New puppies are so adorable! That is until they start biting you with their razor-sharp teeth! Suddenly they turn from being soft little fuzzy balls of fur into tiny little sharks attacking you! And perhaps you have been told to get your puppy to stop biting you by letting out a yelp. But this sometimes only makes it worse.
You may have even seen your trainer yelp to mimic a hurt pup, and your dog backed off. So, why won’t it work for you?
Human voices vary significantly; not all of us sound like dogs or puppies when we woof or yelp. Additionally, some puppies won’t even back off when their siblings’ yelp, they just bite more. The primary reason that your puppy won’t stop biting you when you yelp is that they think you are playing with them. The more you react the more they attack. For your pup, it is all fun and games. He has no idea that he is really hurting you.
Why Yelping Can Sometimes Make Your Puppy Bite More
Puppy Play Fighting and Socialization Skills
The most important period for puppies to learn social skills is from birth to 12 weeks old. This is an extremely formative time in their lives during which a puppy learns how to appropriately interact with other puppies and dogs. If a puppy bites at his mother she may push him back, growl, or nip to teach him better manners. As puppies play together they will rough house and play-bite one another. They figure out when they have bitten someone too hard because the bitten dog will yelp. This lets the aggressor know the other pup was hurt and to back off. Additionally, the other puppy usually will stop playing and the game ends.
In some cases, however, a yelp from another puppy may get them more excited and spur them on to play even harder. This is sometimes the case with dogs who tend to be bullies, but usually, it just increases the drama and excitement of play. The other dog may have to bite back if he continues to be pursued until he makes his point.
When Puppies Play With Us
First of all, humans have thinner skin which can more easily be scratched or pierced by a young dog’s really sharp teeth. A puppy may bite us the same way he would play bite another dog not realizing that he can hurt us. So, not only do dogs need to learn how to safely play with one another, they need to learn how to play with their human family as well.
Secondly, human voices do not always mimic a canine sound. So, when we say “ouch” or try to yelp like a dog might, your puppy may not understand what it means. In fact, any loud sound or erratic motion you make may make your pup think you are trying to engage with him. So he is more apt to play and bite harder. But if you just stop, and move away, he may realize that the game is over.
What to Do Instead of Yelping
Probably the most important thing to do is to simply back away and don’t engage with your puppy when he bites. Don’t flap your arms or make loud noises as this will only egg him on. Mothers and older pups will simply ignore a younger pack or family member who tries to bite too much. They will move away and ignore him. This signals that they do not want to play. If the young pup persists, however, he may get a growl, swat, or be pulled back by the nape of his neck.
Substitute a Toy for Your Hand
Try to get into the habit of carrying a small chewy type of toy in your pocket or on the coffee table. As soon as your pup tries to bite your hand, calmly move away, flatten your hand and hold it in front of his face quietly saying “no”, and give him a toy. This lets him know the type of things he is allowed to bite and chew on.
Young puppies, just like children, go through a teething stage as their puppy teeth get replaced with larger, permanent ones. So having something to chew on is natural and needed to help them through this process. Just make sure it is not your fingers they are gnawing on!
Rawhide chews, soft rubber toys, tug of war toys, and durable stuffed animals are all good choices for your pup and will give him some variety. Be sure to see my page for recommended toys that are safe and durable. Tug-of-war rope toys can be dangerous as the strings can be swallowed and get wrapped around your dog’s intestines. However, there are many other forms of toys that are great for playing tug-of-war.
Offer High-Value Treats
Train your dog to lick instead of bite you. Do daily training sessions by getting a pouch of boiled or grilled turkey or chicken pieces and sit down with your pup. Put a couple of pieces of the treat in your hand and make a fist. Then extend your fist to your puppy. He will be more interested in sniffing and licking than biting. So, when he licks, say a consistent word like “yes!” or “good!”, open your hand and give him a treat. This will need to be repeated several times for a couple of weeks until he gets the idea that licking your hand is better than biting. If he tries to bite, move your hand and the treats away. Game over!
Another option is to distract your puppy from biting by doing some training sessions with him. Work on basic obedience skills like sit, stay, come, and lie down. Taking him to a new puppy class such as AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy obedience training will help a lot so he can learn more about socializing, good manners, and basic commands.
See this great video from the trainer, Zak George who demonstrates several of these and other techniques.
You can also try to use clicker training to reinforce acceptable behavior. A training clicker is a small plastic rectangular piece with a soft piece of metal embedded that will click loudly when pressed. It is a sharp, distinct noise that your dog can hear from a distance. It is used to precisely mark the exact point when your dog does something right, such as licking your hand instead of biting. This should be followed immediately with a high-value treat like chicken, hotdog pieces, or cheese.
It may be awkward to hold the clicker in one hand while you hold a fist full of treats with the other. But if you are already clicker training for other behaviors, it may be worth a try.
Keep Your Fingers and Hands Away from Your Puppy’s Mouth!
This should go without saying, however, it is often not possible to stop your puppy from biting you. But think about how you interact with your dog. Are you giving him treats with your fingers or in a semi-closed hand? When you pick him up, try to wrap your arms around his body, under his chest, and rear in a way that he cannot bite your hands.
You can also disarm your pup by picking him up and rolling him over on his back for a good tummy rub. Try not to let your face get too close to his mouth and be on guard when relaxing on the sofa!
You can also try deterrents like spraying something bitter-tasting onto your hands and arms. You can also squirt water from a water spray bottle or air from a can. These can be stop-gap actions if you are really tired of getting bitten and scratched. Your puppy will learn that biting you is not so much fun. But positive reinforcement training will probably make the biggest impact over time.
How to Protect Yourself from Ankle Biting, Hyper Pups
Sometimes puppies just get too wound up and start biting you and everyone else around. Like an overly tired two-year-old kid, they are probably ready for a nap when they get naughty! They may run around and try to bite your ankles or clothing if they can’t reach you any other way. But again, just as you would protect your hands and face, stand still or take a step back easily and quietly. Don’t engage and let your pup know you do not want to play. You can also drop his favorite toy on the floor. When he gets distracted with it, you can move away.
Then give your pooch a time out in his crate for several minutes or more. He may fall right to sleep. This should not be a punishment, but simply a time for your puppy to rest and calm down.
He might also need to just run around in the backyard for a few minutes to kick out some of his pent-up energy if he has been cooped up for a while. Or he may be acting out because he has to pee or poop.
If you need to protect small children or guests from your nipping pup, keep him near you on a leash with treats in hand. You will not be able to train your dog overnight, so precautionary measures are always wise.
Rescue Puppies May Need a Little More Help
Puppies who are taken away from their mothers when too young or raised in neglectful situations that did not allow them to socialize may need more time and help. Some dogs are isolated from birth and never get a chance to play with other dogs. Others have needed to learn how to defend themselves at a young age and will sometimes bite because they are afraid.
These dogs will need some help with their transition so they can begin to feel safe before you will be able to stop your puppy from biting. Also, they may not know how to play and won’t even know what a toy is. Giving these special pups extra space, patience, and kindness will help build trust. In time you can introduce them to toys and teach them to play. Be sure to see my post, How to Play With a Rescue Dog for more information.
Chewing and play-biting is a totally normal thing for your puppy to do. You just want to save your fingers and re-direct your pup to chew on acceptable things and understand that biting you is not one of the options.
Be patient, and consistent, and use positive reinforcement. Punishment or yelling will only make your dog more fearful and confused. Stopping your puppy from biting may take several weeks, even months to fully control. But he will learn and you will be able to stop your puppy from biting. And, if all else fails, remember that his super sharp baby teeth won’t be there forever!