How to Stop a Puppy From Biting

When all your dog seems interested in is your hands in their mouth, the last thing you want to do is get any closer. Unfortunately, if you want to break your dog from this undesirable behavior, you’re going to have to get up close and personal.

Mouthing Versus Biting Versus Nipping

Mouthing Versus Biting Versus Nipping

Mouthing, biting, and nipping are three behaviors that are grouped under the heading of “biting” by most dog owners. The truth is, though, that these behaviors are starkly different from your dog’s point of view.


When your dog “mouths” you, they are seeking out your attention, looking for a playmate, or bored. In any of these situations, your dog never has a negative frame of mind and is trying to initiate a positive interaction with you.

Mouthing in these instances is akin to a young child pulling on their mother’s dress trying to get her attention.

Dogs may also mouth as a means of investigating their surroundings. This is particularly common in puppies who still have so much of the world around left them to explore.

Mouthing in these instances is similar to a child picking up and touching things as they learn more about their environment.

While dog owners often refer to mouthing as biting, it is not biting in the traditional sense.


Unlike mouthing, biting is usually used as a means of avoiding or escaping your attention.

When your dog bites, they may be attempting to communicate dislike for something you are doing, they may be afraid and be biting out of a fear response, or they may be attempting to exhibit their dominance over you.

In any one of these situations, biting is done when your dog is in a negative frame of mind and you lack control of the situation.


Nipping is often referred to as biting, but it is a type of biting done with less force and with different intent.

When your dog nips they do so for one of two reasons – a warning or a prompt.

Dogs may nip as a warning because they are unhappy with what you are doing or because they feel threatened. This type of nipping can be interpreted as biting.

Small breeds are most prone to this behavior because they have few other means of defending themselves. A nip in this instance is intended to drive you away because the dog stands little chance of “winning the fight”.

These dogs are frequently called “ankle biters” because they are so small that they wind up nipping at the ankles of their target.

Dogs that nip as a warning must receive behavioral intervention immediately. This is not a behavior that can be permitted since it can escalate to more severe biting if your dog is led to think that this is acceptable. It is not advisable to try and tackle this type of nipping behavior alone as it can quickly escalate and must be nipped in the bud right away. If you do decide to try and tackle this behavior yourself with the methods outlined below, maintain a strict and consistent pattern of correction.

Some breeds of dog use nipping as a prompt. These are usually working breeds like border collies and they use this behavior to force action on someone or something. For example, nipping at a sheep’s heels will drive them forward which allows the dog to herd them.

Nipping as a prompt is an instinctual behavior and it can rarely if ever be “trained out” of a dog. This is one of the reasons why breeds like border collies are not recommended for families with small children.

A Note About Biting

A Note About Biting

Unless you have professional dog training experience, you should always seek out a trainer to help correct biting behavior. When left unchecked, biting can become a serious problem and lead to injury or even death.

If ever your dog does bite you, a friend or family member, a stranger or another animal, seek medical intervention immediately. Puncture wounds from any animal quickly lead to a bacterial infection that can cause limb loss or systemic infection.

Training Your Dog to Stop Mouthing and Nipping

Training Your Dog to Stop Mouthing and Nipping

There are multiple methods of teaching your dog to stop their mouthing behavior, whichever correction or combination of corrections you choose, be sure to remain consistent so you don’t cause confusion.


If you have already begun training your dog and they are familiar with the word “no!” then this may be the easiest approach for you to stop your dog from mouthing.

  1. When your dog starts mouthing behavior, pull your hand away.
  2. Give a firm “no!” command.
  3. If your dog goes back to mouth your hand again, repeat the “no!” and pull your hand away again.

Do not strike or physically punish your dog when giving a reprimand. Your aim is to communicate that this is an unwanted behavior not to cause your dog to fear you.

Make a Trade

Also referred to as “redirection”, making a trade with your dog redirects their attention from your hand – the thing you don’t want them mouthing – to a toy or other item that they are permitted to chew.

  1. When your dog starts mouthing behavior, pull your hand away.
  2. Pick up one of your dog’s toys and use that to distract your dog from chewing your hand.
  3. Interest your dog in the toy by squeaking it or initiating a game.
  4. Repeat this process any time that your dog tries to mouth your hand.

Your aim here is to communicate to your dog that “my hand is not okay to mouth, but you can mouth this instead.”

Step Away

If you find that your dog is mouthing you too much or simply getting too rough and not responding to efforts at correction, step away.

By stepping away from your dog, you are telling them that “this isn’t a game I want to play”. In this instance, most dogs will follow you to see if you are doing something interesting or they will occupy themselves with something else.


With younger and smaller dogs, a physical “reset” can be helpful in stopping overly enthusiastic mouthing.

  1. When your dog starts mouthing behavior, pull your hand away.
  2. Sit on the ground or sideways on the couch with your legs stretched out in front of you.
  3. Pick up your dog and gently lay them on their back between your legs.
  4. Rub your dog’s belly and give them time to settle down.
  5. Keep your dog here, still and calm, until you feel them physically relax.

Your aim here is to not only distract your dog from undesirable behavior but also to give them a chance to cool down. This is often referred to as a “time out” and it reminds your dog that you are “the boss” by forcing them to show their belly and tells them that you don’t like the behavior they were exhibiting.

Teach Alternate Behaviors

Some dog owners use undesirable behavior as an avenue to teach more desirable behavior. One example of this is to teach your dog how to “high five”.

  1. When your dog starts mouthing behavior, pull your hand away and take a treat out.
  2. Hold that treat in your hand and close your fist around it.
  3. Hold out your hand and let your dog take notice of the treat.
  4. When your dog paws at your hand, give them the treat and reward them with a “good boy” command.
  5. Once your dog has mastered this behavior, repeat the command but this time keep your hand open without a treat and hold it up in the high five position. (If your dog has trouble responding to this, try going back to the original command.
  6. Wait for your dog to paw your hand again when you are holding it in a high five position.
  7. Once your dog paws your hand, give the “high five” command and plenty of praise and reward them with a treat.
  8. When your dog has mastered this command, use it as an alternative behavior any time your dog starts to show signs of mouthing.

Your aim here is to turn an undesirable behavior into a desirable behavior. You are creating an association with your hand that your dog can recognize and find desirable.

This is a form of redirection, but instead of simply replacing the object that is being mouthed, you are changing your dog’s line of thinking. They are no longer thinking about mouthing you, they are thinking instead of how to get the treat from you.

Dos and Don’ts of Training Your Dog Not to Mouth

Dos and Don'ts of Training Your Dog Not to Mouth

When working with your dog on their mouthing behavior, be sure to avoid these common mistakes and try these easy tips to improve your success.

  • Do tell people who interact with your dog how to correct your dog’s mouthing behavior.
  • Do praise your dog for correcting their own behavior and redirecting their mouthing to appropriate objects.
  • Do call in a professional behavioral trainer at any time that you feel out of your depth.
  • Do make sure that your dog receives plenty of exercise! Dogs with too much energy are prone to undesirable behavior.
  • Do use problem behavior as an opportunity to teach obedience commands.
  • Don’t allow your dog to mouth your hands or anyone else’s at any time, doing so will cause confusion.
  • Don’t give your dog the attention they are seeking if they try to mouth you to get your attention.
  • Don’t correct your dog with force or punishment.
  • Don’t encourage behavior that often leads to mouthing. For example, don’t roughhouse with your dog if it always leads to mouthing.
  • Don’t let your dog see you as another dog. When you get down on the floor and play games like tug of war, you are acting like another dog. This encourages your dog to play with you like they would with one of their siblings or canine friends.

When All Else Fails

If you are having trouble teaching your dog to stop their problem mouthing behavior consult your dog’s veterinarian. It is possible that your dog is experiencing tooth pain, mouth pain, or has an abnormality in their mouth that is driving them to mouthing behavior. If your dog’s veterinarian gives your dog a clean bill of health, it’s time to call in a professional behavioral trainer. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.