It’s one of the most common frustrations that new puppy owners have…
And it’s also one of the most misunderstood.
It hurts, they can ruin your clothes, and it’s tough to cuddle with your little furball when all they wanna do is bite your nose!
To help understand more about puppy biting and what new puppy owners can do about it, I asked professional dog trainer Ian Stone from Simpawtico Dog Training to give us the lowdown on it.
He’s going to help you understand:
- Why puppies bite (it’s a natural thing that all puppies do)
- How to stop puppy biting
- Common mistakes that new puppy owners make when it comes to puppy biting
You can watch the video interview with him below, or if reading is more of your thing, you can dive into the written version below that.
Puppy Biting Explained & Handled [VIDEO]
In order to fully understand puppy biting, it’s important to start with why puppies bite.
Why Do Puppies Bite?
In the early ’70s and late ’80s, Stanford and some other universities did extensive studies on puppy behavior.
Do you know what they found?
Puppy biting is one of the most common things that all puppies do!
Therefore, it must be important, right?
So here’s the reason why…
Puppies bite to learn acquired bite inhibition, or ABI.
Acquired Bite Inhibition (ABI)
ABI is the automatic inhibiting of a dog’s bite force.
It’s like a governor on your car.
A governor doesn’t allow you to go over a certain speed because it’s bad for the car.
In the same way, ABI is an unconscious inhibition that stops dogs from biting with all their might.
Have you ever seen two dogs wrestle?
They always have their mouths on each other, but sometimes it’s a wonder that they don’t tear each to bits with their big, sharp canines and their strong jaws.
That’s because they have proper ABI.
Now let’s look at a human example that Ian gave.
Say there’s a dog sleeping on the ground.
A toddler runs by and steps on the dog’s tail, waking them up and scaring them.
When a dog is suddenly scared awake from a nap because someone stepped on his tail, his first inclination might be to bite whatever little creature stepped on it.
But if the dog has proper ABI, then he’ll most likely just mouth the toddler, instead of actually biting them.
See how important ABI is?
Now, a key thing about ABI is that there’s a window of opportunity for it to develop.
That window is 4.5 – 6 months, and if a puppy hasn’t learned how to control their bite force by the time the window closes, then it’s bad news.
Unfortunately, the only way a puppy learns how to control their bite force is to bite.
How Puppies Learn To Control Their Bite Force
When puppies are with their littermates, they have playmates with them 24/7.
And since we already know that puppies bite a lot, you can bet there’s a lot of puppy biting going on in that little puppy pen.
But let’s take a hypothetical look at two puppies in particular.
These two puppies are playing together and one decides to take a nip at the other.
Since they have razor-sharp teeth, this hurts the other puppy!
He yelps and walks away, and the puppy who did the biting is heartbroken.
He was just playing!
Eventually, he convinces the other puppy to come back and play with him.
This time when he nips him, he just mouths him, and they continue to play.
This happens every time puppies play together and is how they learn to control their bite force.
But what happens when we take that puppy from her litter and plop her into a home full of humans?
“Help, my puppy won’t stop biting me!”
Puppies and adult dogs are great at giving bite force feedback.
But humans? Not so much.
This is one reason it’s important to not take puppies away from their litter too early.
It’s also another reason it’s so important for puppies to be enrolled in a puppy kindergarten or socialization class where they can continue to get feedback from other puppies about their bite force.
It’s to be expected that your puppy will bite a lot, and if you want your puppy to have proper ABI, you may need to sacrifice a finger or two.
Just kidding, but you do need to expect to put up with the biting to a degree.
As Ian says, “You’re training bite force, not bite frequency.”
But let’s address the real reason you’re here…
4 Ways To Stop Puppy Biting
Like I just said, it’s more important that puppies learn to bite less hard than less often, but here are four ways to help teach ABI and eventually stop puppy biting.
1. Socialize your puppy
Puppy socialization classes are some of the best ways to teach ABI.
Playdates with adult dogs that you know are vaccinated are also good ways to socialize your puppy with other dogs.
2. Let your puppy know that their biting hurts
When puppies get bit by their littermates, they yelp to let them know that it hurts.
When your puppy bites, let them know that it hurts by crying out, too.
It’s important to note here that you don’t need to pretend that you’re a puppy, you’re not fooling anybody.
Also, sometimes you crying out can excite the puppy even more.
Which leads us to the next tip to stop puppy biting…
3. Remove yourself from the situation
If your puppy is biting you uncontrollably, leave the room or playpen.
There’s nothing your puppy wants to do more than play, and when you leave you’re teaching them that too much biting means no more playing.
4. Exercise your puppy
If your puppy is biting too much, it could be that they’re not stimulated enough.
If they have pent up energy and haven’t learned ABI or that they’re not supposed to bite you incessantly, that’s a recipe for disaster.
To physically stimulate them, play with them (using a flirt pole like this can help you keep a safe distance), take them on walks, or run around the backyard with them.
To mentally stimulate them, give them puzzle toys or frozen kongs, and train them.
Pro-tip: be patient
Remember that this process can take a long time (6 weeks or more), so be patient.
It’s natural for your puppy to bite, and they will stop biting so much eventually, so try to not let it bother you so much.
Now, onto some fast facts and mistakes about puppy biting…
Puppy Biting Fast Facts
- Puppies have sharp teeth so that they can elicit a reaction from their littermates and other dogs. Their jaws are so weak at this point that they’d probably not get a reaction if their teeth were duller.
- Puppy biting and teething/chewing are separate issues. Puppies bite to develop ABI, they chew because their mouths hurt due to their adult teeth coming in.
- Acquired Bite Inhibition is learned in the first 4.5-6 months of a puppy’s life. After that, they can not really learn to control their bite force.
- Other puppies and adult dogs are best at giving bite force feedback.
Puppy Biting Mistakes
- Getting mad or impatient that your puppy is biting. Remember, it’s natural for puppies to bite and it could take six weeks or more for them to stop biting so much,
- Using a squirt bottle or other ways of punishment to stop puppy biting. Remember, it’s imperative that they learn ABI in this stage, so they’ll need to bite at least a little bit (plus these punishment tactics can hurt your relationship with your puppy).
- Lack of consistency. If your puppy is uncontrollably biting, leave the room. Every time.
- Lack of believing this is how it works. It’s important to have faith and keep handling the biting correctly (and not falling into the other mistakes in this list).
- Thinking you need to be the pack leader and dominate you puppy. If you do that and punish them for biting, they’ll never bite and learn ABI.
- Not knowing what to expect (or falsely expecting this will be learned in a week).
- Making comparisons to previous dogs. Every dog is different (even if this one bites like a barracuda)
- Forgetting everything in a puppy’s life is interconnected. A hyperactive puppy might be biting like a buzzsaw and you can teach them ABI, but also by diminishing energy (phsyically and mentally) it will decrease their crazy and incessant biting.
Here’s the truth about puppy biting: you don’t want to stop the puppy from biting, you want to teach the puppy to stop themselves.
You teach them that and ABI by:
- Socializing them
- Letting them know you don’t like to be bitten (crying out or leaving the room)
- Stimulating them enough so that they don’t release their pent up energy by biting you
Huge thanks to Ian Stone for helping us out with puppy biting!
To learn more about him and his training, you can do so at the links below:
- Simpawtico Dog Training on YouTube
- Simpawtico Dog Training on Facebook
- Simpawtico Dog Training on Instagram
Have any questions about puppy biting?
Let us know in the comments below!
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