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OUCH!  Your Puppy Alligator

Why does my puppy bite?

It's the only way your puppy knows how to play:  chasing, tackling and grabbing other puppy body parts, hanging off his mom's neck fur.  His mouth is the equivalent to your hands.  He picks things up with his mouth and explores his universe through taste and smell.

When his mom would return to the nest box, he and his litter mates would jump all over her, licking her face and grabbing hold of her fur.  (Your clothing is like her fur.)  They want to smell her breath to see where she's been.  In wild canids, this behavior stimulates a mother wolf or fox to regurgitate the food that she's carried home to her pups in her stomach.

You are your puppy's parent.  Your puppy isn't being rude, he's being a normal puppy.


This is the puppy you want to encourage.  

A calm puppy enjoying quiet touch.  Gentle interaction.  Calm stroking is essential.  Your touch should soothe and comfort your puppy, not rev him up.

There are times of the day when this is possible, and times of the day when it is next to impossible.  Keep a journal and note times of day when your puppy is sweet and the times when he is unbearable.  Practice calm interaction during sweet moments when your puppy is relaxed and receptive.  

  • Move slowly and easily.

  • Pet gently in long gentle strokes.

  • Avoid problem areas that might cause your puppy to wiggle or bite.  (We'll address those later.)

  • Breathe in through your nose and exhale slowly in a long sigh.

If you need to re-position your puppy, do so as though you were moving a sleeping human newborn.  Grabbing and pulling are wrestling moves.

He has all the answers.  What makes him squint his eyes and lean in?  What makes him deep sigh and stretch out fully and relax?  Also be aware of what types of touch make his head flip toward your hand?  What makes his mouth gape and his legs to push against you or wrap around you?  Are his muscles soft?  Or tense?  Are his eyes squinty and soft?  Or wide open and wild?

Helpful Videos on how to help your mouthy puppy:

Teaching Your Dog to Put a Stop to Play Biting - Dog Training Made Easy

Stop Puppy Biting with Handling Games - Kiko Pup

The main cause of biting is arousal/excitement. 

Your puppy gets overstimulated by social interaction and it makes him turn into an alligator.  Don't wait until he is an alligator.  If he *starts* to wind up, slow your movements or go completely still to help him calm down.  If he doesn't slow his movements in response, disengage calmly. Redirect him to a toy or chewie.  Try again later when he is relaxed so you can practice calm, slow massage.  There will obviously be times of the day when he is hungry or hyper that will be 'hands off' times when any social interaction is just going to go south.  Avoid confrontation during these times.  Instead, focus on helping him enjoy relaxing touch when he is in a calm, snuggly mood.  The more enjoyable quiet times you spend, the less tip-over you will see when he's a little wiggly.  Gradually the "I'm so excited I can't contain myself" periods will become less frequent and less intense.


Fast movements stimulate leaping and biting.  

Running children and antagonizing guests must be redirected to appropriate games. Those who taunt, tease and roughhouse or play games that encourage alligator responses are grounded from playing with the puppy!


If any visitors or family members are playing high arousal wrestling games with your puppy, they must STOP.  If hands are adversaries and high arousal wrestling is a conditioned response to seeing a hand coming, you are fighting a losing battle.  All fast-moving fun games should be chasing a toy or playing carefully choreographed games of tug with rules.

See also:  

How to Play with Your Dog

Good Games, Bad Games


Biting pant legs - chasing the kids

Some breeds are more likely to become excited about fast movement, but all dogs are genetically wired to chase things that move.  So the answer to help build self control in dogs who have a strong chase response is STOP MOVING.  Be still, be calm.  Call "Red Light!" and reward children for being statues while you collect and redirect the puppy. 

Dogs chase cats, not trees.  Be a tree!

Is there is a time or place that nipping your ankles is likely?  Spend time teaching the behavior you do want when your puppy is receptive to learning, so you can apply the skill in that time and in that place.  "No" only interrupts, it doesn't teach what you DO want.  Work on rewarding "let's go" with tasty treats delivered next to your leg every couple of steps from point A. to point B. for trotting nicely next to you.  Mark the lovely trot with a "Yes!" right before you place the food treat in front of the pup's nose for them to eat.  To avoid leaping and snapping, don't dangle it above the puppy's head.  Keep it in your closed hand, held at your chest, until you say "Yes!"

Respond to impending lunacy with a calm, still, response.  Keep some tasty treats in your pockets so you'll be ready to reward better choices!  Be as calm as you'd like him to be.  Calmly disengage - slowly walk away or remain still and look away.  Praise softly when when you see behavior you like and scatter a few treats in the lawn for him to sniff and find.  Sniffing can be calming.


Teach it before you need it.  If you get the feeling that he is beginning to spiral up, if you can gently cue him to do something he knows well and will perform readily, you can insert a better behavior and divert potential crazy-puppy moments.  The trick is to practice these requests regularly, when the puppy is calm, so they are well-rehearsed.  The ability to follow a cue may not be possible if he's tipped too far into zoom mode, so ask before he winds up, not in response to off-the-rails behavior.  If he looks like he suddenly has to bite something or he'll explode, if he just needs an outlet for a burst of energy, keep a ball or favorite toy in your pocket so you can produce it to chase and bite before he launches at you.  (Don't wait til he's hanging off your leg like a Tasmanian Devil, or he might learn that biting you makes toys happen!)  Ask for a nice sit before you toss the toy for him to chase.


Usually this sort of behavior happens at the end of the day when they are tired and fussy - like a toddler tantrum after a long day or when overstimulated and in need of a nap.  Keep a journal of her activities.  You might find that your puppy is worse after too much activity (a car ride, a vet visit, visitors to your home, changes in schedule - they missed a nap or was cooped up too long.)  A tasty frozen marrow bone might be the best stress reliever at the end of a trying day.


Remember he can only make the "right" choice if you've taught him what that is.  Teach him to sit and reward it heavily and then show him that this is the option that works when he wants attention.  Next, help him make that choice by withdrawing attention when he jumps up or bites or barks at you, or grabs your clothing.  Mark his good choices with "Yes!" so it is clear what he did that 'fixed' the problem.  Give him instant attention when he chooses to remove his teeth or calms himself.  Puppies repeat what works.


  • Avoid focusing on "NO" and "STOP" - concentrate on what you DO want your puppy to do instead!

  • NO physical punishment.  Hitting, grabbing his face, or squeezing his mouth shut will only make matters worse.

  • NO alpha rolls, scruff shakes or other pack leader/dominance nonsense.  It will destroy trust and damage your relationship.



From your puppy's point of view, he just wants to play with you.  And then you become aggressive.  Corrections only serve to increase frustration, make your puppy angry, and cause him to avoid you.  Corrections destroy trust.  If you get into an adversarial relationship with your pup, it will escalate to resentment and turn into "I'll get you before you can get me" angry biting, distrust of hands, and make matters worse.  Way more puppies get worse from alpha rolling and pinning than get better, so we don't recommend it.  It doesn't mean that you won't be clear about what is acceptable and what isn't, but it does mean that you shouldn't get physical with your puppy to enforce the behavior you want.


Over-stimulated, over-tired puppies have expended all possible stores of self-control.  They are impatient, cranky, bite monsters.  Like a toddler past his bedtime after a stimulating day, your puppy will have times when he is unbearable.  


The "puppy zooms" or as the scientists call it "frenetic random activity period" are normal.  It's that time in the evening when your puppy goes bonkers, flying around the house as if demons were hot on his tail.  Puppyhood is fleeting.  Enjoy these crazy moments - they do grow out of them.  It's as though they have a daily allotment of energy which must be used up before they can rest.

He's not giving you a hard time, he's having a hard time.


Temper tantrums. Remember, when he's lost all ability to cope, he's as frustrated and unhappy as you are.  He needs a nap.  You need a break.  Take one.  Give him a stuffed Kong or bully stick and put him in his crate or ex-pen to decompress.

Be pro-active. 

Is he getting fussy because he can smell dinner cooking and it's really not time for his dinner yet? Avoid letting him get 'hangry!'  Give him a puzzle toy with a snack in it to tide him over before he gets cranky.  If he's approaching the witching hour and you have to walk down the hallway and he's likely to attack your feet, call him, ask him to sit, and scatter a handful of small treats for him to find so you can walk down the hall in peace.  Create evening rituals on good days.  If he's had an over-stimulating day and it's clear he's going to struggle as bedtime approaches, don't wait for him to throw a tantrum to put him to bed. Take him out to go potty, toss a cookie into his crate and tell him goodnight.  


Is he getting enough social interaction?  Barking at you, biting your pant leg, running by with your underwear, play bowing and taking off again.  This is a puppy who wants you to play with him.  "But he has plenty of toys!"  He wants to play a game WITH YOU.


Too much attention can be as bad as too little.  If the kids have packed him around like a stuffed toy, pestered him when he'd like to be left alone, or bothered him while he's resting or chewing a bone, he may have had quite enough of their unwanted advances.  Early on, he may have asked nicely.  But eventually, he learns that polite requests are of no use.  So he goes straight to nipping in order to get them out of his comfort zone as that they do understand.  This is NOT a puppy problem.  It's a parenting issue.


Mental stimulation.  Problems to solve.  Games and social activities.  Is he getting enough to be satisfied?  If he's cooped up in his crate most of the day, probably not.  Scenting games and hide and go seek.  Treats under tennis balls in a muffin tin.

Enough things to chew.  His baby teeth start falling out between 4-6 months and big uncomfortable adult molars break through the gum line.  He's miserable.  His mouth hurts.  His ability to handle frustration will be nil.  He needs satisfying pacifier chews.

Is he getting enough exercise?  If the zooms are out of hand, is he getting enough physical aerobic exercise to leave him relaxed and happy at the end of the day?  If he's spending too much time in his crate, he may need to get out and chase a ball or run laps and alleviate his cabin fever!  Also think of ways to make his walks interesting exercise.  Going for a "sniff walk" investigating and checking things out is much more satisfying than walking down a boring sidewalk.  And it's much more calming than rowdy games of chase that wind him up and make him bitey!

Is he getting enough rest?   Another thing that results in irritable puppies is insufficient rest.  As much as he needs fresh air and exercise, he also needs adequate down time.  The average adult dog sleeps 14 hours per day.  He is crepuscular, meaning he is most active at dawn and dusk - right about the time the family is getting ready to leave for work and school, and when you are settling in and just want to relax at the end of the day.  You want to kick back and watch TV and he's ready to party!


Check out the "Resources for New Puppy Owners" page for lots of tips and information to help get

you and your puppy off to a good start before your puppy class begins.

We also have instructors who do private consults and lessons who are available to help you.

A walk around the neighborhood isn't "exercise" - he needs to stretch his legs and run!

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