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Ouch! My Puppy’s Biting Me

Updated: Jan 14

Puppy biting

There are usually 2 reasons why puppies get ‘a bit bitey’:

  1. Over Touching

  2. Over Playing

Over Touching

Humans LOVE stroking dogs, especially puppies; they look gorgeous and their soft fur feels dreamy!  But whilst humans demonstrate affection through sustained eye contact, verbal praise and touching, it’s all a bit strange for your puppy; on Planet Pup you will never see one dog go up to another to hug, kiss or stroke the way humans do.  So, your dear little puppy, whilst probably wanting your ‘company’, may not always want your hands-on ‘contact’. 

Moreover, humans often (inadvertently) teach their pup to bite them! Most humans miss all the polite communication that pup uses to say “please stop, I’m uncomfortable with what you’re doing to me”.  The ‘Canine Ladder Of Communication’ below (original by Kendall Sheppard, author of The Canine Commandments) shows you some of those body language gestures your pup might use to ask you to refrain from what you’re doing:

The Canine Ladder Of Communication

Canine Ladder of  Communication
© Kendall Shepherd 2004

The green gestures are the pup’s very polite requests saying “please could you stop?” – but few humans understand ‘Dog Language’ so your poor pup is forced to keep escalating his/her communication (ie moving up the ladder to yellow, amber or red gestures) – to something the humans WILL understand – a nip/bite.  So, very quickly – and inadvertently – humans train their pup to bite them if pup wants to make the ‘petting’ (or other unwanted human activities) stop.   Your puppy is not being naughty or spiteful; pup is simply trying to get you to ‘stop, please‘. 

Jennifer Shyrock of Family Paws shared a wonderful video of a dog trying so hard to politely ask the the human (baby) to ‘stop please’  –  this video is a MUST SEE.  You can read the full article by Patricia McConnell here.

Consensual Contact: The 3 Second Game

Here’s a great little test you can do with your dog or pup to find out whether he or she likes the way you are petting them:  

Lab Puppy
Photo by Ryan Christodoulou on Unsplash

Try stroking your puppy for a maximum of 3 seconds – then take your hands off, completely.   Watch your puppy carefully as you do this; how many gestures did your puppy use from the Canine Ladder of Communication?  Video it – I bet you’ll spot even more if you re-watch the footage!  For example:

  • Did your puppy’s eyes widen or stare (as in the pic above)?  

  • Did pup turn his head away? 

  • Did she get more wriggly?

  • Does pup move away when you stop? 

If so, your puppy is signalling that – at this moment – s/he does not want to be stroked/petted etc.  They love you, but dont want your hands on their fur just now, thank you!  So, an easy way to stop puppy biting is to TOUCH your puppy LESS!   Or, at the very least give your puppy a choice in the interaction by introducing Consensual Contact using the “3 Second Game”. 

In my experience, when we do less petting – the puppy ‘miraculously’ does less biting!

Over Playing

The second cause of puppy biting is often down to how you PLAY with your puppy.  Usually – while best intentioned – humans play too vigorously or for too long with their pup.  For example in a tug game, try playing more gently; remember, your pup doesn’t have hands!  So, all that tension goes through his/her mouth – it doesn’t take much for your puppy’s developing jaw bones to get over-stressed. 

Also, keep the games short – and let your puppy ‘win’ after a few seconds (5 seconds is plenty!)  Then wait and see what your pup does – does your puppy come towards you to re-play?  Or does your pup take the toy to chew on or to fling about or to hide in his den?  If so, your pup may be saying that s/he needs a breather from ‘your game’ and that they’ll like to do something else for a moment, please   Your best response is to let your puppy do so. Give your puppy the choice.

When you start giving your dog or puppy choices in these ways, you may find your puppy ‘magically’ becomes a little calmer.  Choices ease frustration and that in itself creates calmer behaviour in your pup.

10 Things ‘Rover’ Wishes You Knew!

Animal Behaviourist  & Trainer, Chirag Patel gave an excellent talk at the BCSPCA called “10 Things Your Dog Wishes You Knew”.  Scroll to 20 mins for the start of his talk and to 51 mins for the bit on puppy mouthing/biting.   It’s well worth a listen – you’ll understand your pup/dog’s behaviour far better.

If you’re struggling with puppy biting or any other puppy behaviour / training issues, we can help!  Contact Joyful Dogs


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