervised and the toy is safe to be destroyed. Some toys are even designed to be destroyed. Many Bark Box toys and toys sold at Pet Stores have secondary toys inside them, ready to be discovered, like a doggy Kinder Egg.

But to keep your toy bill to a minimum, keep easily-destroyed toys out of reach and use them as part of supervised play only, working on games like fetch and find-it.

Make sure your puppy has other, safer toys which are either tougher or are designed to be ripped apart and easy on your pocket book.

Toy destruction is a satisfying meditative behavior for a lot of dogs.

This can be replaced with activities like digging, hunting for hidden treats or toys, and a good chew. You can also decide what things you will allow to be destroyed, and when, and how.

For example, you could say that pine cones are fine as long as they stay out on the porch and the dog isn't actively swallowing it (they usually don't consume what they shred. Making a mess is part of the fun it seems).

Or you could permit empty toilet paper rolls to be destroyed but only in the laundry room, and the dog has to fetch you the broom afterwards!

Toys that velcro closed and can be "ripped" open to get at the hidden treat or toy inside can be good - the velcro makes satisfying ripping noises but can be closed again and again!

Don't shame your puppy's favourite recreation. Instead, just look for appropriate ways for your puppy to engage in that behaviour without driving their way out of your heart and home.

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