How do I stop my puppy from biting the family?

Author: John Lockett|Print|Return
This is one of the most asked questions I receive from clients with new pups. In this article I will try to explain why puppies bite and how to transfer this behavior to good use.

Why do Puppies Bite?

In most states, puppies are not allowed to be sold until around 6-8 weeks old. That means this puppy had approximately 4 weeks of playing  games with his/her siblings. Remember, they don't have a play station or internet. Puppies play bite games.  These  are instinctual games of predator and prey, consisting of chasing one anther, biting, as well as showing threat displays. The biting and threat display are not true aggression, but, to the untrained eye, it may seem very aggressive.  Although very annoying to us, said games are very important at this stage of your pups development. If you plan for your pup to be a protection dog, said games are even more  important because it's how the pup learns and starts to build Prey Drive: "The inherent instinct to pursue, acquire and kill prey." As I said in my article "Building Prey Drive in Puppies," your pup will need this instinctual drive for most things you plan to do with him in the future be it protection or obedience.

Why My Puppy Bites ME

That being said, you bring your new puppy home. After a few hours, or a few days, it starts chasing the family. It bites your pant leg, runs off with your new shoe, or growls and pounces on the kids. Although it maybe driving you crazy, it's a good sign. A sign that says your pup looks at you as part of its family.  Remember in the last paragraph, I explained that these types of games are all the pup knows how to play just as your childen know the game of "Tag". Always keep in mind that your pup is Not showing aggression, but it is a display of pack behavior and also a form of kindergarten, like when we watch a nature show and see lion cubs play fighting or young rams butting heads....they are not trying to hurt each other. They are playing games that teach them how to do their future job and finding their ranking in the family. Know that it's your job to teach him/her how to play games that will do the same within it's new family.

Playing New Games

I have grown up with working dogs all my life. Between my family and I, we've raised over 30 litters of pups. One of the first things you learn is that pups teeth can be painful, tearing clothes, furniture, and your skin. A high drive pup can seem like a Piranha with legs. In a dog we plan to be a protector, we do not want to crush or lower this drive, we want to do just the opposite. The problem is how to keep the prey drive high and stop the pup from biting us. There are many ways I've seen people try to stop the behavior and I will first give you a few examples of the wrong way to stop it.
  1. Smacking the pup when it bites you
  2. Grabbing the pups muzzle or mouth hard.
  3. Grabbing the pup by its scruff (the loose skin on its neck) and shaking it while yelling no!!
All the above will stop your pup from biting you. But a future protection dogs or any type of dog  should not associate pain with biting or fear being hurt because of doing so. Not only is it counter productive to it's future training and bonding period with the owner, the above methods are cruel.
I like to approach the "biting me" issue by transferring the bite object/prey object from me to a rag or toy that the pup likes. Said toy should be soft and easy to bite and grip.
I always crate train my pup for house braking and the easiest way to start teaching the pup to play the new game is simple. In the beginning the pup is in the crate until it is time to go potty, I take the pup out side and let it do so. Afterwards reward the pup for pottying by giving him/her a play or bite command like: watch, get it or simply play time. Once I give the command, I break out the rag or toy and the game is on.
Now, this will not always stop the pup from trying to bite you right away. If the pup continues to bite me, I first stop my movement so that I am no longer a prey object. Then I gently grab the pups collar and pull upward until the pup lets go, while at the same time giving it a release command; out or leave it. The moment the pup releases you, the game is back on with the toy.   Over a very short  period of time the pup well not only understand the commands but will find it more fun to play tug with you, rather than biting on you.
In about 4 days you've taught the pup to stop biting you, with out hurting the drive it needs for protection, agility or simple home basic obedience.