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It’s not always easy to convince puppies and young dogs not to bite the hand that feeds them, pets them, or even plays with them for that matter. Puppies use their mouths and their needle-sharp teeth to play, chew, and investigate. When puppies play with people they often bite, chew, and mouth on people’s hands, limbs, or clothing. This behavior is not intended to be aggressive, however it does get harder to break as your puppy gets older. In breaking this habit, the goal is to redirect your puppy’s chewing behavior onto acceptable chew toys and teach him to be gentle when a hand is in or near his mouth. 

Nipping While Being Pet

Teach your puppy that teeth don’t belong on human skin by substituting a chew toy or a bone whenever your puppy tries to gnaw on your fingers or toes. If your puppy tends to get excited when you try to pet him, distract him by feeding him small treats out of your hand or by giving him a chew toy. 

Feet and Ankle Nipping

If your puppy bites at your feet and ankles, carry his favorite chew toy around in your pocket. When he goes for your feet, distract him by waving the chew toy in the air. When your puppy grabs the toy, start moving again. If you don’t have a chew toy on hand, wait patiently until your puppy stops biting at your feet. Once he stops biting, lean down and reward your puppy with lots of praise and a toy. Repeat these steps until you are free to move around without a nipping puppy at your feet. 

Taste Deterrents

If all else fails, consider using pet-safe taste deterrents such as Bitter Apple. Spray the parts of your body and clothing that your puppy likes to gnaw on before you start interacting with him. If he starts gnawing on you, stay still and wait until he begins to taste the taste deterrent. Reward your puppy with praise and treats as soon as he lets go of you. Apply the taste deterrent for about two weeks. After two weeks, your puppy will likely learn to monitor his biting habits. 

Discouraging Unacceptable Behavior

Discourage your puppy from unacceptable behavior by “turning off” any attention or social interaction towards your puppy when he nips. This teaches your puppy that nipping has unpleasant consequences. As soon as your puppy nips you, yell “OUCH” as if you were seriously wounded. Then ignore him. Leave the room if you have to (only if the room is “puppy-proofed”), but ignore your puppy until he is calm. Once he is calm, you can pay attention to him. 

Never slap, hit, or use any other forms of physical punishment to discourage your puppy from nipping. These harsh methods are guaranteed to backfire and can cause fear and aggressive behavior. Nipping is a normal behavior in puppies and young dogs and should be handled with the utmost patience and understanding.

Avoid waving your fingers and toes in your puppy’s face to entice him to play. Doing so will encourage your puppy to nip at your hands and feet.

Avoid jerking your hands and feet away when your puppy nips you. This will only teach your puppy to leap forward and grab at you. Letting your hands go limp is a much more effective method. 

With adolescent dogs, the process is very similar to that with a puppy. If your adolescent dog starts play biting, make sure they are receiving enough exercise daily. 

Also try providing them with enrichment such as Kongs and other mentally stimulating toys. For more information on canine enriching activities, please see our canine enrichment page. 

If you would like information from an Anti-Cruelty Society Behavior Specialist regarding this behavior topic, please call 312-645-8253 or email help@anticruelty.org.

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