Quick poll! Which feels worse: A surprise double-slap by razor blade kitten claws, or having your hand chomped by a mouthful of 28 needle-sharp puppy teeth?
Trick question, they both hurt like heck and end with you asking your friends, “Do you wanna know how I got these scars?” in your best menacing Joker voice. As for this article, we can help you manage those toothy jaws as well as any crocodile hunter. Good luck with the kitten claws, though.
What Is Bite Inhibition?
Bite inhibition is a behavior puppies usually learn from their parents, littermates, and other puppies that teaches them the strength of their own bite. When a puppy bites too hard, their unsuspecting victim lets out a loud, high-pitched yelp to startle the puppy and let them know it hurts. As a result, they learn to use a lighter, more moderate force when biting during play.
In some scenarios, biting can occur as an involuntarily reflex, like when dogs are anxious (maybe at the vet), in pain, or just plain old don't like something (like those evil baths you give them.) Kind of like how some of us have a natural reflex to aggressively start swatting everything in sight when we see a spider. Reflex or no, it’s important for dogs to learn not to use their full bite force on you or other animals.
How To Teach Your Puppy Bite Inhibition
No, do not bite back. At best, you’re going to end up with a mouth full of fur, at worst you’re going to hurt them and teach them to be afraid of you.
- Step 1: When your puppy bites you too hard during play, calmly let out a high-pitched “OW!” or “OUCH!” sound. Try not to start laughing at your own silly noises or your pup will still think you’re playing.
- Step 2: Your exclamations should startle them enough to stop playing, but be sure to immediately pause any play for a few seconds until your puppy calms down a little bit.
- Step 3: Praise them with a “good boy” or “good girl” once they calm down, and continue play.
- Step 4: Repeat these steps no more than 3–4 times in 15 minutes. If your puppy isn’t startled by your high-pitched noises and fantastic acting skills, or actually becomes more rambunctious when hearing them, skip down to the next section.
- Step 5: Once your puppy starts to get the hang of controlling their really hard bites, you can work toward encouraging them to be even gentler. Make your “OW!” noises with moderately hard bites, and then move on to lighter bites.
- Step 6: Continue with these steps until your puppy is able to play by mouthing you with no pressure at all. Biting is normal for puppies and part of their learning process, so be patient! Sometimes eliminating these "bites" entirely can take up to 6 months.
What To Do If Your Puppy Still Bites Hard After Yelling “OUCH!”
Some puppies don’t react at all to the high-pitched “ouch” method, and some may even get more worked up when you try this. So now what do you do?
- Step 1: When your puppy bites too hard, either silently or paired with your high-pitched “ouch” noise, stop playing by calmly turning around and tucking your hands up under your armpits for 15-30 seconds (this removes the temptation of delicious dangling fingers).
- Another option is to gently put them in their crate for a minute or so to calm down. Never yell at or hit your puppy during this process, or they may become fearful of being handled. On the complete opposite spectrum, they may also learn that biting gets a reaction out of you, which can lead to more biting.
- Step 2: Always praise or reward them once they calm down.
- Step 3: When they've calmed, continue play. It’s important to teach puppies that play stops when they bite, and continues when they’re calm.
What To If Your Puppy Bites When You’re NOT Playing
A lot of puppies will playfully pounce and bite your legs, feet, or dangling fingers as you walk, even when you’re just trudging across the kitchen to get your morning coffee.
When this happens, stop walking for a few seconds. Try holding a high value treat or toy out to the side to help teach your pup to walk nicely next to you. This is also how you can teach them to walk nicely on a leash! Tip: If keeping treats in your pockets results in more puppy ambushes, keep small containers of treats around the house up high where your puppy can’t reach them.
How To Teach Your Puppy Not To Chew Things
Although we don’t suggest keeping treats in your pocket, it’s usually safe enough to keep a toy or tug rope on hand to quickly redirect unwanted chewing. This comes in handy for things like: feet-nipping ambushes, furniture-chewing, or stopping them if they get ahold of cables or wires. Always praise enthusiastically when they start chewing on the toy!
Some research suggests that dogs actually prefer (or at least get extra excited about) new toys, or toys that at least feel new to them. A monthly toy rotation could be just to thing to keep their focus on good-to-chew things and not on your new pair of shoes, especially when you get an extra free toy every month with BarkBox.
More Suggestions For Puppies Who Are Biting Or Chewing
Take A Time Out
Crating can be helpful when your puppy needs some time to calm down, but you should never associate your pup’s crate with punishment. Don’t yell at them or plop them in their crate out of anger. Instead, calmly lead them inside, be patient, and allow them to take it down a notch.
Establish Quiet Time/Nap Time
Puppies may be mouthy because they’re cranky and need a nap. No, seriously, puppies and kids (and sometimes adults, too) have that in common! Try calmly putting them in their crate for a much-needed snooze.
Take A Potty Break/Walk
A full bladder or pent-up energy could surely be cause for misbehavior. Take them outside for a short walk or let loose in a fenced yard to allow them to burn that energy off instead of taking it out on your fingers.
Reinforce Good Behavior
Sometimes we concentrate too much on correcting the behaviors we don’t want from our puppies, and forget to praise or reward them for the behaviors we do want. When they bite or chew their toys instead of you, reward them! When they’re lying down and being good, praise them! And don’t forget to remind them every day of how cute they are!
Use A Taste Deterrent
Another option is to try spray taste deterrents specifically made for animals. These are usually bitter or sour-flavored sprays that make objects, like cords, suddenly very unappetizing.
Socialize With Other Dogs
Allowing your puppy to play and socialize with other puppies or dogs is a great way for them to learn bite inhibition, just like they would with their mom. Just wait until your pup has received all of their puppy shots before allowing them to play with others.
What NOT To Do When Your Puppy Is Biting
Avoid Wrestling & Rough Play
You may need to focus on non-contact play like fetch, tug-of-war, or redirecting with toys rather than wrestling and rough-housing while they’re still learning the rules of biting.
Never Hit Your Dog
Slapping or hitting your puppy can often worsen the behavior you’re trying to discourage, or it can straight-up make your puppy afraid of interacting with you.
Avoid Waving/Wiggling Fingers & Hands
For whatever reason, it seems almost ingrained in humans to wiggle or tap their fingers on the floor in front of a puppy. I know, I've been guilty of it too! As cute as this might be when they’re a few weeks old, it’s not so cute when it encourages their biting as they get older.
Don’t Discourage Your Puppy From Playing
Playing is how puppies learn and explore the world, and it doubles as a great way to strengthen their bond with you.
When To Seek Help From A Trainer Or Behavior Specialist
Puppy classes or private lessons with a certified trainer can be beneficial for all puppies, especially if you’re inexperienced or want to learn new techniques. It’s essential, however, to seek help from a trainer or behavior specialist if your puppy’s biting goes from play biting to aggressive biting behavior.
Although teething and playful biting is normal up to about 6 months old, if you notice your puppy pulling back their lips and showing teeth while biting or displaying fearful or angry body language (like flat ears and a stiff posture), it’s time to seek help from a specialist.