My personal puppy has hit 4 months old and the velociraptor has emerged! He wants so badly to bite every ankle in sight. The biting is intense. Every pup is different. Some pups are extremely easy. You may barely notice the bitey stage. Some puppies leave you bloodied.
We've all seen the meme of the evolution of a German Shepherd. First, a cute GSD puppy, then a velociraptor from 4-36 months, and then a beautiful, mature German Shepherd dog. I'm here to tell you that puppy biting doesn't take that long to fix with the right tools and techniques. We have some tried and true tricks and tips that will revolutionize your relationship with your little velociraptor.
Before we can address the root cause, we need to understand what is fueling the fire. Common causes of puppy biting include:
● Over Excitement
● Hangry (Hungry/ Angry!)
● Dominance interactions initiated by the owner put the puppy into fight or flight.
● Prey drive (puppy play)
● Needs to potty
● It works. It gets a response. It gets a reward.
Step one is to start with a routine and be consistent.
● Consistently feed at the same times
● Schedule nap times!
○ Morning naps, afternoon naps and 6:45 PM so you avoid the 7 PM zoomies.
● Schedule potty breaks
○ Does your puppy need to go out every 1-1.5 hours or is he able to go every 2-3 hours? Less? Set a timer.
○ Remember, every time your puppy wakes up or can’t hold still, take them out to potty.
○ When a puppy is able to hold it for longer at night, they typically need to potty more often throughout the day. Adjust your routine and be flexible. They’re just a baby!
A basic routine will help eliminate the overexcited biting, the hangry biting and the frustration of needing to potty and not knowing how to communicate the need to you.
Let’s dive into my general techniques for fixing puppy biting with all of my puppies
First, I hand feed. By hand feeding in a way that teaches my German Shepherd puppies to take the food correctly and kindly from hand, they are never getting the food by putting their teeth on my skin. It will not work. Be ok with hand feeding for the first 6 months. Teach your pup to boop your palm with their nose. If they try to take the food with their teeth, close your hand into a fist and don’t allow them to “win”. Puppies do what works. If they get what they want by using their teeth, they’ll do more of it. We love the Mechanix brand gloves to protect our hands from the bitier puppies.
This video we made is a great tutorial on how to stop biting by teach your puppy how to take food correctly. https://youtu.be/7PmqEHZbAwg
Second, I require my pups to carry a Stuffed Animal Kong toy around. They desperately want something in their mouth. These toys are soft enough to feel good on their teeth but also durable enough that my puppies have not figured out how to rip them apart. If a toy is too hard, it will hurt their gums which are already sensitive because they are teething.
My kids love playing with our pups but when the biting stage hits, the kids get frustrated. When they remember to use the stuffed toy with the puppy, they all have a better experience because the toy gets bit instead of them.
Third, play a fair game of Tug A War! Puppies have so much of their life dictated. Let’s give them an area where they feel like they are in control and can win. Tug a war can do this. It can also give them a healthy outlet for their natural desire to bite things. We NEVER use it as a reward for biting us. Redirecting a puppy from biting us onto a toy will look like a reward and it will create more biting.
Tug-a-war is an outside game for me and my dogs. I like our inside time to be calm and quiet. Keep the crazy energy outside.
Keys for playing Tug A War With A Puppy
● On Leash
● On a flat collar
● With an appropriate toy for the age and stage of your puppy. Be sure the toy is not too hard or too big for their mouth.
● The toy only moves in a straight line
● When the puppy starts changing teeth, stop playing tug and give teething/gnawing toys instead. Resume tug when your pup’s adult teeth are all in.
As you move your toy in straight lines, get your puppy chasing the toy. Chase, chase. Bite and capture. The point is for your puppy to win. Don’t over frustrate them by making them chase it too much. Be sure they get to capture the toy. Then gently Tug. Keep the tugging short. Tug like the toy is trying to jump straight out of their mouth and let them WIN. This means YOU LET GO of the tug but keep the leash. Let your puppy feel like he has ripped the toy out of your hands. You have the leash in your hand. Reel your pup in like he’s a fish on a fishing pole. Keep your palms up, grab the toy's sides, and start playing tug again. Rinse and Repeat. Don’t worry about getting your pup to let go. That is losing. We’ll teach you how to do that down the road. Get your pup committed to the game. This is not about you being stronger than your puppy or taking things from your puppy. This is about cultivating a game where your puppy feels confident and powerful. Cultivate the game to the point that your pup brings the toy and pushes it into you. When you play this game correctly, it is the BEST training reward! Use the leash to keep your pup moving and don’t let them lay down and gnaw on the toy. Keep the game going.
What about when you're playing tug a war and your puppy bites you, not the toy? You have this beautiful thing called a leash on your puppy. Use it to remove them from you and all the fun ends. Let me repeat that. If teeth touch me, ALL the fun ends. They either do a down for a few minutes or I will crate them. No, they will not view the crate as punishment. The walk to the house and the attitude in which I put them into the crate is not punitive. Crating them gives them an opportunity to cool down and think about what happened and why their fun ended. Their crate is a safe and happy place. They will perceive the end of the game as their punishment. This is a very powerful way to non-reinforce biting. Biting me is the OFF-SWITCH for the game.
You’ve done all of this and you’re still struggling. What’s next? Let’s problem solving what else may be going on.
Is your puppy Hangry?
Problem: The “CRASH” You know that angry hungry emotion that comes with being hungry, blood sugar crashing, you've pushed yourself too far without refueling and you can no longer cope with the world? Your puppy experiences that as well.
Solution: Feed smaller meals more often. And evaluate your puppy's weight and consider increasing the amount of food you're feeding. The guidelines on the bag are a suggestion. They are not necessarily specific to your breed or your dog’s lifestyle, activity level, and metabolism. Adjust as needed. You should be able to feel your pup's ribs but not see their ribs. We feed our puppies 3 times a day until they are 3 month and then twice a day for life.
Is your pup Over-Excited?
Problem: There is SO much going on. Your puppy is on sensory overload!
Solution: Start Small! Try starting with smaller social situations with less people, less animals, less time, greater distance from the chaos. Set a timer. Some pups can cope for 20 minutes. Some can cope for 5 minutes. Focus on your pup having a great experience, not being overwhelmed. Then give your pup a quiet place to rest and relax.
Is your puppy Frustrated?
One cause of frustration is leash restraint.
Constant leash pressure builds frustration so puppies bite to turn off the pressure. Learning a loose leash technique is key. Kids and many adults tend to use constant leash pressure. This is punishment and the puppy does not know how to turn off the pressure so they try biting. Connect with a great trainer who can teach you how to use your leash correctly and fairly.
Over-Focusing on the tug portion of tug a war can also cause a pup to get frustrated. If they want to win the toy and you’re focused on tugging, your puppy might bite you to try and get the toy faster. Keep the tug shorter and give them faster wins. Breed matters, behavior and how a dog gets gratified varies. Example, most Belgian Malinois puppies get more gratification from the tug portion of the game than the possession after the tug. German Shepherd pups often get more gratification from winning and possessing the toy. Know your dog and what makes them tick. We can help you know your dog better and understand your specific dog’s mindset and drives.
Is your puppy Exhausted?
It seems simple but more often than not, owners don't realize the behaviors their pup is exhibiting is because he needs a nap. Remember those 7 O'clock zoomies? That's an exhausted puppy on overdrive. They don't need more exercise. They need sleep. Crate them and cultivate Schedule Nap Times. Remember to put their crate in a quiet dark space. Think laundry room, spare bedroom, garage. They will not be able to fully relax and rest if their crate is in the main living space and the house is all a buzz.
Are you engaging in Dominance Interactions that put your puppy into fight or flight mode?
We have all seen the archaic method of alpha rolling puppies, rubbing their nose in their pee and other dominance-based interactions where pet owners show their dog “who the pack leader really is.” These methods do not work. They will cultivate fear and will erode your dog's trust in you. They cause many dogs to go into fight or flight mode. I would be mortified if I knowingly put my dog in a position to feel such intense fear. We are the team coach. It is our job to cultivate confidence and trust. Likewise, are you feeding the dominance behaviors by saying “ouch” or squealing when you are bitten? If it didn’t stop the bite the first time it likely won’t.
It works. It gets a response. It gets a reward.
It’s like the toddler that knows their temper tantrum will get them the attention they desire even though it’s negative attention. Or they just enjoy hearing your scream ouch. It makes them feel powerful. As hard as it is, we can’t let it work. Wear gloves, and utilize a leash. Schedule a private lesson or a virtual lesson. Let us help you problem solve the issue.
Are you activating Prey Drive with your movements?
Waving/ flailing hands and arms activate prey drive. Push your sleeves up. Teaching children and adults to hold their hands still. When people want to pet your puppy, ask them to put their palms up and pet under their chin. If you come palm down to pet the top of their head, they will look up. Their mouth will pop open. Most people will jerk their hands back. Then your puppy will strike. It’s the exact movement prey does. It’s the exact movement we utilize in tug a war. Change the situation to help your pup be successful.
Is your pup Teething?
There is a reason it gets worse at 4 months. They are cutting an entire mouthful of teeth in 2 months. It's painful. Utilize ice cubes. Stuff your puppy size/hardness kong with a mix of yogurt and blueberries and then freeze it. These will help with the pain and inflammation. Give them safe items to chew on.
Is your wrestling/ play interactions creating biting?
We all want to play with our puppies. So often, one person in the home loves to wrestle with their puppy and allows the puppy to put their mouth on their arms or teaches them to bite their arm or legs because they want to pursue a specific bite sport. This does teach your puppy that it is ok to bite all people. It will generalize it to everyone in your household and the public and they will try to bite everyone. Use a toy!!! Teach them to bite the toy. Not you. These are the dogs that as adults continue to use their mouth. Don’t create it.
In this same vein, if you want to pursue protection/ bite sports, your puppy must know it is ok to bite things. We need to cultivate it when they are young. If you choose to correct your puppy for biting, you will get less biting. This will affect your ability to be successful in protection sports. Yes, I will absolutely correct my puppies for biting my children. But I do not correct my puppies for biting me. I non-reinforce it. And I follow the steps above to cultivate a healthy home and show them what they can bite and what they cannot bite.
You will never see a protection sport where the dog is biting the owner. NEVER. This is also not a picture we want the dog to see in real-world protection dogs or patrol dogs. So never teach your puppy that it is okay to bite you! No leg bites. No arm bites. Focus the biting on toys and let the professional decoy/helper teach your dog how to target it to the decoy when the dog is mature enough.
A small percentage of pups need to be corrected for biting. Connect with us first. If it is necessary, we will help you do so fairly and effectively.
Be intentional to pre-direct your pup to the action you want and reward it. Don't redirect from bad behavior to a toy reward.
Audax K9 Academy