How to discourage my puppy from biting?
May 12, 2010 8:54 AM   Subscribe

How do I discourage my new puppy from biting?

I have a 12-week old German Shepherd puppy. She generally has a fantastic temperament and I'm very happy with her. I've been using positive dog training methods (with a clicker and treats) and she responds well to this. She will come, sit, give me her paw, and lie down on command.

Still, I'm having a lot of trouble with her biting. She's not just doing standard puppy nibbling. She's biting HARD. (I'm not kidding -- she's drawn blood more than once). While her biting is never overtly aggressive (it usually happens during play or when she's frustrated), it still hurts like hell.

I'd really like to discourage this behavior without resorting to lightly hitting her on the nose or yelling at her. What are my options here? Is there a standard method used by positive dog training experts? Personal experiences/advice? Resource recommendations?

She is getting plenty of exercise and has lots of chew toys and other goodies to keep her mouth busy. While these things help to reduce the behavior, I'm looking for alternatives (and, especially, things that I CAN DO to help her out).

I have checked out some of the other threads on this topic and while they're helpful, I'd specifically like answers that are geared toward positive dog training methods.

posted by LittleKnitting to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There are some previous questions about puppy biting that may be of use.
posted by Kimberly at 8:57 AM on May 12, 2010

This worked for me:

Any time my young dog bit me, I would say OUCH very loud, and then pull my hand, or whatever, away.

Dogs WANT to fit into a pack, and this strategy gives them some negative reinforcement towards that goal.

Even now, if my dog accidentally bites during play, if I say OUCH, she'll get concerned.
posted by Danf at 9:02 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately from the perspective of peoples' dealings with dogs, biting is biting whether it happens as a result of overtly aggressive intentions from the dog's part or not.

It looks like your dog has learnt to use biting as a way to cope with over-stimulation or frustration.

Some things you can do are:

1) As soon as you are bitten, yelp like a puppy and cease all interaction (this goes for everyone around, including any other animals, even if you have to restrain them) with the dog for a span of a few minutes. Once you start interacting again, keep it calm and low key.
2) If the dog quickly ramps up again and re-initiates the behavior or just finds other mischief when you are ignoring her, do the same as above, and close her off in a quiet area for 1-3 minutes in order for her to calm down. If she starts fussing while closed off, wait for her to calm down for a moment before letting her out.

Get thee to a qualified animal trainer ASAP. Get some recommendation from your veterinarian for this sort of thing. A lot of people are qualified to teach you how to use a clicker to get a sit out of your dog and a lot of them are not qualified to deal with biting.
posted by rocketpup at 9:07 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Patricia McConnell has written about this: link 1, 2. Working with a dog behaviorist is probably a good idea.
posted by medusa at 9:32 AM on May 12, 2010

Best answer: I've been dealing with this with my puppy for the last few months and I'm getting pretty close to successfully eliminating the behavior entirely. She bites when she is playing, or when I'm concentrating on something else and she wants to get my attention to play or go outside. There are different kinds of biting behavior, so you will have to tailor your approach to the circumstances where the behavior commonly arises. Here is what worked for me.

I tried the yelping strategy at first. It never seemed to help much, and if anything, she interpreted it as me inviting her to play and bite more. Maybe I'm just not a good yelper.

I was all about positive reinforcement at first, and didn't want to use any "punishing" behaviors. I still am to an extent -- clicker training is a great tool and I highly recommend it. But it won't get you all the way. No matter how often I rewarded non-biting play, the biting was apparently so enjoyable that it was self-reinforcing, and just wasn't going to stop unless I associated something negative with it. So I started gently taking her muzzle and holding her mouth closed for a few seconds every time she bit me. Maybe 3 seconds. I don't put much pressure at all; just enough to get her still so I can look her in the eye and give her a stern no. After about a week of being 100% consistent with this, she was biting much less frequently. Now she's 5 months, and I hardly ever have to do it.

Some dogs are just more mouthy than others, and mine is a mouthy dog. I am trying to train her to have a very soft mouth, so I'll let her put my hand in her mouth and play with it a little bit. I immediately take it out and do the muzzle thing if she starts to bite down at all. My dog is part lab and they're bred to have softer mouths, so be aware that this might not work for all breeds.

I also find that it is helpful to have a bunch of small soft squeaky toys in strategic locations around the house. If she starts to get mouthy, I'll just stick one in her mouth. As soon as she gets it squeaking, she forgets that she was ever going to nibble on my toes (which lack the attractive squeaking feature).
posted by c lion at 9:43 AM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

There's other good threads about biting, but just a reminder: dogs don't inherently know that biting is bad and even in human-less packs have to be taught not to do it. It's their primary means of interacting with the world and like any little kid, they use it with enthusiasm.

Soft mouth training is a normal part of puppy-raising, and 12 weeks is still a little young to teach the subtleties since mouth/tooth pressure is probably still necessary for pain relief; redirection and objection (whatever 'hurt cry' you find that makes an impression) will be your primary tools for another month or two.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:58 AM on May 12, 2010

If the puppy bites too hard, that's a, "no," and playtime is over for a while.
posted by cmoj at 10:25 AM on May 12, 2010

when my puppy's teeth started coming in when he bit me i'd react in a really exaggerated way that i'd been hurt and though it took a little while he stopped doing it because he realized he was hurting me. i'd heard this is a problem when you get the dog too young- usually they roughhouse with their siblings and learn when they bite each other it HURTS. since you can't exactly bite your dog the way their siblings do you'll have to do your best with letting them know that it is behaviour that hurts you.
posted by raw sugar at 10:44 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with the posters above mentioning that yelping and ceasing interaction or ignoring the puppy are good strategies. What I've also done with my puppy years ago who nipped more than bit was this: any time they bite take your hand and roll their lips under their teeth. Initially you'll probably have to kind of grab the muzzle and push their lips into their teeth as they bite anything but as they realize biting hurts them too, you can kind of just hold their lips under their teeth and if they bite down they'll feel it. Hope that's clear and makes sense.
posted by premortem at 11:03 AM on May 12, 2010

Best answer: There are four to five ways that I managed to reinforce this with my extremely mouthy Ridgeback/German Shepherd cross. Two things specifically: Tapping on the nose or yelling does NOT work and should be avoided.
  1. The aforementioned wounded behavior. This doesn't always work when it's out of frustration, because at that point, she's just looking for a reaction of any sort.
  2. When she bites, wrap your hand over the top of her jaw and try to get her lips under her teeth so that when she's biting you, she's also biting her lips.
  3. Also when she bites, grab the bottom of her jaw and push her tongue down and back towards her throat/neck. She'll make sort of a 'gaak!' noise and try to twist away, but you aren't actually harming her. You should let go at that point. It's just a simple negative reinforcement. "I bite, something unpleasant happens." Just be careful about going too far.
  4. If she mouths me while we're play-wrestling, I try to fit her paw in her mouth so that when she bites down, she sees how hard she's biting ... because she's biting herself.
  5. Last but not least, cease ALL play and preferably switch to a training activity that requires discipline. I used a down/stay with a treat at the end. The treat is intended as a token for the down/stay and isn't worth biting for (i.e. a single cookie vs. a big rawhide), and is used to transition the down/stay from discipline to a rewarded positive training activity.
  6. You should probably keep these reactions separate... don't try to mix any two of them except the cessation of all play. With the cessation of play type of training, I managed to teach my very roughhouse-prone dog to play tug in a friendly way... before, she'd chomp down on your arm as readily as she would chomp down on the tug toy. I'd YELP, then stand up straight in a very non-play pose, say, "Nope! That's enough for you!" and then put the tug toy up somewhere where she couldn't get to it. After a month or two, she learned that she got to tug as long as she wanted if she didn't accidentally catch me... and these days, if she catches me by accident, she very theatrically mopes into a corner and lays down. ;)

posted by SpecialK at 11:51 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the insight, everyone! Great answers!
posted by LittleKnitting at 6:16 PM on May 13, 2010

Just wanted to chime in - my little fella is almost 9wo, and saying "Ouch!", replacing my flesh with chew toys, and the occasional "I'm going to ignore you until you calm down" are working wonders for me.

He's teething (obviously, at that age), so it's a constant struggle, but in the week I've had him, his biting pressure has dropped to a (usually) trivial level, and he's much more easily distracted to toys (despite the fact that he's chewing much more in the last half-week.

Just some hopeful anecdotal "data"!
posted by IAmBroom at 7:06 PM on May 13, 2010

BTW, be careful with physical inhibition methods like holding the muzzle shut. If applied too forcefully, it comes across as aggression, instead of mere annoyance, and can lead to more aggressive behavior in retaliation.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:13 PM on May 13, 2010

When my dog was a puppy, I'd yell, loudly, "ouch" or "ow" and push my hand or arm (whatever she was biting) back into her mouth. It was enough to get her to back off. I don't remember how long it took, but it wasn't but a week or two and she quit biting.

Don't forget - photos are mandatory! Kaylee as a puppy.
posted by deborah at 7:20 PM on May 13, 2010

Response by poster: Mandatory picture of my new puppy can be found here!
posted by LittleKnitting at 7:54 AM on May 14, 2010

I comply: Dexter Black.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:39 PM on May 14, 2010

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