Figuring out how to train a puppy not to bite is one of the first things pet parents want to learn when they bring home a new furkid, which isn’t surprising when you consider that a puppy’s mouth is home to 28 razor sharp little teeth that love nothing more than latching onto you, your clothes, and your furniture!
A puppy begins to explore their world in the same way a baby does - by using their mouths. And just like children, they need to be taught about the kinds of behaviors that are acceptable and appropriate and about the ones that aren’t. Biting during the teething phase is normal and helps relieve gum pain, you just want to make sure they have a healthy outlet for their biting rather than a destructive one.
If you’ve already mastered the art of how to potty train a puppy, then next up is teaching them not to bite or to only bite items that have your tick of approval. While it may feel like a daunting task, we promise you it’s easier than it sounds. To help you quickly learn how to train a puppy not to bite, we’ve pulled together five methods that will curb your puppy’s mouthy behavior.
How to train a puppy not to bite: 5 of our favorite methods
1. Teach bite inhibition
We know, bite inhibition sounds like the title of a blockbuster movie, right? It may not have hit the big screen yet (a missed opportunity in our book!) but that doesn’t matter, you can play out your own version at home.
When you teach bite inhibition to your puppy, what you’re teaching them is how to moderate the force of their bite so that they don’t clamp down on anyone in a way that could potentially cause pain or harm.
It’s incredibly important to introduce your pup to bite inhibition from a young age as once they reach adulthood their jaws become powerful enough to inflict serious damage. One biting incident is all it takes for your pooch to wind up on the dangerous dog list and can result in costly lawsuits and medical bills - things you definitely want to avoid.
If you’ve ever watched young puppies playing together, you might have noticed how a puppy will yelp if another puppy’s mouthing turns into biting. This startles the puppy doing the biting, causing them to let go, and it’s a strategy that works well for humans too.
Next time your puppy starts biting you, don’t pull away but instead let your arm or leg go limp and imitate that same yelping sound or make a loud ‘ow’ noise. When your puppy releases you, avoid making eye contact and ignore them for around 20 seconds before you reengage with them.
You can repeat this process up to three times in a 15 minute period, but if you’re finding you need to use it more than that, send your puppy for a timeout. They’ll quickly learn that biting you means they don’t get to play and this will help them learn that if they want to have fun, they need to follow your rules.
2. Redirect their biting
Some pet parents prefer to skip step one, which is focused on teaching a puppy to mouth and not bite, and move straight to step two, which is teaching them that their mouth is never to come into contact with human skin. If that feels more appropriate for you, then redirection is your best friend.
For this method, you’ll want to stock up on a few of the best puppy toys and use these to direct their biting away from you and towards a chew toy. When your puppy tries to bite you, remove your hand and instead offer them the toy. This will help them learn that biting you isn’t okay but that biting a toy is.
When they have the toy in their mouth you can also try engaging them in a game of tug-of-war, this can help make the redirection seem more fun and appealing and will condition your puppy to favor the toy and not you. Just be mindful of your pup’s teeth and jaw, which is still developing, so always make sure you tug gently.
3. Offer a distraction
While the redirection and distraction methods are similar, redirection is used as a way to work with your puppy when they’re biting you and distraction is a method to use when your puppy is biting clothes or furniture.
As with redirection, you’ll want to have plenty of puppy toys on hand - especially chew toys which will keep them occupied for long periods of time. We also recommend learning how to use Kong toys. These rubber toys have a hollow interior that can be smeared with peanut butter or another food paste and act as an excellent enrichment activity.
When you’re just starting out training your puppy not to bite, place toys and enrichment activities next to areas you’ve noticed they make a beeline for. Whether it’s the couch, a chair leg, or your bed, popping toys by spots your puppy likes to bite will entice them away from the object you don’t want them to bite and towards the objects you do.
4. Deter their biting
If you’ve tried all of the above methods and nothing seems to be working, it’s time to pull the most serious trick out of your magic bag - deterrence. In much the same way as parents will sometimes apply a bitter nail polish to stop their child from biting their nails or sucking their thumb, you can adopt a similar approach with your pup, just without the pedicure!
There are various sprays on the market these days that come in flavors like Bitter Apple and can be applied to furniture and other objects in the house to prevent your pup from biting. These sprays are non-toxic and completely safe but they have a very unpleasant taste that your baby furkid will hate.
While you can go right ahead and spray these products onto your furniture, we recommend you first introduce your pup to them so that when they come into contact with the spray, the scent alone will be enough to stop them in their tracks before they even think about biting.
The first thing you want to do before introducing your puppy to the scent and taste is to remove their water bowl for 30 minutes, this ensures that once they’ve tasted the spray they can’t immediately go and wash the taste out of their mouth. If you miss this important step your pup will learn that biting an object that’s been sprayed doesn’t matter because they can quickly wash their mouth out.
Once you’ve removed their water bowl, spray a little bit of the product onto a piece of cloth and give it to your puppy to bite into. It’s likely they’ll quickly spit it out and you can then hold the cloth up to their nose. Not only do they now know what the spray tastes like but they’ve associated that negative taste with a particular smell.
5. Reinforce good behavior
Just like us, animals learn best when they’re praised for good behavior rather than punished for bad behavior. While it may sound simple, reinforcing the behavior you want is one of the easiest ways to train your puppy not to bite.
If your puppy is biting you but stops when you command them to or if you see them going for their chew toy instead of you or your furniture, issue lots of verbal praise to let them know that they’re engaging in correct behavior.
Alongside the verbal praise, you can also use some of the best puppy treats to offer them a food reward as a way of further reinforcing the kind of behavior you want to see more of.
When your puppy is being showered with praise and offered treats when they do something good, they’ll soon learn to ditch negative behavior in favor of the behavior that gets them a reward.
Kathryn is a freelance writer who has spent the past two years dividing her writing time between her two great loves - pets and health and wellness. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with one very mischievous Cocker Spaniel, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and attempting to set numerous world records for the longest ever FaceTime calls with her family back home in NZ.