My Puppy Bites – What Should I Do?

Husky puppy biting owner's hand

Puppies have 28 teeth from the age of around six weeks. These pinpoint mini weapons can prick unpleasantly but are unlikely to cause any serious damage. Nevertheless, all dog owners should focus strongly on their puppy learning to inhibit their bite. So, what can I do if my puppy bites? 

From time to time we hear that bite inhibition is innate and doesn't have to be trained any further. However, this misconception can have serious consequences - this ability is significant for dogs and humans being able to live together safely. It prevents dangerous injuries should an abnormal situation arise from the animal's point of view. 

First step: natural bite inhibition training

Even the friendliest dogs can bite. For instance, if someone accidentally treads on their paw and they react fearfully to the pain. However, even the youngest learn how to control their natural weapons in a playful manner. If the siblings in a litter play together and one bites, the puppy on the receiving end immediately reacts. It will either bite back or abandon the game. Both are unpleasant for the biter and they learn that careless biting brings negative consequences. The siblings soon understand that they may only put their new teeth to use with caution. Hence, the natural development and socialisation given through these lessons in the litter provide an ideal foundation for safe and healthy bite inhibition in adult dogs. Unfortunately many people don't continue this important training once their puppy has entered their home. This is also of great importance with small breeds or very sociable dogs, since they too can end up in stressful situations and bite without warning.

Jack Russell Terrier Puppy playfully biting

Second step: playful practice at home

  • Dogs have to learn as puppies that humans have sensitive skin that may not be nibbled at even when playing. If your puppy bites, you have to show clear boundaries and interrupt play with a sound like “ow” as soon as it approaches your skin or clothes with its teeth. 
  • Divert your attention away from your dog briefly so that it directly recognises the consequences of biting. Around 15 seconds is usually enough. If your canine companion bites again during this period, you're best off leaving the room for a minute. 
  • Repeat this exercise a maximum of three times in 15 minutes and then end the play session – otherwise your dog's capacity for concentration will soon be overwhelmed. Never hit or slap your dog – it could misinterpret this as another invitation for wild play or become hurt.
  • An alternative is also important: give your dog a tug toy following the break described above. They can let their teeth loose on the toy and learn in this context that they can happily nibble away at it. Chew toys are also suitable. 
Puppy biting a chew bone

What are the challenges with bite inhibition training?

Training comes with extra challenges if small children live in your home, since young dogs enjoy playfully nibbling at children or their clothes. Thus, only let puppies play with your child when supervised. From roughly school age, you can teach your child how to interrupt playing with the dog of their own accord if the puppy bares its teeth. 

As strange as it may first seem, puppies that are too amicable are another challenge. In order to learn bite inhibition, it's necessary for the dog to want to bite in the first place. Puppies that don't even bare their teeth during play don't give us any opportunity to practice: it's impossible to train bite inhibition without attempts to bite during the puppy phase. In fact, it makes sense to provoke puppies like this to bite with games or tasty treats that they immediately wish to snap up. 

In any case, practice requires a lot of patience with most puppies: always bear in mind that you will only achieve real success through consistency. If you shout “ow!” one time but continue playing enthusiastically with your dog when it next bares its teeth, it's no surprise if lasting success isn't possible. The learning process can take longer particularly with breeds originally deployed as hunting dogs. Be aware that a young dog should have its teeth under control by the age of four months before the permanent teeth replace the milk teeth. If this isn't the case, it's recommended to urgently seek out professional help, for instance, from a dog trainer. 

We wish you and your puppy lots of happy play sessions with positive learning outcomes! 

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