So you want to learn how to stop a puppy from biting? Fear not! You are definitely not alone. The vast majority of puppy owners struggle with some amount of biting from their new companions, the severity of which can range drastically from gentle gnawing to breaking skin.
Take solace in knowing that you are not alone, and that you have a number of solutions to teach your puppy to reduce this frustrating behavior. To achieve the greatest success rate for any behavioral change, there are a number of steps you will need to take:
1. Address the source.
Dogs don’t do anything without a reason, and even the simplest behaviors have some type of source. If we don’t address the cause of a behavior, the dog will express that need in some other way.
For example: Spot is going through teething and begins chewing on his owner John’s hands. John reads online to spray the puppy with a water bottle when he bites, and begins doing this. Now instead of the puppy biting John’s hands, Spot begins chewing on the wooden coffee table to alleviate his teething pain (never mind the number of other complications punishment can cause). Because our fictitious dog owner failed to address the reason for Spot’s biting, teething pain, the dog moved on to a different outlet for his needs.
Teething is not always the cause of a puppy biting. Because dogs lack opposable thumbs, they interact with their surroundings using their mouth. As puppies learn how to play, their interaction with other puppies teaches them how to avoid biting their playmates too hard – this is known as bite inhibition.
You can teach your puppy bite inhibition, but it will be a long and painful process. When at all possible, ensure your dog is given time to interact with other puppies around the same age. Letting other dogs teach your puppy bite inhibition reduces the amount of time you have to spend as a pincushion.
If your dog is never given the opportunity to properly learn bite inhibition, either from you or play with other puppies, it can seriously disrupt their ability to interact with other dogs in the future.
2. React properly to the behavior.
When your dog is learning bite inhibition it’s important for you to give them the right feedback. Because biting is an attempt to initiate play, and play is an attention seeking behavior, any attention they get will reinforce them for biting (and make it more likely to happen again).
Some common reactions that actually reinforce a puppy biting include: yelling/screaming, flicking the nose, saying “no”, and spanking the puppy. Thats certainly not how to stop a puppy from biting you. To avoid accidentally reinforcing a puppy for an undesired behavior you should remember that we want to give the Least Reinforcing Scenario, or LRS for short.
In this situation, the best LRS would be to calmly remove your hand from their mouth, get your hands out of range, and wait quietly until the dog has stopped trying to chomp on you.
3. Give your pup an alternative behavior.
Rather than being chewed on repeatedly, the best course of action for avoiding getting bitten is to simply play with something the dog can actually bite! Instead of prompting play with your pup by roughhousing with your hands, grab a soft toy (rope toys work great) and use that to play with them instead. If they do begin biting, simply ensure we are reacting properly and redirect their attention back to the toy.
Make sure they have plenty of toys to chew on, and when they want to play encourage them to use their toys rather than your fingers. By giving them an alternative to chowing down on your hands you give your dog an opportunity for reinforcement, with that reinforcement being you continuing to play with them.
Your dog wants to play with you, and with a little trial and error (and the right feedback) they will learn two important lessons. First, when a puppy bites your hands or your fingers you will stop playing. Second, when they play and chew on a toy they get to continue playing. All it takes to get your dog on the right paw is a little bit of time, and patience. Give them the proper feedback, be understanding of their needs, and give them an opportunity to learn how they should be playing instead of always telling them how they shouldn’t.
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