How to stop your puppy from biting your hands and feet – fast!
Have you ever watched a litter of retriever puppies play with each other? It’s super cute. They are all mouths and feet as they growl, bite and paw at each other. All the wrestling and playing is simply part of the pup’s pack nature. Over time, if left to it, each pup will naturally figure out their place in the pack. However, when you bring your Lab puppy home there are no longer littermates with whom to tussle. You and your family become your puppy’s litter or pack. And the result is often that your Lab puppy will start biting and growling at you!
The problem is that puppy teeth are sharp. Very sharp! And when your puppy bites you, even if they are playing, it hurts. So, what can you do to stop this behavior before it gets out of hand and you find yourself or someone in your family injured by your puppy?
Before I go any further, I want to be clear about what we are talking about. When I talk about a puppy biting, I am referring to a puppy’s tendency to nip and mouth an owner’s hand while playing or seeking attention. If your dog is aggressive, growls at you with his/her teeth bared and the puppy’s actions feel threatening to you, this is a much bigger issue and not common for Labrador Retrievers. You should seek professional help and evaluation.
Why puppies bite and growl
Puppy play is a kind of training for a dog as they grow and mature. It is also a way that dogs determine rank within a group. Remember, dogs are pack animals. In a pack there is only one Alpha (lead) dog. Every other dog is under the authority and control of that dog. No two dogs share the same rank. So, while biting and growling starts as play, it does not stay that way. All dogs, whether in a group of dogs or a human family, want to understand their place in the family. They need to know their place. It helps they be more mentally balanced and will help solve a multitude of behavioral problems.
Once a puppy or dog understands where they rank in the pack, they often assume that place, at least for a while. Remember, they are dogs. They are not robots so occasionally they may challenge their position, but if the boundary remains clear, the challenge is short lived.
Biting, nipping and playful growling at a human can become a challenge of dominance. If your puppy is young, you can quickly and easily end this behavior by establishing boundaries and consistently enforcing these boundaries each and every time your puppy shows this type of behavior.
If you have let this behavior go on for a while, you may be in for quite a fight to take back your authority.
Biting is not the same as chewing
A puppy biting your hand or feet is not the same as a puppy chewing on a shoe, toy or other item. All puppies have a need to chew. As their puppy teeth grow and their adult teeth come in, it is common for dogs to chew on things to relieve the pain and help the new teeth to come in. This should not be discouraged, but rather encouraged on an appropriate item like a chew toy, nylabone or rawhide.
If chewing is the issue, you can usually easily redirect your puppy’s biting with a chew toy. And if this works, this is an appropriate solution. However, if redirection does not work, it is likely that the biting is not about your puppy’s need to chew. Instead, it is likely an issue of dominance.
How to stop puppy from biting you
Biting is just one puppy dominance behavior. There are many others such as jumping on you, putting a paw on your feet, and lifting and placing paws on your arms or legs. All these behaviors seem minor and harmless in and of themselves, but even if they do not injure you like biting can, they are destroying the pack ranking and confusing your dog on his/her role in the family.
The behaviors I have listed are often gateway behaviors that escalate into more aggressive or troublesome behaviors like stealing food off your plate or the counter, pushing you out of the way when going through doors and pulling you around on a lead. If you want to stop your puppy from biting you, it all starts with recognizing that your puppy’s behaviors are not random and innocent. There is a purpose behind his/her actions.
Start by establishing firm boundaries
The first step to stopping your puppy from biting or mouthing you is to set up firm boundaries for your puppy. You can set these up for not only biting but for all dominance behaviors.
So, what is a boundary? Well, here are some examples.
Some people we have worked with are okay with their puppy mouthing their hand as long as there is no tooth pressure. If you feel the same way, then make that a boundary. Your puppy will not be corrected for putting his/her mouth on your hand or foot if there is no tooth pressure. But if there is any tooth pressure, a swift and consistent correction will follow.
I, personally, don’t want my dog mouthing my hand in any way. This boundary is stronger and does not give the dog any room for confusion. If my dog puts his mouth over or around my hand, I am going to correct him/her right away.
Don’t underestimate your dog’s ability to learn and accept boundaries. Dog’s are smart and will quickly learn what is and what is not acceptable to you. In fact, they often will understand what your boundaries are but will test that standard against everyone else in the family. Each person needs to set and enforce boundaries.
React with firm consistent corrections
After you establish the boundary, you now need to react every time your puppy or dog crosses that boundary. Each and every time! There can be no room for confusion. Your corrections must be swift and consistent.
Whenever your puppy bites or mouths you, depending on your boundary, grab his/her muzzle, squeeze firmly, and say NO BITE in a firm voice.
Not all dogs react to the same level of pressure. For some dogs, this squeeze and strong words will be all it takes to stop the behavior. Especially if you are consistent in your correction. But some dogs have a stronger or more challenging personality. So the next step would be to grab your puppy’s muzzle, fold his/her lips or flew into his mouth against his/her teeth. Squeeze firmly and say NO BITE. This will give your puppy a taste of his own medicine since his puppy teeth are sharp and will pinch into his lips or flews.
You must be consistent. Don’t sometimes let him bite with no correction and other times correct it. This will only confuse your dog and it will take him/her much longer to learn the lesson.
How long will it take to stop my puppy from biting me?
If you are firm and consistent, the behavior should stop for the most part in a day or two. Your puppy may try the behavior again occasionally, that is just dogs, but each time correct him/her with the squeeze and strong command.
Some dogs require more pressure, some less. If you do not feel like your correction is making a difference after a couple days, you may need to wrap his/her flews over his/her teeth and squeeze tighter. Your puppy should feel some discomfort. He/she may even cry out in pain. That is okay. The point is to show your puppy that biting hurts and that it is not an acceptable behavior.
When nothing seems to work
If you puppy is a bit older and has been getting away with biting and mouthing you for a while, you may struggle to end this behavior. Often the problem is a strong dominance issue that needs to be addressed.
If your puppy continues to snap or bite at you even after a correction, you likely need to exert some dominance over your puppy. Basically, you need to show that you are the Alpha and he/she is not. One of the best ways to do this is to grab your puppy and flip or lay him/her over on his/her back. Hold your pup in that position until he/she stops resisting and lays still.
This is similar to what a mommy dog does to a puppy that is not behaving. Sometimes the mom dog will put her mouth over the puppy’s neck and growl lightly. Humans can do the same thing to show dominance over a rebellious puppy. I know, it sound a bit ridiculous but it really does work. Sometimes you need to speak the dog’s language in order to make your point!
Do not react to your dog’s behavior with emotion
While it can be difficult to do, you should never react out at your dog with an emotional response. You do not want to let your dog’s behavior, not matter how frustrating, get to you. Instead, remain calm and patient. Stay in control. Reacting with emotion can lead to strong reactions or punishment that you will later regret. The point is to show your dog that you are the Alpha in the relationship, and you can and will determine what behavior is acceptable.
Biting is not love
As a professional dog trainer, I am always surprised at what some of clients consider appropriate behavior. Some owners feel that setting boundaries and enforcing those boundaries means that you do not love your dog. That you need to accept all dog behaviors otherwise you do not love your dog. This is a false and faulty mindset.
You do not show your dog love by letting him/her engage in potentially destructive behaviors. We have seen clients who have been injured by their dog multiple times and they still refuse to take steps to end the behavior. That is not love. What if the next person that dog bites is a child? Would you be able to live with that?
A dog that is allowed to continue harming humans is only one bite away from having to be put down. It may sound harsh, but it is the sad truth.
Some people may argue that the dog is unable to understand what they are doing is wrong. This is not based on reality. Dogs are very smart. They can learn to do amazing things and become incredible hunting partners and family companions. But they rarely achieve this potential without an owner who cares enough to set boundaries and enforce them. An owner who takes the time to understand how their dog thinks and speaks to him/her in that language will reap a lifetime of joy and happiness with their companion.
Final thoughts on how to stop my puppy biting me all the time
You can stop your puppy from biting you and others if you are willing to take the steps necessary to make your dog understand that biting is not an acceptable behavior. A firm consistent correction each and every time your puppy bites will quickly teach your puppy to stop biting. These corrections will not harm your relationship with your puppy, but will, in fact, enhance it. Your puppy will quickly learn where the boundaries are and how to operate within those boundaries. We see it time and again, once a puppy is taught that there are boundaries, they quickly adjust and become wonderful loving and obedient family members.
If you puppy is destined to be a hunting dog, learn more in Help, I don’t want to ruin my hunting dog puppy.