Puppy Nipping and Biting

Why? Why? Why?

The games puppies play with litter-mates consist mainly of tussles involving biting one anotheraround the head and neck. Of course, when they leave their litter and we become theirplaymates, they attempt to play in the same way! Puppy needs to learn that the way to play withus is through toys.

Ouch! That hurts!

Watching a litter of puppies play, you might occasionally observe one puppy biting his sibling toohard. The injured party yelps and there is at least a momentary, if not semi-permanent,interruption to the game. The sharp yelp interrupts the biter’s behaviour. The followinginterruption or end of play encourages the biter to inhibit his bite in future, in order to avoid such interruptions to his games.

Puppies will lose these needle-sharp baby teeth around four to six months of age. Let’s ensurethat you gain the designed benefit before that time. The puppy must learn to inhibit his bite beforehe has big adult teeth and a strong adult jaw to match.Imitating the puppy litter scenario may assist your puppy to further inhibit his bite on you. As soonas you feel teeth on your skin, whether it is causing pain or not, emit a puppy-like yelp or the human equivalent, a sharp “yow”. Stand up and walk away from the game.

This type of biteinhibition learning is for long-term effect. It may not always help you in the instant that the nippingor biting is occurring, particularly if young children are involved. Time-Out (see below) can be utilised for over-excitable puppies.

Don’t bite me – bite this!

When playing or interacting with your puppy, ensure thata favourite toy is handy - you can use it as a substitutefor your hands or limbs. Encourage the puppy to bitethe toy. It may prove difficult at first, as the puppy continues to pursue your hands. Do your best tomanoeuvre your hands and the toy so that teeth connectwith toy, more often than hands. Puppy needs to learnthat playing with humans involves toys instead of nipping and biting flesh.

Ankle biting

A common problem spot for ankle biting is walking up and down stairs or along a hallway. It iscommonly the movement that excites the puppy in these scenarios. Keep a few toys handy at each end of the hallway. Tie them to string or rope to use to distract the puppy away from yourankles and clothing.


When the puppy has really lost control and the excitementof biting and nipping is just too much, a time-out may assist.Parents can implement this exercise when interactingpuppies and young children. It is usually too difficult for thechildren to utilise for themself.

Always use the yelping response to any biting or nipping whether it appears to be helping or not.Remember that it will achieve a long-term learning effect.When the puppy will not settle, a time-out can be applied by crate, tie-up or by removing the puppyto the laundry or outside the back door (wherever he is familiar).

On the first occasion, the puppy will be allowed to re-join the game after ten seconds of goodbehaviour. If on his return to the game, he breaks the same rule, he will be removed for 20seconds of good behaviour, before being allowed to return. Next time will be 40 seconds, then 60seconds. More than 60 seconds is not necessary; unless the handler needs a break.


Puppies will lose those needle-sharp teetharound five to six months of age. Ensure thatyou are providing plenty of chewing material tohelp loosen the teeth and to soothe the puppy.Puppies usually prefer soft, spongy toys at thisage. Use the harder type chews when theyhave their adult teeth and a strong jaw to match.

Including bones in the puppy’s diet may alsohelp in providing something more appropriate tochew on. As will feeding the puppy from toyssuch as Kongs.

Play, Play and Then More Play

Play is so important for the puppy’sdevelopment and for relationship building andbonding with his new family. Play is a means ofhelping puppies to develop impulse control andtolerance of frustration – similar to a two-yearoldchild.

Providing numerous different toys will stimulatethe puppy’s interaction and development. Putsome toys away so that you can swap themaround to provide variety.

Despite previous bad press, tug-o-war is one of the mostbeneficial games you can play with your puppy. It will aid indeveloping responsiveness to you and your commands.

Tug-owardoes not encourage aggressive behaviour! IT DOESN’T MATTER WHO WINS OR LOSES!

Hard rubber tug toys are notsuitable for puppy teeth; use soft toys or a piece of towelling.

Sitting in the doorway of a room can assist developing theretrieve of a ball or toy with the puppy chasing the item into theroom. Once he has picked up the toy, he will have nowhere togo but back to you. Training can be further assisted by the useof a long line attached to the puppy’s collar to enable you to blockincorrect responses. A puppy that has not learnt to retrieve by 16weeks of age is not likely to enjoy the game throughout his lifetime. What a shame that would be! Attaching a cord or string to a toy can enable you to make the toymore stimulating to the puppy and also establish a habit of returning to you with the toy.

To train the puppy to release the tug or retrieve toy on command simply say the command,“leave”, and then offer a food treat to the puppy. Hopefully he will release the toy in order to eatthe treat. Further reward him by re-initiating the game after he has finished eating.

Alternatively, if the puppy is not keen to give up the toy for a food treat; gently hold your hand onthe toy without pulling and with your other hand lift the puppy by his collar just off his front feet.You may have to quietly hold this position for a few moments until the puppy gets bored and releases the toy. At which point, you praise and re-initiate the game. You must remain calm, non-competitiveand non-threatening throughout the process.

Show your puppy that fighting and struggling with you will not achieve success for him; butworking with you achieves huge success!

Roughhouse play is also wonderful for developing puppies. Children may also engage inroughhouse play if they are confident to do so. A responsible adult must supervise all interactionsbetween children and puppies. Neither has fully developed emotional self-regulation.

Notes by Vicki Austin, CPDT-KA, Canine Behaviour and Training, vickiaustin.com.au


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