Getting a new puppy is enjoyable. However, it also requires caring for them and addressing 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.
Puppies, especially from herding breeds, bite their owners’ 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. A puppy biting feet is natural.
Babies drool on everything, like toys and car keys, during a certain phase.
This is a critical stage where babies and puppies explore their surroundings and learn about the world.
Puppies and human babies have something else in common, too: teething.
Puppies get their baby teeth at six weeks old. Chewing can ease the discomfort of teething.
A puppy begins teething again at approximately 17 weeks. This is when their adult teeth start to come in. As a result, they begin to chew and bite more frequently.
Puppies in a litter use their teeth to communicate and play with each other. It’s normal for them to do the same with their owners’ feet and hands.
When your puppy is happy, hyper, uneasy, annoyed, or wants attention, they use their teeth to show it. But it can be painful because puppy baby teeth are sharp.
Why you should stop 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 thinks using their teeth to communicate is OK, they might use them to show anger or fear. This could have severe consequences for both 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 harmful 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.
Breeds prone to nipping and biting
Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, and Corgis are herding dogs that often nip at their owners’ heels and playfully bite.
I struggled to get Nutmeg, my Pembroke Welsh Corgi, to stop nipping at my ankles and feet. As a puppy, she was terrible at attacking bare feet.
Like a toddler, she was more likely to try to bite during the witching hour between 5 and 6 p.m. She also was prone to nipping when she wanted something.
It wasn’t a good way to communicate, but she often tried to attack my feet when hungry or wanted to go outside to potty.
Tips to mitigate biting
Your puppy must learn that biting feet is bad; it’s just as significant that they understand that not biting is good.
Here are seven techniques to help redirect and train your puppy to stop biting your hands and feet when they nip you.
As mentioned above, you could seem playful by pulling your hands and feet away too quickly. 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.
Use playtime as training time for pets.
Toys like balls, chew toys, chew bones, and stuffed Kongs are great alternatives for teething puppies.
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.
Be cautious about using tug toys or playing tug-of-war because that can encourage biting habits.
Exercise your pup
Puppies 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 their littermates. Another dog can naturally help teach your puppy when they bite too hard.
Finding a playmate and using play sessions can help encourage good behavior.
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, you can adapt your interventions.
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 rewards, 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 your hands or feet.
One individual unintentionally encouraging bad behavior — dog-biting feet, legs, hands, or fingers — can undermine everyone’s progress.
Use patience and, if needed, time-outs.
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. Don’t yell at your dog or strike it if you feel frustrated. Instead, you may want to put your puppy in her crate until she calms down. She might need a nap.
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 common, and asking other dog owners and professional trainers for guidance is OK.
Sara B. Hansen has spent 20-plus years as a professional editor and writer. She’s also the author of The Complete Guide to Cocker Spaniels. She decided to create her dream job by launching DogsBestLife.com in 2011. Sara grew up with family dogs, and since she bought her first house, she’s had a furry companion or two to help make it a home. She shares her heart and home with Nutmeg, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Her previous dogs: Sydney (September 2008-April 2020), Finley (November 1993-January 2008), and Browning (May 1993-November 2007). You can reach Sara @ firstname.lastname@example.org.