Getting a new puppy is always exciting, but with your new family member comes new responsibilities and, occasionally, some not-so-fun dog behaviors like biting and nipping. You want to quickly stop your puppy from biting hands and feet.
Any new puppy parent can attest that while puppies are undoubtedly cute and cuddly, their little puppy teeth are not.
Many puppies, especially those with herding breeds in their pedigrees, use their teeth on their owners’ unsuspecting fingers and toes.
Why is your puppy nibbling and biting?
It’s easy to get frustrated and wonder, “Why does my dog nibble my feet” or “Why is my dog nibbling me?”
The answer is simple. Similar to babies, puppies like to explore the world with their mouths.
Any new parent can tell you that human babies experience a phase where everything from toys to car keys will end up covered in baby drool.
This is an essential developmental stage in which human babies discover the world around them, and the same logic applies to your pup.
Puppies and human babies have something else in common, too: teething.
Puppy baby teeth emerge at around six weeks of age, and chewing can help relieve some of the uncomfortable swelling associated with teeth coming in.
A puppy goes through another teething stage at about 17 weeks when their adult teeth erupt, and chewing and biting can again begin in earnest.
Furthermore, puppies in a litter use their teeth to communicate and play with one another, so it’s perfectly reasonable that they would rely on the same strategy to engage with the feet and hands of their owners.
Whether your puppy feels playful, over-excited, uncomfortable, frustrated, or wants your attention, using their teeth effectively expresses those emotions.
Why you should put a stop to biting behavior
While baby teeth and general puppy bites might seem innocuous, you certainly don’t want your puppy to grow up thinking that biting is OK.
Adult dog mouths and potential dog bites are no joke, even if they’re meant to be playful. You want to teach your puppy to be considerate with the chompers, a strategy known as bite inhibition.
It’s super important that you stop puppy biting early, no matter your pooch’s motivations.
If your dog learns that using their teeth is acceptable communication, they may also use them to express anger or fear — which could lead to significant consequences for you and your dog.
What you shouldn’t do
You don’t want to encourage your puppy’s biting behavior accidentally.
Specific reactions to puppy biting may reinforce it, even if that isn’t your intention. For example, if your pup nips your toes, you don’t want to pull your feet away quickly.
Dogs might incorrectly perceive this quick, jarring response as teasing or playful.
Here’s another common mistake: you don’t want to give too much attention to the bad behaviors, so do not scold your pup or bop them on the nose when they nip.
Most importantly, you don’t want to spook or hurt your puppy for doing something that feels natural.
How to mitigate biting
Here are seven techniques to help redirect and train your puppy to stop biting your hands and feet when they nip you.
As was mentioned above, pulling your hands and feet away too quickly could seem playful. Instead, don’t move.
Give a little puppy-like yelp so your puppy understands that the biting hurts. This is how other puppies would respond in the litter. If your puppy continues to bite, leave the room.
Redirect with a toy
Always try to keep one of your puppy’s toys nearby. If your puppy starts to nibble at your hands or feet, introduce the toy as a distraction.
Balls, chew toys, and stuffed Kongs all make excellent substitutions, especially if you think your puppy may be going through a teething phase.
For herding breeds, you want to give them space to run and something to chase. Whether your puppy has the urge to chew or is looking for attention, the toy should meet that need instead of your poor fingers.
Exercise your pup
Babies have a lot of energy like toddlers, so you want to ensure they have plenty of time to run and play daily.
Nipping behaviors, especially at night, are often linked to under-stimulation throughout the day.
Introduce other dogs
Humans can’t communicate with puppies the way other dogs can. If your pup wasn’t raised with its litter, you might need other dogs to help teach your puppy some fundamental lessons.
Usually, puppies learn basic bite inhibition from other puppies. Another dog can naturally help teach your puppy when they bite too hard.
Look for certain times of day when the biting behavior is an issue, such as when you get home from work or around meal times.
Consider if your pup is being aggressive about the nipping, and try to address the variables feeding that aggression.
Consult your vet and ensure your puppy is OK because sometimes discomfort or pain can lead to aggressive behaviors in dogs.
If you can narrow down the stimuli or the timing, your interventions can also adapt.
Use positive reinforcement
Your puppy must learn that biting is bad; it’s just as significant that they understand that not biting is good.
Experts have found positive responses, like treats and praise, are far more effective training interventions.
Negative reinforcement often leads to increased anxiety in dogs. Praise your pup and show affection when they stop biting at you.
Any good dog owner knows that consistency is the key to training.
Ensure that everyone in your family knows what to do if your puppy starts biting at hands or feet.
One individual unintentionally encouraging bad behavior — dog-biting feet, legs, hands, or fingers — can undermine everyone’s progress.
Bottom line: Stop puppy from biting hands and feet
It’s never OK if your puppy feels comfortable biting you. It may seem cute or playful when they’re young, but it’s far less endearing when they grow up.
Nibbling behavior can be frustrating.
You must also treat bad bites seriously — if your puppy accidentally breaks the skin, the wound can quickly become infected.
And remember that you’re not alone! Puppy biting is super common, and asking other dog owners and professional trainers for guidance is perfectly OK.