Like many baby animals, puppies like to put things in their mouth to test them. Unfortunately, this can quickly become a habit of biting, and it’s one you want to break early! Sometimes owners of small dogs can neglect this, seeing it as less of a threat, but it’s important not to fall into this trap. Whether you have a Great Dane or a Chihuahua, your dog should never bite unless its life is under threat.
But just how do you teach your dog not to bite? It’s easiest if you start training when they’re a puppy, so we’ll start with that. Don’t worry though – we’ve got some tips for older dogs too.
Squeal Like It Hurts (Even When It Doesn’t)
When puppies are still with their litter mates, they’ll often test the boundaries of what they can and cannot do. This will often involve chewing or biting, and they use the reactions of the other puppies and their parents to judge what is allowed and what’s off-limits. You can emulate this kind of learning with your own young puppies, as long as you’re prepared to do your best yappy dog impression.
The next time your puppy bites, make a high pitched yelp sound- the kind a dog might make when in sudden pain. Make sure it’s instant – long delays will simply make it confusing. With any luck, your dog should let go immediately. Repeat this behavior consistently (and ensure others around you do the same) and you should notice that your dog learns and self-corrects.
Of course, this may not work for all dogs, especially if they’re a bit older (or if you who can’t do a convincing yelp), but there’s some other methods that might.
Firm, Consistent Training
As with most other training, a firm, consistent ‘no’ is a great place to start. There’s no need to shout as it’s the word they should be learning rather than the tone – after all, that’s why so many dog owners have to spell the word ‘walk’ rather than simply saying it! Don’t make it a big deal – if you shout, or react in a strong physical way, it will only get confusing.
Consistency is important here – anyone who interacts with the dog needs to react in the same way to enforce the training. Additionally, it needs to be instantaneous so that the dog knows which action is the problem.
As well as making sure your show that biting is bad behavior, you want to encourage good behavior. Biting is often a form of play or exploration, so try to reward other behaviors here. Rewards don’t always have to be treats – they can be more play or fusses. If your dog is exploring something by smelling it, licking it, pawing – not clawing – at it, or otherwise not biting, tell them how good they are. Equally, if they’re playing by nuzzling, chewing on objects designed for chewing, or otherwise acting in a way you want to encourage, make sure they know it!
Teach Them To ‘Drop’ On Command
Training shouldn’t just happen in the moment, however. Teaching your dog to ‘drop’ is a useful trick for multiple reasons, but it’s especially useful if your dog is a bit bitey. You can incorporate this training into a game of fetch, or anything involving a toy. Take a moment to pause, and encourage them to drop what they have in their mouth (in exchange for a treat, if needed at first). This is useful for telling them to stop chewing on things, but also for getting them used to giving you things back or letting go of something they shouldn’t be eating!
Show Them What They CAN Chew
Redirecting your dog’s energy to something they’re allowed to chew and hold on to with their teeth can give them a safe and controllable outlet for their desire. Games like tug of war are a good way to allow biting-like behavior in a specific circumstance. In order to ensure this goes well, make sure it’s on your terms, not the dogs – if they start to misbehave, then the game is over. If they’re teething, it’s important to provide things specifically for this.
Avoid Rough, Hands-Based Play
Lots of dog owners like to roughhouse with their dogs, but we recommend you avoid it if your dog is prone to biting. Don’t make your hands the focus of play – making your hands into a toy will only encourage this kind of behavior! Additionally, keep your face away from their face to avoid accidents. Children should always be supervised when playing with dogs, and you should ensure they understand the rules of play too.
Still Stuck? Consider Muzzle Training
A muzzle should not be seen as a permanent, final solution (excluding specific circumstances such as abused rescue dogs) but instead, part of ongoing training. If you are at the point where you feel a muzzle is necessary, try to find a local trainer to work on a plan with you. This may require a high level of commitment to particular methods on your part, but it will be well worth it.
Whatever you find works for you, remember to always be consistent and reliable in your behavior, and you’ll soon find that your dog takes after you – and you’ll be able to play without the risk of biting just fine!