Three Steps for Puppy Play Biting Solutions


White lab puppyPlay biting is a stage of development. It is likely to occur when your puppy is EXHAUSTED or UNDER EXERCISED. Most pups naturally grow out of the stage at about 6 months of age unless people do things that prolong the period.

I’ve met some older dogs, 1-2 years old, who still nip and mouth, which poses a true problem. This is an indication that their humans did not understand play biting and unknowingly created a play biting habit.

Here are three steps you can use to deal with play biting by a puppy 8 to 16 weeks old. If your older puppy is play biting, CLICK HERE for SOLUTIONS.


STEP ONE: Stop asking your puppy to bite during playtime.

Avoid games that involve pushing, poking, tumbling, hugging, especially game that involve getting on the floor with your puppy. Hands off during play! Rough play gives puppies the wrong ideas! Play games like sit for a treat, hide-n-seek, chase the toy on a rope, or fetch.

STEP TWO: Tell your puppy that play biting makes you go away.

Tether your puppy. Engage him or her to play with a toy. When the puppy bites you, say ouch and then walk away. The puppy cannot follow you because he or she is tethered .

STEP THREE: Teach your puppy how to bite and play with toys.

Immediately return to your puppy and offer a suitable toy. Praise your puppy for chewing the toy!

ALan J Turner – How’s Bentley – Memphis TN

When Can I Start Training My New Puppy?

Westie_PuppyYour puppy’s training starts the minute you bring that little furry critter home!

At this age, your concerns will be house training, play biting and socialization. However, you can introduce a young pup to basic commands: look, here, and sit. Just make sure your expectations are realistic, and be kind. Puppies and dogs do not ever need to be spanked!

Follow this link to see a video of Harry, a very young Norwich Terrier perform look, here, sit. The client is using a clicker for the instant reward marker.

Raising a perfect puppy is much more than teaching basic obedience and house training.

The truth is, every time you do anything with your puppy, your puppy is in class, learning. Chances are, you might teach bad habits if you don’t think about your actions.

For instance, suppose your cute puppy raises up on two feet and places paws on your leg, and looks up at you with those “I love you” puppy eyes, and barks. Most of us will automatically reach down to touch or pick up the puppy. Yikes, you are  teaching your puppy to jump up and bark for attention!

Another common error is when children get on the floor and let the puppy jump, lick, and play bite as they wrestle with the puppy using their hands. It seems so fun and the puppy is so little. What’s the harm?

This teaches the puppy that us two-leggers play just like other puppies. Sure, your 8 year old daughter is having some fun now! But in another couple of months, when the larger puppy tackles your daughter, nips at her clothes, and bites her (all in play), it won’t seem so fun anymore!

Children should play games like hide and seek, sit for a treat, and chase the stuffed toy on a rope!

Happy Training!

Alan J Turner – How’s Bentley

Private and Group Dog Training – Memphis, Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Cordova TN


To Play . . or Not to Play. . . Will Tug of War Make My Puppy Aggressive?

Australian Terrier Puppy
Australian Terrier Puppy

Tug is defined “to pull hard” by Webster’s online dictionary. People play tug with their dogs by pulling on an item the dog is holding in his or her mouth. To win at tug, you take the item away from your dog.

Many of my clients ask me, “Is it okay to play tug with my puppy?” Good question. I know why you ask.

Tug of war is one of those controversial topics.  Some people believe it’s okay to play tug if the human always wins.  Other state. “playing tug will increase unwanted aggressive behaviors”.  These people tell others to avoid the game of tug with their dogs. I’m not sure why. I suspect these people promote concepts like alpha and dominance. The stronger animal is the boss and the weaker animal submits, right?

If you have visited a few pages on this site, you already know my thoughts on alpha.

I do not coach my clients to compete with their dogs for anything. I do not believe alpha comes into play between people and dogs. Click here to read my controversial article “Forget About Alpha”.

Okay, here are my thoughts on playing tug with puppies and dogs. The simple answer is, ‘it depends”. Tug can be a wonderful teaching game and reward for some dogs. Tug can be a dangerous game with some dogs, without some guidelines to keep it safe and fun.

If your dog exhibits aggressive behaviors, directed at you, then tug is probably not a good game for you and your dog! Young children should not play tug with a puppy who does not know the rules. Play biting kids is a puppy’s favorite pastime. Please click this link about play biting and kids if you have children in the house.

Here are some ideas on teaching puppies and dogs about tug.

You do not want to play tug with your socks, especially when still attached to your feet. To prevent tug games with the wrong items, purchase 1 or 2 tug toys. Once your puppy knows the rules you can play tug with whatever you wish. Tug toys are made for tug and have easy grip handles. Longer rope toys with handles or knots make for good tugging! Keep the tug toys away from your dog, unless you are playing tug. That means the toys should not be in his or her toy box, for them to play with and chew. These toys only come out when you want to play tug!
Here’s one of the best, rope tug toys.

Click the words
Tuff E Nuff Tug, Large
to visit Sit Stay and shop for tug toys.
TUFFENUFF.lg

Tuff E Nuff Tug, Large

It’s normal for puppies and dogs to growl and snarl when playing tug. Look for other body posturing that indicate your puppy is playing, not fighting. If your puppy’s butt is in the air and his or her front legs are on the ground, that’s a play bow. Your puppy wants to play!

When your puppy “accidently” makes teeth on skin contact (and he or she will) the game should end. Tell your puppy something like , “oops, you blew it”, and then walk away. If possible, take the toy away. Wait a minute or so, until your puppy is less excited, and then resume play.

Teach your puppy a signal that ends the game. I use “Game Over, then ask for the Drop.

Drop is useful for many games and situations. If your puppy does not know drop, give or trade, tug is a good game to use for teaching. Click this sentence for instructions on teaching your puppy to drop.

Use common sense about playing with your puppy. Puppies do not know how to play with humans. Avoid games that include rough play with your hands, tumbling or roughing up the puppy. This will send your puppy the wrong signals and increase play biting as well as other inappropriate play behaviors.

Happy Training!

Alan J Turner – Companion Animal Behavior Counselor and Trainer, Canine Specialization

How’s Bentley – Memphis, Collierville, Germantown TN

21st Century Canine Relationship Solutions

Group Dog Obedience Classes

Private Dog Training in Memphis TN

Reactive Dog Specialist

iPhone 3Gs Video ** Ouch, My Westie Terrier Keeps Biting My Feet!

Peyton Terrier 1Puppies are cute, but not so cute when they attack your sock as you try to fit one on your foot! Ouch! That puppy just bit my toe!!

You really cannot teach your puppy when life is happening. Sometimes, you just need to prevent that rascal puppy from perfecting nuisance behaviors.

A tether is one of my favorite tools. A tether is a rope with a leash snap attached to one end. To make a tether, attach a leash snap to a 7-10 foot piece of nylon rope. I use 1/4″ nylon rope for small dogs, and 3/8″ or 1/2″ braided nylon rope to make a tether for medium and large dogs.  You can purchase the braided nylon rope at Lowe’s or Home Depot.

Tethers provide a sort of half way house between being crated (or otherwise sequestered), and having full freedom to roam inside your house and get into trouble.  I advise clients to tether puppies when eating, changing clothes, or when entertaining friends.  Toss a dog bed on the floor, give your puppy a free range bullie stick, and tether your puppy to a piece of furniture near you.

You can use this free range bullie stick to condition your dog to “love” his dog bed. The free range bullies do not stink like the Merrick bullies stocked at local pet supply stores. CAUTION, This chew has the potential to turn Fluffy into Cujo! Read about Food related aggression by clicking anywhere in this sentence.
Click here for free instructions for teaching your dog to want to GO-TO-PLACE. .

Or, you can tie the rope around your waist and let your puppy shadow you throughout the house. The idea is to limit the puppy’s choices, and to give your puppy helpful feedback about correct behaviors!

Or, you can tie the tether to a plush dog toy and drag the toy as you walk. That will give your puppy an alternative to chasing and play biting your feet and ankles.

Peyton Terrier

If your puppy has not learned to come bump your target, let him drag a tether when playing outside.

Today I visited a client who had participated in a group class during the summer. As soon as I saw Peyton, a West Highland terrier mix, I remembered why my client enrolled. That guy is a yahoo turbo!!! We attached a tether and played a bit in the yard. Select the You Tube Video of Peyton linked below to watch this guy scramble!

Happy Training!

Alan J Turner – Companion Animal Behavior Counselor and Trainer, Canine Specialization

How’s Bentley – Memphis, Collierville, Germantown TN

21st Century Canine Relationship Solutions

Group Dog Obedience Classes

Private Dog Training in Memphis TN

Reactive Dog Specialist

New iPhone app -Dog and Puppy Shake – Fun Facts and Trainer Truths
21st Century Dogs – Dog and Puppy Club

Puppy Play Biting 7 Year Old Child – Training Forum

LabpupMy 6 month-old Labrador retriever puppy, Katie, plays rough with my 7 year-old son and won’t stop play-biting. When she was younger, my son and Katie spent hours tumbling and playing, but now he’s afraid of her. He’s tried holding her muzzle shut, but she only gets more aggressive. The situation is getting worse. Now she nips at his clothes, jumps up and knocks him down.

How can I teach my pup to play nicely with my 7 year-old child? Katie is my son’s dog and I really want them to bond, but, I’m afraid she might have aggressive tendencies.

Answer: Thanks for submitting your question. It’s not likely that your puppy is aggressive. Katie is treating your son as a puppy playmate. Have you ever watched puppies playing together? They are a riot! They jump, mount, growl, bite, mouth, tumble, roll, nip, bark and chase. That’s the only way they know how to interact. Play-biting occurs when some of these normal, play behaviors are directed at human body parts and clothing. Yikes, those needle teeth are . . .  READ COMPLETE ANSWER . . .

Post your Dog and Puppy and Behavior and Training and Help questions in the new Dogand Forum!

OR START OFF RIGHT! Puppies for Thinkers, a puppy owner’s manual, only $7.95 US  dollars

Alan J Turner

How’s Bentley– Animal Friendly Training, Problem Behavior Solutions

Memphis, Collierville, Germantown, Cordova, Bartlett, Arlington, TN

Puppy Play Biting Solutions

crisco_lewis2Have you ever watched dogs play together? They are a riot! They jump, mount, growl, bite, mouth, snap, nip, bark and chase. That’s how they play. It’s normal behavior!

Play-biting occurs when some of these normal, play behaviors are directed at human body parts and human clothing. Play biting is a stage of development. All puppies play bite, some more than others. Puppies mature and grow out of the play biting stage.

Puppies that play bite after 6 months of age are treating their humans like puppy play mates.

Play biting by older pups is most often the result of inappropriate play and miscommunications by humans.

I categorize play-biters by placing them into one of two Groups. This is because some tips work well with 10 week old pups, but fail miserably with 6 month old pups.

If the pup is 8-16 weeks old, I automatically place them into Group A, the group of puppies that is learning about play-biting and making progress.

Play biting by these younger pups is normal and can usually be easily reduced, assuming the humans follow some guidelines. If their humans are consistent, young pups rarely graduate to Group B.

Group B pups are puppies 6 months and older that are still play-biting. Pups at 17-24 weeks could be in either Group A or Group B.

Pups in Group B are likely to exhibit other annoying behaviors such as jumping up, mounting, attention-barking, counter-surfing, mouthing and more.

There’s no shame if your dog falls into Group B.

None of this stuff comes to anyone in a dream!

There’s no reason that you should automatically know how to raise your 21st century pup.

There is so much inaccurate, contradicting information about dog training. Everyone you meet is an “expert”. It’s all too easy to follow the wrong advice. I know I did! Give yourself a huge pat on the back for finding this accurate resource.

The concepts for reducing play-biting, mounting, and mouthing are pretty much the same as the concepts for reducing most unwanted behaviors. There are several actions to consider.

  • Meet your dog’s basic needs
  • Avoid play that involves tumbling, wrestling, hugging or interacting with your hands.
  • Teach your puppy which behaviors you do like.
  • Practice with your dog.
  • Interrupt misbehaviors by redirecting your pup to perform wanted behaviors.
  • Pay your puppy for complying.

Change Your Behavior

Few (including myself) can resist the soft cuddly fur of a puppy. I firmly believe that puppy tumble therapy is a marketable service. The buyer enters a room with several 7-10 week old puppies, gets on the floor and just soaks up puppy-glee by touching, tumbling and interacting with the puppies. I can’t imagine how such interactions would not be helpful for stress relief. I’d pay for the opportunity. Wouldn’t you?

Most people’s ideas of playing with puppies involve tumbling and rough handling.

Aren’t handling, pushing, wrestling, poking, teasing, tumbling, hugging, holding, cuddling, rolling, and chasing all good clean fun methods to interact with puppies? Fun? . . . yes; helpful for teaching a puppy? . . . no.

Expect to be bitten if you get on the floor and play wrestle, hug, manipulate, or otherwise use your hands to roughly interact with your puppy.

All these behaviors give puppies the impressions that we are just like their canine playmates. Puppies play rough with other puppies. At some point, puppy handling morphs into miscommunications which morph into playful puppy attacks! Ouch, those needle teeth are sharp!

It would be difficult for me to estimate how often I’ve heard this phrase.

“My child used to love the puppy but now she’s afraid of him. He randomly jumps up on her, steals her toys, mouths her arms, and nips at her heels and clothing. Sometimes he even knocks her down”.

When you think about it, these behaviors are in the same class of behaviors dogs exhibit while playing with other dogs.

The first step to resolve these issues is prevention. Attach a leash or long line so that your pup cannot mug your child.

Children and untrained dogs do not make choices which promote safe play. It’s best to supervise all interactions between children and animals.

Set aside time each day to introduce your child and your pup to safe games like fetch or hide-n-seek.

Sit-for-treat, roll over, and adult-accompanied, leashed walks are examples of other safe activities children can play with pups.

Nothing increases behaviors better than rewards! Establish reward systems for your child and your pup. Pay your child and your pup for playing nicely.

Other Preventative Measures

Ok, I’ll ease up on the lecture. Regardless of your perfect behaviors, your pup will play bite. That’s what they do. Here are some tips to help you survive this period.

Group A: 8-16 Week Old Puppies

  • Tie a stuffed toy on a 10-12 foot line. (I use ¼ inch diameter nylon line I purchased at the hardware store.) Drag the toy when you walk. Praise the pup for attacking the toy instead of your ankles and feet!

  • Sometimes you just want to handle your pup. Before you start grooming or handling, get a decoy. I use a Kong® toy stuffed with a bit of peanut butter. Hold the Kong® and let your pup get engrossed in the treat while you perform grooming or necessary inspections. Free Range Bullie sticks are also great decoys.

  • Pay your pup for chewing the correct items. Deliver a treat and praise when he is engaged in wanted behaviors. Remember, when you increase appropriate behaviors, the inappropriate behaviors decrease in frequency!

  • Use decoys when your child wants to stroke your pup. Choose periods when your pup is less active for stroking.

  • Avoid sudden hand movements, especially movements near your pup’s face and head.

  • Avoid pats on top of the head. Stroke your pup under his neck and south of the collar instead.

  • Use long gentle strokes instead of short, harsh pats.

  • Harvest some of that puppy-fur therapy when your pup is asleep!

Interrupt — Redirect — Pay

The Play-biting period is an educational journey for our pups. This is when they learn about bite inhibition and jaw pressure.

Pups that learn about jaw pressure and bite inhibition are less likely to deliver deep puncture wounds as adults.

Puppies learn about bite inhibition as they play with other puppies.

Here’s how a puppy learns from his littermates. When one pup bites another too hard, the recipient will yelp and withdraw.

This provides the play biter with valuable information about jaw pressure and contributes to the development of excellent bite inhibition.

This education from siblings and parents takes place early in a pup’s life.

Pups that are removed from their littermates before 8-9 weeks (or pups that are an only child) are at a greater risk for exhibiting more extreme versions of play biting.

Teaching puppies about jaw pressure reduces the probability of them delivering dangerous bites as adolescents and adults.

Ouch – Withdraw Method

Adults can continue the education process by following the following sequence. (This is not for children nor is it how to address play biting by Group B pups, which have already perfected their naughty behaviors!)

At this point we have two goals. Our short term goal is to teach the pup about jaw pressure. Our long term goal is to teach the pup that teeth-on-skin is unacceptable.

  • When your young puppy play-bites, allow it. The instant you feel those needle teeth sting, speak a high-pitched “ouch” and immediately withdraw. Walk away and ignore your pup.

  • If your pup becomes more excited after the “ouch”, follows you or bites your ankles, try this. Attach a leash and tether the pup to a piece of furniture. Now he can’t follow.

  • Ignore your pup for several seconds while you review your behavior. Are you sending the wrong signals? Are you somehow enticing the pup to bite?

  • Reengage by redirecting your pup to interact with a decoy.

  • Praise your pup for chewing the item.

  • Repeat the sequence several times in succession. Pups learn by repetition. It may take a week or more of using this sequence before your pup catches on.

In some cases, the “ouch” and withdrawal method is a slow process. Here are factors to consider.

  • If a confident puppy has practiced and has refined play-biting as a normal method to interact with people, it will take more repetitions before the puppy will understand. Keep at it and you will succeed.

  • If the pup is not offended by your departure, then withdrawing will not be effective.

  • If family members are inconsistent, then the puppy will continue to play bite.

  • If the puppy is older than 12-14 weeks, the ouch method will probably be ineffective.

  • Failure could be a sign that the pup’s physical and mental exercise needs are not being met.

Sometimes it’s difficult to interrupt and redirect. The puppy seems to be out of control and will not listen.

This pup either needs more exercise or a nap. If excessive activities such as play-biting occur late in the evening, the pup may be ready for bed. If it occurs after the pup is well rested, then perhaps it’s time for some exercise!

In some cases, (especially in families with unwilling ‘ouch-withdraw” participants), I find it necessary to focus solely on teaching the pup to interact with appropriate items.

To encourage a pup, hold a decoy for your pup to investigate. When your pup touches it with his teeth or tongue, say “yes” to mark that instant of success.

Immediately deliver praise and/or a treat. After the pup catches onto the game, methodically extend the amount of time the pup must interact with the item before you mark success and deliver praise.

Group B: Puppies 6 Months and Older

Group B dogs are usually much larger (than Group A pups) and some of their newness has worn off.

Group B dogs have perfected play biting as a method to communicate with humans.

Because the dogs are older and families have yet to teach the dogs about play-biting, it is very likely that the family has unknowingly increased other obnoxious behaviors such as jumping up, nipping at clothes, attention-barking, object stealing, et cetera.

Group B dogs are at risk for being mistreated. Group B dogs are a bit closer to being sequestered into isolation or re-homed.

All of the preventative methods are effective with Group B dogs. In addition, you will need some management tools to control these larger dogs.

  • Start a training program.  Use kind methods to teach the dog basic obedience commands.

  • If your Group B dog jumps up and play bites, attach a leash. Step on the leash to prevent the dog from succeeding. Use a buckle collar for this exercise.

  • Correct and careful use of a head collar provides some families relief from the obnoxious behaviors of some Group B dogs.  Check with your veterinarian or trainer for information about head collars.

What Not to Do

If you’re reading this I’m guessing you’ve tried all the popular methods to stop play-biting.

Some suggest that you squirt a play biting pup with a water bottle, bop the dog on the nose, hold the muzzle shut, grab the puppy by the scruff, shout “No Bite” or even roll the pup over and hold him down. These are questionable solutions.

Some pups will learn by these corrections and others become anxious, confused, fearful, or more playful.

The water bottle is the only suggestion I might share – in rare situations.

Ask any person whose adult dog is grumpy during mouth and muzzle inspections. “Say, did you hold your dog’s muzzle shut when he was a pup?”

These uncooperative patients learned long ago that hands approaching face equals discomfort.

If you are using corrections to teach your pup about play-biting, and it is still a problem, it’s time to change course!  What you are doing is not working.

Another problem with suggesting these methods is that people naturally become focused on stopping unwanted behaviors instead of starting wanted behaviors. This places them on a path of miscommunication with their pups. How will most people respond when the corrections are ineffective … when the squirt bottle doesn’t work?  . . .

People naturally respond with more force and harsher punishers.

Some pups will stop play biting when harsher punishers are used. Of course these pups may stop coming when called, and start urinating in fear, but hey, they’re not play biting!

In addition, forceful techniques send messages to our children about resolving problems with force, when kinder, more efficient methods are available. Try the kind methods. You’ll be surprised how well they work!

Some people, (far be it from me to single out a specific gender or age group) believe that rough play teaches pups to be good protectors.

I have some experience teaching protection dogs. I have full exposure to the techniques and exercises. None of the professional, protection dog trainers I have worked with use rough play as a method to teach a dog to protect.

If any of the members in your pup’s circle of humans, insist on playing rough, expect your puppy’s play biting to continue or increase.

Play wrestling teaches puppies that rough play is ok.

In addition, games which include jumping up not only increase inappropriate jumping up, but can compromise a growing pup’s bone development.

People rarely eliminate play biting in a few days, because play biting is a normal stage for puppies. If you follow these suggestions, you can minimize play-biting during this period and prevent it from becoming a true problem in an older dog.

If your pup’s play biting is increasing in frequency or magnitude, contact your veterinarian for the name of a trainer or visit http://apdt.com and search for a trainer near you.


Happy Training!

Alan J Turner

Dog behavior counselor and trainer, Memphis, TN