You can teach your dog to stop play biting in as little as 2-3 weeks! All it takes is the right methods, a great training plan, and an understanding of why dogs play bite in the first place.
Puppies explore the world with their mouths. They nip, bite, and put everything they can in their mouth as part of the puppy developmental process. Younger puppies can be allowed to nip and mouth, but all play biting should be eliminated by the 16-18th week.
However, even though play biting is normal and should be allowed with younger puppies, hard bites and aggressive behavior must be interrupted at any age. At Zen Dog Training we have developed an approach to solving play biting that works fast! Using our methods, many clients see huge improvements in just 24 – 48 hours!
What is play biting?
Play biting is different than protective, reactive, or aggressive biting. Play biting is defined as nipping, mouthing, and biting that is exploratory or demand seeking in nature. Dogs explore the world with their mouths and have a natural tendency to sniff, taste, or try to eat everything they encounter as they learn to navigate their environment. This kind of exploring-by-biting behavior is part of natural puppy development and not due to anxiety, aggression, or fear.
The most common form of play biting is when puppies try to get people, other animals, and other dogs to interact with them by nipping or biting. Eliminating this kind of playful biting is actually easy. However, if the wrong approach is taken, biting can get worse! If play biting is handled incorrectly it can lead to life-long problems and future aggressive behaviors.
How to solve puppy play biting
The secret to training a puppy to stop play biting is to understand their motivations for biting and communicate with them in a language they understand. Since every dog is different and every person will have different goals and tolerances for behavior, there is no one solution to stopping unwanted play biting. This means most people need to use a combination of play biting solutions to be successful.
At Zen Dog Training we teach five different training options for reducing and eliminating unwanted puppy play biting. To solve biting, all five options will be necessary at different times and in different combinations, depending on the age of the puppy the type of nipping/biting they are doing.
There are an overwhelming amount of conflicting ideas about how to train a dog to stop play biting. It does not work to try and correct a puppy like you would a child by saying No! and giving them a stern look, if fact that attention might make nipping and biting worse.
The most important thing is to avoid techniques that depend on force, fear, pain, or startling a dog to train them. When it comes to puppy training, positive reinforcement training should be the first approach. At Zen Dog Training we go beyond positive reinforcement and ensure dogs learn there are negative outcomes for bad behavior. We teach people to stop unwanted behaviors without trying to intimidate, scare, or startle their dog. All of our gentle and effective training methods are fear-free!
Another important misconception is that people need to be their dogs “Alpha” and roll dogs on their backs, pinch them, poke them, or even bite them in a display of dominance. To learn more about why these kinds of dominance training methods should be avoided, please read our previous article Being your Dog’s Alpha.
How you intervene matters
The hardest thing for people to understand when trying to stop their puppy from play biting is that correcting them with strong eye contact, stern words or yelling at them, will make things worse. Any attention that does not result in an action (for example pointing your finger and scolding a puppy like a child) is an increase in attention and not an effective punishment. Negative attention may make nipping and biting worse, as people are rewarding the nipping puppy with more attention!
To solve play biting your puppy needs to be stopped, refocused, and even ignored. Admonishing a puppy with words, like you would a child, is not enough. Dogs only learn if there are actual consequences for their actions, as explained in the Play Biting Solution Comic.
As will all dog training, repetition and consistency is essential. You need to set up many short teaching moments every day to help your puppy learn to stop nipping. Think 10-12 training sessions-a-day for only 1-2 minutes, where nipping is interrupted and your dog is placed in situations where you can control the outcome and teach a lesson.
The secret to solving puppy play biting
Having the right tools and equipment is the “Secret” to Zen Dog Training. Simply speaking, when your puppy gets nippy, put them on a drag line. A drag line is a leash attached to their collar that they wear indoors. The drag line makes it easier to interrupt play biting and if necessary, remove and isolate your puppy.
Using a tether is another “Secret” training tool. This means tethering your puppy to a couch leg, or heavy object during training exercises to make sure “ignore” games are effective. Alternatively, when you do not have time to train, you can use baby gates, confinement areas and a crate to manage them. The faster you can control the environment, the faster you can control the outcome, and train your puppy to stop play biting by preventing, interrupting, managing, refocusing or ignoring play biting until it is solved.
The biggest mistake many people make is not leaving a collar on their puppy in the home. The collar is essential in solving play biting as it allows people to interrupt without giving their puppy more touch or attention. If your puppy gets extra attention and touch when you are trying to interrupt them, they tend to become confused to the rules and – play biting will be impossible to fix.
In order for puppies to learn to stop play biting, they need clear communication and predictable outcomes. Puppies need to learn when they bite and nip they will be stopped, isolated, ignored and repeatedly taught that nipping and biting gets them taken “Out of the Pack!”