Puppy Biting: Why Nothing You Try to Stop the Biting Works

Attention, struggling puppy parents! Do you have a bad case of the puppy blues?  Check out this free guide.

why you can't get your puppy to stop biting

Your puppy bites. Constantly. Your hands, your feet, your clothes, your hair, your children, your other pets.

And everything you’ve been told to do -making a yelping noise, walking away, punishment, etc.- just makes it worse.

You feel bad because you want to love this puppy and enjoy your time with them. You really do! But they make it really hard.

You feel like you spend 90% of your time saying “no, don’t do that!” (And you don’t know why you bother, because the fluffy little hell-spawn never listens to you, anyway)

So what does that mean? Does it mean you’re just bad at this? Does it mean you actually adopted a horrible evil mutant puppy who’s somehow immune to training?

None of the above.

The issue is with the training methods themselves.

Yes, ALL the methods. From old school punishment and dominance to “modern” positive training approaches, like the yelping/ouch thing.

You’re not imagining it: they CAN make the problem worse.

Strap in, friend, because we’re gonna go on a journey together.

I know you’re sleep-deprived and overwhelmed, but that’s exactly why you should take the time to read this whole thing.

This post has exactly zero step-by-step tutorials.

I am not going to make you memorize yet another frustrating “stop biting” training technique that only sorta kinda works.

Instead, I’m going to give you something better:

Freedom from having to do any of those frustrating training exercises ever again, plus the peace of mind that comes from knowing your puppy is not evil, and they’re not a lost cause.

As we shall see, “how do I get my puppy to stop biting” is the wrong question.

There’s a better way to approach the biting issue. One that leads to less stress, a calmer puppy, and a happier you.

And it starts with asking the right question.

But first, we have to lay some groundwork.

Let’s begin.

The things that don’t work

Let’s talk about that yelping thing real quick.

This is the method where you wait til the puppy bites, then make a high pitched noise or say “ouch!”

The idea is that the noise mimics the correction another dog, like a littermate or the puppy’s mother, might give when bitten too hard.

And it certainly can work – for some mild-mannered puppies.

But for particularly, shall we say, spunky types, it just makes them say “ooh, the human makes a fun noise when I bite them! Cool!”

I raised a Belgian malinois puppy, aka an actual landshark. You can bet that making squeaky noises would NOT have made her stop biting.

This is also an issue with methods like tapping them on the nose, pinning them down, or holding their mouth shut.

Puppy parents often come to us and say things like, “saying no and tapping them on the nose worked for my previous puppies, but this new puppy just gets more crazy when I do that!”

Yep, makes sense. Your previous puppies happened to be relatively tolerant and chill (in hindsight, of course. No puppy ever seems tolerant or chill in the moment), but your new pup is a spunky one who just gets more riled up.

There’s also a variation on the yelping thing where you sit in a room with the puppy and every time they bite, you say “ouch!” and get up and leave the room. Then you come back, rinse, repeat. You have to do this like fifty times in a five minute session.

I actually taught this myself in the first edition of our Puppy Survival School program.

We eventually scrapped that method because while yes, it might technically work if you keep at it long enough, it’s such a frustrating experience that it’s hardly worth it.

And to be honest, it’s not even a method that I, as something of a dog professional, really even use for my own puppies.

Hey, that’s a good point – what do dog trainers actually do with their own puppies, anyway?

The whole biting thing is one of the biggest sources of stress for puppy owners, and with good reason! It freakin’ sucks. It was my biggest problem with my first puppy.

So puppy owners, totally understandably, invest a lot of emotional energy and focus into stopping the biting.

But when most dog trainers raise their own puppies, they don’t worry about it. I’m sure there are exceptions, but the trainers I know treat biting as a non-issue.

And trust me, it’s not because we’re all amazingly talented pros who train their dogs perfectly and never freak out about anything.

When I raised my malinois River, I was a giant ball of anxiety about many things, which you can learn all about here. It’s just that biting wasn’t one of them.

Why is that? Two reasons.

For one thing, biting is important. You actually DO want your puppy to bite:

Why do puppies bite so %#&@ing much?

I’m gonna answer that question with a question.

Why do human babies grab at things and make incoherent babbling mouth sounds?

Because you can’t grow up to be a world-class rocket surgeon or professional Call of Duty player without the motor skills you developed by grabbing your toes and trying to stick your finger in every electrical outlet you saw.

In other words, it’s an important developmental phase.

The same way babies need to grab things with their hands and make funny sounds so they can master the complex tools they were born with, puppies need to bite. Because…

Dogs have deadly weapons in their mouths. They need to learn how to control them. So that in a couple years when a toddler steps on Sparky’s tail and Sparky instinctively whips around to bite the thing that caused him pain, he bites gently instead of sending the kid to the ER.

So that’s reason number one. Biting is a normal phase. Being chewed on is basically a rite of passage for a puppy owner.

And this refers to the normal, everyday level of biting and mouthing.

But then there are the times when the biting gets extra intense and out of control. And that brings us to reason number two, which is the main point of the article.

Why “stop biting” training methods don’t work: The crazy out-of-control biting is a symptom of another problem

If your child fell off their bike and broke their wrist, would you go “ugh, how do I get this kid to stop crying? It’s driving me crazy! Is it because they don’t respect me enough?” Probably not. You would take them to the doctor to treat their broken wrist.

Or if you had a leaky pipe under your kitchen sink dripping dirty water all over your floor, would you spend weeks Googling “most absorbent paper towels,” or would you focus on getting that pipe fixed?

It’s the same with puppy biting. Going after the symptom does not address the root issue, and it can just make the symptom worse, because the more you focus on the symptom, the longer the root issue gets ignored.

So what’s the root cause?

Hyper Attack Mode

This is a term we use in our program to refer to the times when puppies get extra wild and crazy, and no matter what you do, they just. Won’t. Stop. BITING.

Signs your puppy is in hyper attack mode

  • Biting and/or jumping like a maniac
  • Biting with more force than normal
  • Crash-tackling the kids or your other pets
  • Yanking on your clothes, shoelaces, or hair
  • Barking/growling when held back from their “victim”
  • Frantically searching for things to chew and destroy
  • Even less ability to focus than normal
  • Paying zero attention to your instructions/reprimands/pleas for the madness to stop.

As shocked and dismayed as it can make you feel, don’t worry: it’s not personal and it’s not aggression.

Hyper attack mode triggers

They’re overtired and cranky. Just like toddlers, puppies get obnoxious when overdue for a nap.

Not enough exercise or enrichment. Puppies need to run and play and explore in age-appropriate ways every day.

Too much exercise. Believe it or not, this is actually way more more common than not enough exercise! Think of how a little kid might have a screaming meltdown after a couple hours running around Disneyland.

They’re confused. If your puppy doesn’t understand what you’re asking, they can get cranky. This can happen during training if you ask for too much too soon, or if your communication is unclear.

They’re frustrated because they don’t know how to get what they want. Most puppies have a hair-thin tolerance for frustration. If Sparky wants something but doesn’t understand how to get it, a bitey tantrum may ensue.

They’re handled or played with in a way that inadvertently reinforces biting. Like when all those training methods we talked about backfire, or when things like this happen.

The right question

All of those reasons have something in common:

They’re the result of a need that isn’t being met.

I think that’s the main difference between the way dog trainers treat biting and dog owners treat biting. Instead of asking “how do I teach this dog to stop biting,” they ask, “what does my puppy need right now?”

Or they focus on proactively meeting those needs so the puppy doesn’t get into Hyper Attack Mode in the first place.

So hopefully you’re starting to see that:

  • Your puppy isn’t an actual demon, they’re a normal puppy. They’re just a baby animal with a baby brain dealing with big feelings the only way they know how.
  • It isn’t just you; the traditional training approach to biting is fundamentally flawed.
  • The more you try to directly stop the biting, the worse it can get, because biting is a symptom. The longer you focus on the symptom, the longer the root issues get ignored.

This is why one of the pillars of our puppy training program is all about meeting your puppy’s needs, like their need for appropriate exercise, brainwork, rest, structured cooldowns, and clear communication.

We have a bunch of frameworks, exercises, and games designed to take the guesswork out of this process in the program.

But you can start by treating biting as communication. When Sparky gets crazy, ask yourself “what does my puppy need right now?” That will go a long way toward making biting less of a issue.

Free guide: Survive the puppy blues so you can actually enjoy life with your dog

“I knew getting a dog would be hard work, but I was not prepared for THIS.”

Sound familiar? You might be in the “What The **** Was I Thinking?!” phase.

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