How to stop my puppy biting and nipping me
Puppies have very sharp little teeth and it's simply natural for them to play with their litter mates using their mouths. Usually what happens is that during play, one puppy bites just a little too hard, the other puppy squeals and the game stops for a second or two. They learn about bite inhibition. They want the fun game to continue, and they learn that biting too hard stops the game so they don't chomp down quite so hard next time.
However, we don't want them to learn to bite softly on our skin or clothes - we want them to learn that puppy teeth on humans should never ever happen.
Many times we actually put up with some level of biting - we call it mouthing. We think, oh, it's not sore, puppy is just teething, it's ok. Truly it's not. If a puppy thinks they can gnaw our hands, how will they learn that doing so with a baby, older person or visitor isn't appropriate.
And worse, if this is a natural thing to do, then it's quite likely that they may well be more inclined to do so when they are excited, or scared. (No, I don't think there are any scientific papers proving this concept - it just makes logical sense to me.)
We also frequently think that they'll grow out of it - really, they won't - once a puppy has found some kind of rewarding feedback from what they're doing, they'll do it again... and again.... and again..... So how can we stop it?
- make sure there are plenty of, and a variety of toys for the puppy to have in their mouths
- DON'T "play" with a puppy using your hands, were we pat the puppy on either side of the mouth etc
- DON'T sit and let your puppy mouth or gnaw on your hands
What we want to do is to ensure that puppies learn that playing and interacting with us does not involve putting their teeth on skin or clothes.
Or rather - re-direct this natural, instinctive behaviour towards something acceptable and worthwhile.
So what are the other reasons for puppy biting?
Attention - Here's what usually happens. We move about, the puppy thinks hey, what's that flapping thing (your baggy trousers or pyjama legs…) i think i'll go and have a bite at that, see what it's about.... Then you shake your leg and tell your puppy to stop it. Think how that appears to your puppy. Firstly, they don't actually know what "stop it" means - it's just noise to them; and secondly you're playing tuggy with your trouser leg (or skirt..).
Boredom - another reason to seek out our attention. Make sure that your puppy gets plenty of mental stimulation: chew toys, training, food games etc
Tiredness - puppies get tired. They need plenty of rest during the day. Biting so often happens when we're trying to interact with our puppy and they are simply too tired.
What can we do to stop a puppy biting us?
Prevention: Try to prevent situations arising that will trigger biting episodes. For instance, if you normally wear flappy trousers or skirts that may well look like something to pounce on to our puppies, then change what you wear for the first few weeks of your puppy's life. Large cartoon slippers are also something that puppies will go for - try wearing shoes instead - and indeed bear toes of socks seem to be very attractive. Again, wearing shoes will most likely prevent that happening.
Distraction: Another wee trick is to make something else more exciting. So if our puppies go for our slippers, then standing still and ragging a toy about on the floor will make the toy more exciting and they'll go staring for that.
Squealing like a puppy: Sometimes works and sometimes causes more frustration or more biting.
When puppies are playing with their litter mates and one of them bites too hard, the other one makes a wee squeal, and stops playing. We can mimic that. Make sure you can actually move your body out of the way - if you're on the floor and can't stand up, then it's quite likely that your puppy may choose a different bit of you to bite or chew. So, if your puppy bites, make a wee high pitched squeal, stand up and wrap your arms round your body. Pretend it really, really hurt. Your puppy should hold back a little looking a bit bewildered. Make sure to tell them they're a "clever puppy" (verbal praise for doing the right thing). Wait for a few seconds and then re-commence your play session.
However, some puppies just get more wound up when you squeal - they think it's an invitation to get more excited and bite even more. So, do not continue with this approach if it's not working.
If your puppy has become too excited, and won't stop, then isolating your puppy for a short while to help them to calm down. This works best if you can actually leave the room, rather than move the puppy to another room. Obviously, the room has to be puppy safe. If you're using a crate, unless your puppy really, really loves being in there, don't use the crate for your time out.
Using modern positive methods to teach your puppy to leave things really teaches them that there is no point in doing what they're doing - the consequences are not rewarding - they'd be far better off trying some other behaviour.
And if all that doesn't work? Do you still have a little gremlin?
Please get help from a behaviourist or trainer near you. Your puppy won't grow out of this. Please remember - they're learning how to behave and even shouting at them provides is rewarding - it's all about attention and interaction.
And, of course, if they're snapping at you and growling when you try to get them to move off the couch or if you go near their food bowl, again, please seek out some help. It's a natural, but unacceptable behaviour.
Read more help here for when you've just got your puppy