Nip it in the bud: How to stop your puppy from biting before it becomes a problem
Teaching your puppy not to bite is an exceptionally important element of puppy training, as a biting adult dog is a serious danger to other people – particularly children – and other pets. Use these five lessons to make sure the training sticks.
Lesson 1: No hard biting
It’s tempting to try to completely curb your puppy’s biting and mouthing from the beginning. Doing so, however, will skip a vital step. It’s important to allow your puppy to understand the limits of how hard they can press against a human’s skin before it becomes painful. Learning this lesson gives your puppy a built-in inhibition against causing harm if they should become stressed or scared.
To teach your puppy not to bite hard, take your cues from natural puppy play. Gentle mouthing and nibbling is natural behaviour, so let your puppy indulge in this. When you feel a hard bite, make a yelping sound and let your hand lie still. This will show your puppy that they’ve gone too far, and soon they will learn to adjust. Everyone the puppy plays with should adopt this strategy.
Eventually your puppy will gently mouth your hands rather than nip or bite. Consistency is an important part of puppy training and will help reinforce these lessons.
Lesson 2: No teeth on skin
Now that your puppy has learned the pain threshold for biting human skin, it’s time for the next lesson: no teeth on skin. To do this, continue with the previous technique, but now you should yelp and go limp at the slightest nip. This will show your puppy that no level of teeth on skin is acceptable.
You can reinforce this training exercise through treats. Hold a treat in a closed hand, and only open your hand when your puppy is not mouthing, chewing or pawing at your fingers. This will demonstrate that mouths and skin do not belong together. It may take some time and patience, but puppies are like children – they’re programmed to learn and adapt!
Lesson 3: Use toys to redirect their attention
Since chewing, mouthing and biting are natural behaviours for dogs, we don’t want to discourage them completely. Early on, puppies need to know that chewing on toys is fine but chewing on skin is not. While your puppy is learning the first two lessons, make sure to provide plenty of chew toys so they can understand that, while skin is a no-no, toys can be chewed to their heart’s content.
Lesson 4: Walk away
Puppies and young children have many traits in common: both can find it hard to focus on lessons, particularly when they’re excited. Sometimes, the best thing to do is give your puppy a little time to calm down in their playpen, perhaps with a nice chew toy.
Don’t think of this as a punishment, but simply a chance for your puppy to calm down. Training can resume when the pup feels a little more tranquil.
Lesson 5: Discourage herding instincts
Some breeds of dog, such as Australian Cattle Dogs, Collies or Shetland Sheepdogs, have strong herding instincts, which can lead them to nip at ankles to keep the ‘herd’ moving. If your dog does this, try to stand still so they understand that nipping ankles will have the opposite effect to their intention. Avoid wearing flip-flops as this draws the attention of the dog to your heels.
Stay calm and focused
Puppy training requires a lot of patience and perseverance. Your puppy may not understand the lessons you’re trying to teach straight away, but it’s best to remain calm and focused regardless. Shouting at your pup or scolding them may frighten them or cause them undue stress which may be remembered into adulthood – and lead to the exact behaviour you’re trying to prevent.
If you think your puppy is struggling to learn your lessons about biting, then consider seeking the help of a professional trainer. Dogs that bite are a danger to you and others – and ultimately, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your dog is safe to be around.