My puppy is biting too hard

Puppy biting can be uncomfortable, frustrating, and potentially injurious. Here's how to change a puppy's unwanted biting behavior.

My puppy is biting too hard
Photo by Marc Schaefer / Unsplash

“Help! My puppy is biting, hard! What should I do?”

Puppy biting, while normal, can also be uncomfortable, frustrating, and possibly dangerous in the future, if it’s not addressed appropriately.

Hardly any time is more important for your puppy than the period in which he learns how to control his bite. A puppy who bites hard is no fun to be around, but one who knows how to play gently will be more fun to live with and to train.

Even the gentlest dog can be suddenly startled, frightened, or in enough pain that she may bite. Helping our puppies develop this soft mouth, or bite inhibition, is one of our most important tasks.

So, how do we accomplish this? As odd as it may seem, we are actually going to encourage our puppy to bite us – but with some conditions.

First, the ground rules:

  1. Puppy may not bite hard enough to leave a red mark.
  2. Puppy may not bite clothing or fabric.
  3. Puppy may not bite children (young children aren’t capable of determining what is an “okay” bite and what isn’t — and a sharp nip may provoke a child to scare or hurt a puppy).

If your puppy breaks one of these rules while playing, give a short “Ouch!” and stop playing immediately. Offer to play with the puppy again once he or she settles. If puppy is having a hard time settling and continues to bite or mouth you or your clothing, put the puppy in his crate or behind a baby gate for a minute or two, then let him out to try again, encouraging your puppy to bite a toy rather than your hands.

Second, encourage your puppy to play-bite your hands and arms on a regular basis, but gently! Don’t swipe at your puppy’s face or grab his jaws or muzzle in your hands — think of the calm, mouth-wrestling play you see in older dogs. As long as your puppy isn’t breaking the rules, you may play short games this way, breaking frequently to feed treats for obedience behaviors and hand targeting.

When puppy your feels like playing, encourage the gentle play-biting game. Keep in mind the puppy must gently use his mouth and wrestle with you. (Important disclaimer: this training game is not for children.) Use treats to teach your puppy to stop when instructed to do so, by scattering a few treats on the ground and walking away.

The puppy is now practicing “bite inhibition” or “soft mouth” on purpose.

Once your puppy starts losing puppy teeth, it’s time to start cutting back on the play biting by substituting toys for your hands and feeding treats when your puppy directs his mouth onto toys or chooses to offer a sit or down rather than bite.