10 Common Questions and Answers About Puppy Biting

Author: K. Marie Altoby K Marie Alto Updated 8 min read

10 Common Questions and Answers About Puppy Biting

Puppies are adorable, and we love every second of their fluffy, rambunctious antics, but sometimes they don't know quite what they're doing yet. They have sharp little teeth, and since they don't have hands, the primary way they interact with the world around them is with nibbles. Whether they're chewing on the furniture, nipping at your hand during playtime, or just chewing daily household objects they shouldn't, it can be an infuriating and frustrating behavior to address.

Since most puppy parents go through this nibbling phase, I decided to put together a Q&A for the ten most common questions I see about it. If you have a question I didn't answer here, feel free to ask it in the comments! I'm always here to help.

#1: Is Puppy Biting and Nibbling Normal?

Absolutely! As I mentioned in the intro, dogs don't have hands, which is something we all know, but it can sometimes not quite sink in what that means for how they interact with the world around them. They can bark. They can sniff and smell. They can paw at and dig and scratch with their toes. But, most of the time, they're going to use their mouth. They bite things, nibble and chew on them, even suckle on them if they're deep in puppy mode. Even adult dogs do this, which is why we always give them toys to play with that involve chewing and nibbling. Whether it's rawhide, a Kong filled with peanut butter, or just a plushie they can't put down, they're going to be using their mouths to handle it.

A Puppy Biting a Finger Image by Toe Beans

Well, puppies are the same way. The only difference is they're still babies, so they're still learning what is and isn't acceptable. They know they have to use their mouths to interact with the world, but they don't know what does and doesn't taste good, what is and isn't allowable to chew on, what can hurt them if they bite it and it sticks or pokes at them, and so on. They'll eventually figure out some of it – and your training and reinforcement handles the rest – but it takes time.

It's also worth mentioning that some breeds are more prone to chewing and biting than others. Cattle dogs and other working dogs, for example, tend to be a little more bitey. Anxious breeds might have a bit of an oral fixation to calm their nerves as well.

#2: Can You Train a Puppy to Stop Biting?

Of course! In fact, it's right up there, along with basic commands and potty training, as something you should get to work on as soon as you can. Puppies can be receptive to training very young, and it only takes a couple of weeks of consistency to teach them a behavior that will last their lifetimes.

Here's the thing, though: you aren't teaching your puppy not to bite. I can't stress this enough: dogs needto interact with the world, and trying to prevent biting fully is going to be impossible. What you want to stop is inappropriate biting. It's one thing to nibble on a toy; it's quite another to bite at any hand coming near that toy.

Training a Puppy to Stop Biting Image by Toe Beans

Chew training is about redirecting biting to the appropriate kinds of items. Whenever you're interacting with your puppy, and they're likely to be biting, keep a toy or chew of some sort nearby and put it at their mouth when they try. Doing this consistently to redirect their behavior is almost all you need.

It's also a good idea to recognize when biting is happening because your pup is overstimulated and it's time for a nap. The more they're taking nips at you, the more likely they just need to calm down.

#3: Is Your Puppy Biting Out of Aggression?

Almost definitely not. Puppies are energetic and rambunctious and, more than anything, innocent. They may feel scared and posture to try to scare off whatever is bothering them. They might try to mimic defensive or aggressive behavior from older dogs around them. But generally, they aren't trying to be aggressive, defensive, or territorial. They're too young for all of that.

Puppy Biting Out of Aggression Image by Toe Beans

Now, this isn't alwaysthe case. Sometimes, puppies can show actual aggression, especially if they were born and raised feral and haven't been socialized before. You'll generally be able to recognize their behavior, but it's also possible that you will need to talk to a professional about it.

#4: Why is Your Puppy Suddenly Biting?

If your puppy wasn't much of a biter to begin with, but recently they have started biting more, there are a few possible reasons.

One of the biggest is because they're teething. Puppies develop their primary teeth – the needle teeth they have as babies – around three to six weeks of age. These are sharp and usually come in without much issue, and they're the sharp and painful teeth that cause problems when you're playing with young dogs. Even then, your puppy may or may not be very mouthy at this age.

A Puppy Suddenly Biting Image by Toe Beans

When they reach around 12 weeks old, their primary teeth will start to fall out, and their permanent teeth will start to grow in. This can be an irritating and bothersome process, and your puppy might seek things to chew on simply to have something to alleviate that discomfort.

It's also occasionally possible that they're suffering some other medical ailment that is causing them pain and aggravation, which is, in turn, driving them to seek some kind of stimulus to distract or alleviate. They might also nip and snap at you out of an instinctual defensiveness. In these cases, you'll need to bring them in for a checkup to see what might be causing problems.

#5: Does Yelping When Bitten Help?

This one is a tricky question. A common piece of advice for when your puppy bites you is to make a yelping noise and pull back. Supposedly, this teaches your puppy that what they did hurt you, and since puppies are empathetic and social creatures, they don't want to do something that hurts you, and they learn that it's a bad thing to do.

The trouble is, not all puppies interpret it the same way, and a lot of it depends on the context around the noise you make. Some puppies can recognize your yelp as a cry of pain and will stop. Others might interpret it in the same way they would a squeaky toy: an interesting, compelling, and fun noise that actually encouragesmore biting.

A Puppy Biting Someone Image by Toe Beans

As with most dog training, what you actually want to do is pick a denial word. Even something as simple as "no" or "stop" is enough, and it works doubly well if you're already using that word to disincentivize other behaviors.

Part of the trick with this kind of training, though, is that you have to actually remove yourself from the situation so they can't just ignore you and keep biting. Whether that means putting them in a pen, behind a gate, or on the other side of a door, you're just clearly signaling that playtime is over because they bit.

#6: What Kinds of Toys are Appropriate to Redirect Biting?

Part of training a behavior you can't stop, like biting, is to redirect it to something that it's acceptable to bite. So, what kinds of toys are acceptable, and what aren't?

A Puppy Biting a Toy Image by Toe Beans

Avoid anything that is too hard and could break teeth, anything that doesn't bend or flex when bitten, or anything that can break into sharp edges or shards. Unfortunately, since this encompasses practically everything, you're going to have to maintain supervision. Many dog toys and chews are edible and soft, but sufficiently large bites can still cause blockages and problems. Other chews may be resilient but can be a choking hazard once your pup reaches a large enough size. Talk to your vet about what they recommend, as well.

The biggest risks of an inappropriate toy are accidental swallowing, leading to blockages in the throat (that suffocate), blockages of the bowel (leading to impaction and surgery), or perforation. All of these are obviously terrible, so be careful to watch what your puppy is chewing on, no matter how safe it claims to be.

#7: Do You Even Really Need to Train Away Biting?

This is a bit of a contentious question. As I said above, chewing and biting is how a dog learns and interacts with the world, so you can't get rid of the behavior entirely. It's just the inappropriate and excessive biting that causes problems. But here's the thing: most of the time, that's a teething thing, just a phase they go through when their mouth is changing and they're irritated. In a lot of cases, you might even think your training is working, but it just coincides with them aging out of that phase.

Training Away Biting Image by Toe Beans

Training is necessary when a puppy is excessively biting everything, but otherwise, it's often not as important as other kinds of behaviors.

#8: What Other Options Are There?

If you've tried the stern commands, the walking away, and the waiting it out, and nothing seems to work, what can you try when all else has failed?

A Puppy Relaxing Image by Toe Beans

One of the biggest revelations of puppy behavior is that, much like human children, puppies don't know how to regulate themselves and their emotions. When they're tired, cranky, overstimulated, exhausted, or they want something, they have a feeling, but they can't necessarily recognize what that feeling is or how to express it in a way that gets what they want. Biting is one of their only means of expressing themselves.

So, consider. What have you been doing, and what does your puppy need? Are they hungry or thirsty? Are they cooped up and energetic and need some outlet? Are they overstimulated and need to settle down for a nap? Sometimes, the best thing you can do is put them in a dark room where they can curl up for a nap and let them doze off.

#9: Is There Anything to Know in Multi-Person Households?

There sure is! One of the biggest challenges with training a dog is consistency. You're looking to reinforce behaviors with rewards, but to do that, you need vigilance and consistency across the board. If you are encouraging a particular behavior – or rewarding notperforming a behavior, like biting – and another member of your family is just letting it go, it becomes an inconsistent and ineffectual training method.

Mixed messages make it much harder to effectively train any behavior, whether it's potty training, a trick, or anything else.

People With Their Puppy Image by Toe Beans

It can be difficult to get children to play along, but the worst is when another adult is subverting your control and training. Everyone in the household needs to be on the same page. Otherwise, you're going to end up with a troubled and difficult-to-control dog as they get older.

#10: What's the Most Important Advice for Puppy Biting?

Everything is contextual. Every puppy is different. Some breeds have predilections for biting, while others are calmer and won't nibble as much. Some are much more energetic and prone to all manner of such behaviors, while others are more content to nap in between play sessions.

It's important to learn what your puppy's attitude is and how they respond to different kinds of stimuli and training. Sometimes, the tips you find online work perfectly, and sometimes, your puppy ignores them. Finding what works for you and your pooch is a big part of training, and learning what most motivates your puppy will help throughout their life.

Puppy Biting Image by Toe Beans

As always, though, make sure you're never physically punishing your puppy for biting or other behaviors. Physical discipline doesn't work and creates a less social, more aggressive dog.

There you have it! Ten of the most common questions I've heard – or ways to answer them anyway. If you have any other questions, feel free to let me know! You can also check the rest of this blog for a lot more dog and puppy advice, cat advice, and more. And, if you need toys, brushes, or treats or are interested in my eBook on dog training and grooming, by all means, check out my store! There's something in there for every pet parent.

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more

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