There are several popular methods for stopping your puppy biting, but in reality not all of them work well. At least not for every puppy! You can make a sudden noise or ignore your puppy when it bites you, but some puppies will carry on regardless. Others are even encouraged by your squeals of pain! Physical punishment, like giving your puppy a tap on the nose or holding their mouth shut, might cause a temporary pause in the behavior. But it is neither ethically sound, nor the best way to stop the problem. The best way to stop your puppy biting is through supervision, distraction, containment and training.
Conflicting advice on how to stop your pup biting
Many articles will tell you to ignore a puppy when he bites and to offer him a toy instead. Yet others will tell you to squeal loudly and put your puppy in ‘time-out’. Some people will tell you to punish your biting puppy. Others will tell you that you must not stop your puppy biting too suddenly, or punish him for biting, for fear of drastic consequences later.
So who is right, and who is wrong?
Does ignoring stop your puppy biting?
Many new puppy owners try to ignore the biting puppy initially. And soon find that this doesn’t work. This failure tends to be for one or more of the following reasons.
- They don’t persist for long enough
- They inadvertently ‘incite’ the puppy to start biting again (through play)
- They don’t sufficiently supervise the puppy with their children
We’ll have a look at these in more detail in a moment. But what about the ’squeal’ method?
Does noise stop puppy biting?
There is no doubt that a sufficiently loud squeal, followed by immediate withdrawal of attention, will cause many Labrador puppies to break off from biting. Sometimes long enough for a skilled owner to then redirect the puppy into a more appropriate activity. There is also no doubt that for some puppies, this has the reverse effect, and causes them to bite harder and more fiercely.
A puppy that has spent sufficient time with his Mum, may be more likely to take heed of this verbal warning, as he will expect it to be followed by a sharp click of her teeth and a fiercer rebuke if he ignores her. But there are no guarantees here. And the fact is, squealing simply does not work as an effective anti-biting strategy, for some puppies.
Punishing the puppy to stop biting
I have heard, even quite experienced, breeders tell new puppy owners to punish their puppy if he bites.Either by intimidating the puppy with an angry growling voice, or even with physical punishment such as a scruff shake or slap. This can ‘work’. But there are problems with this approach.
Many experts believe that puppies should learn to mouth or hold on to human’s gently, before they are taught not to bite altogether. This process is called bite inhibition. And the use of punishment may curtail all biting rather than just the hardest, most painful, bites.
Nowadays many people like to train dogs without punishment. And there are strong reasons for joining them – check out this article – the downside of punishing dogs.
Teaching puppy to stop biting
Why would we want to teach dogs to bite humans gently? Why is it not best to teach them not to bite at all, right from the start? The idea of reducing biting gradually was popularised by Ian Dunbar. The theory is that a dog which learns to inhibit his bite (i.e. to bite without force), will be less likely to harm a person if he bites later in life (in play or when frightened or injured for example).
You can read more about bite inhibition here: Labrador Puppies Biting. The concept is a sound one, and most canine behaviorists agree that teaching gradual bite inhibition is a good thing.
The problem for many new puppy owners, is stopping those painful bites in the first place! If ignoring the dog doesn’t work, and squealing doesn’t work, what are you supposed to do? The first step is not a technique at all, but an adjustment in the expectations that we have of a small puppy
How much do Lab puppies bite?
New puppy owners tend to have false expectations of puppies. This includes anticipating that biting will be minimal, that it will not hurt much, and that it won’t be accompanied by snarling. They also anticipate that stopping a puppy from biting will be a fairly quick and simple matter. None of these expectations is true.
Most puppies bite hard, frequently and growl fiercely whilst they are doing it. This noise is not a sign of aggression (see Help my puppy is aggressive). Stopping a puppy from biting is a process, a journey. And it can be temporarily an uncomfortable one! It is important to accept that there is no guaranteed way of stopping biting immediately. Indeed, as we have seen, bite prevention (rather than inhibition) may be a bad thing in any case.
Supervise your puppy around children
Once you have got your head around the fact that this process will take some time, that it will be a gradual thing, you need to think about how you are going to protect any children that might come into contact with the puppy. This is important because small children can, both hurt and, be hurt by small biting puppies. Barriers like baby gates and a cosy dog crate help to keep puppies and little children apart when you can’t supervise closely.
Calm your puppy to stop him biting
The next priority is to keep your puppy calm. Overexcited puppies bite harder and more frequently than less excited puppies. If your puppy is a really enthusiastic biter, don’t engage him in rough and tumble play. This will merely start the biting up all over again. There are lots of ways to interact with puppies without physically playing with them. Check out our article on playing safely with your dog.
What to do when a puppy bites
When your puppy bites you really hard, take immediate action. Don’t wait to see if he does it again. Stand up, move away from him and completely withdraw your attention. You can try the squeal thing if you want to. This works well with some puppies. Expect that he’ll try again. Be ready for it, and repeat your actions.
If the puppy chases after you, biting at your legs and feet, step over a baby gate, or pop him in his crate for a few minutes. You can read up on this process in more detail in this article: How to cope with biting. It is simply a case of ‘rinse and repeat’ until the puppy learns that hard bites are unacceptable.
Remember, puppies enjoy chewing, and teething puppies need to chew on something. Whilst you and your clothing are not suitable chew toys, you need to provide your puppy with alternatives, like Kong toys.
How to stop your puppy biting
- Biting is normal
- Biting should be inhibited in stages
- Training takes time
The key points to take away from this are that biting is normal, and that training a puppy not to bite takes time. Stop the painful bites first, then work on putting a stop to mouthing. If what you are doing is not working, you probably just need to be more patient and persistent. If your children are suffering, you need to separate and supervise.
Work hard on keeping your puppy calm – it makes the biggest difference.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website