Many puppy owners wonder how to stop a puppy from biting feet and hands and the answer is that it often takes a multi-faceted approach. One good place to start preventing rehearsal of undesirable behaviors. This means that one important step is to prevent the rough biting of hands and feet from happening in the first place. This because, the more puppies get to rehearse behaviors, the more these behaviors become ingrained and difficult to overcome. If not tackled in a timely matter, there are therefore risks that a puppy’s biting behavior may become the puppy’s default way of interacting with their owners and the behavior may persist into adulthood. Following are several way to stop a puppy from biting feet and hands.
Why Do Puppies Bite?
Biting (including nipping and mouthing) is a normal behavior in puppies. All puppies go through the “landshark phase.” Puppies use their mouths to play because they don’t have dexterous fingers and hands as we do.
If we watch puppies interact, we will see how they are constantly nipping each other in play. Puppies find legs, floppy ears and tails irresistible to play with because they move and provide interactive fun.
Play in many animals encompasses rehearsing behaviors that will later on turn handy in life. In dogs, many play behaviors mimic hunting. We can see the stalking, the chasing and the pouncing.
Movement triggers predatory drive and therefore a puppy moving away and running will be readily chased. A moving tail will be nipped. The forward moving legs will be quite an attraction too with funny episodes of a pup trying to walk while the other pup is latched on to a leg with a crocodile hold.
Deprived from a littermate to focus on, it is natural for puppies to therefore want to play with the humans in their family in the same way they play among each other.
Fingers, arms and legs soon become their favorite tug-toys to interact with. And the more they move the better!
Withdrawing a hand from a pup’s mouth therefore attracts the pup more than going limp and motionless as a lamppost. No puppies are interested in interacting with lamp posts after all (other than perhaps to pee on later on!). Why? Because they are inert and pretty boring.
How to Stop a Puppy From Biting Feet and Hands?
When giving guidance to puppies it’s important to focus more on what we want puppies to do rather than on what we don’t want them to do. Using aversive training techniques such as alpha rolling the puppy, giving a scruff shake or tapping the pup on the nose may trigger more problems down the road such as fear or even defensive aggression.
On top of that, these methods don’t teach puppies what we want them to do and leaves a behavior vacuum that will likely be filled with some other undesirable behaviors (chewing the table, chasing the cat).
So if yelping may not work to stop puppy biting and correcting the puppy physically is counter-productive, what is left for dog owners to do? Easy, the solution is to make playing with your hands and legs extra boring and training some replacement behaviors and making these extra rewarding.
Now a disclaimer is warranted here: Puppy nipping is not a behavior that will go quickly away. It’s been rehearsed for a while in the litter with littermates (who have stronger skin than us!) and it’s strongly instinctive. In order to stop a puppy from biting feet and arms, you will need to be equipped with lots of patience and persistence.
Puppies bite because they want to play, and we don’t want to deprive puppies from play. Instead, we want to redirect play to appropriate toys and teach fun games through fun training. Following are some tips to stop a puppy from biting feet and hands.
” Using physical correction can cause a fear response and can result in the puppy’s using aggression in an escalating fashion. A better approach is to both address the biting at the time it occurs and prevent biting as an option for the pup.”~John Ciribassi, veterinary behaviorist.
Tips to Stop a Puppy From Biting Feet and Hands
- Turn into a lamppost. This helps to make the rough nipping at your feet, arms, legs extra boring. When you are walking and you see your puppy approach, stop in your tracks and become boring like a tree. Movement triggers more biting and the more we resist by moving, the more a puppy will latch on and treat us as tug toys.
- Next, ask for a replacement behavior below (that you have trained prior to the point of a certain level of fluency). You have several options as to what replacement behaviors to use. They all offer the puppy an opportunity to perform a behaviors that is incompatible with biting. Teaching these replacement behaviors requires you to carry a treat bag on you during the day so that you are a ready to redirect at a moment’s notice when you walk around. Kibble rather than treats can be used for those concerned about extra calories or digestive upset.
- Train your puppy to target hands rather than nip them. You first sit down and train your puppy to target a target stick stick in a low distraction area (you can use any long object like a ruler or wooden spoon) and make it an extra rewarding activity by clicking (or saying yes!) when your puppy targets it with her nose. You can toss the treats rather than handfeed them so to make the activity extra fun and burn excess energy. You can then start asking your puppy to target the target stick as you are standing and then as you are walking (remember to stop in your tracks as your pup approaches) and can end the session by tossing several kibble/treats on the floor in various areas as you walk away.
- Train your puppy to ‘sit.” You need to train sit prior in a low distraction setting and then progress to asking it when you are walking (remember to stop in your tracks as your pup approaches). As your puppy approaches, say “sit” and then reward by tossing the kibble/treat the opposite way as you walk away. If your puppy eats quickly and then catches on with you as you’re walking away, stop walking and rinse and repeat the exercise of asking the sit. This works great because you are adding obedience training, giving your puppy a workout and preventing her from rehearsing the troublesome behavior. Win-win!
- Train your puppy to do some attention heeling (dog walking next to you looking into your eyes) inside the home (no leash needed). If he can stay so focused on your feet, he can eventually be taught to stay focused on your eyes. Every time he makes eye contact with you, you toss a treat across the room so that he gets a workout too. Now, with the short attention span of puppies, don’t expect to get long sessions of attention heeling, but just a quick glance works. You can start by stopping in your tracks asking for attention and then add gradually motion (walking) as you progress.
- What to do in the meanwhile, prior to your dog learning the replacement behavior well? As you work on training a replacement behavior, you may wish to redirect her when she approaches and you stop walking to some toy such as a tug toy or a flirt pole to prevent rehearsal. You can also try tossing a ball the opposite direction.
- To set up your puppy for success, avoid wearing shoes with shoe laces, long skirts and wide leg pants.
- If possible, during the training period, wear tall boots (like Wellington boots). Many puppies lose interest when biting on boots, but also when wearing tall boots, puppy owners are less likely to get hurt and move (and movement is what attracts pups).
- Although you aim to stop a puppy from biting hands and feet, you don’t want a puppy to stop all forms of mouthing altogether. Puppies need to learn how to inhibit their bite (put less pressure) before their jaws develop and they are able to inflict quite some serious damage. As tempting as it may feel to start rough-housing or wrestling with the puppy to teach this valuable lesson, it is best to refrain from doing so as this only teaches the pup to play rough. Instead, try using a tug-toy in lieu of your hands. Should your puppy ever miss and bite your hands, drop the toy and stop playing. Another option is to keep a treat in your closed hand and release only when the pup is gentle with his mouth. You can also work on getting your puppy to develop a soft mouth during quiet times by allowing gentle mouthing and providing positive feedback for using a soft mouth. It’s important to practice during quiet times at first because if your pup can’t control his bite when relaxed, you can’t expect him to be able to when he’s highly aroused. Make it crystal clear that no-biting behavior and licks get praise and continued attention while bites make you stop the interaction and even go away.
- Another option is to keep a treat in your closed hand and release only when the pup is gentle with his mouth. You can also work on getting your puppy to develop a soft mouth during quiet times by allowing gentle mouthing and providing positive feedback for using a soft mouth.
- Last but not least, provide more training, mental stimulation and brain games (pick brain games that allow him to chase things and get rewards out of them like kibble out of a bottle or a Kong Wobbler) so that he should seek them more and more which can turn your hands and legs pretty boring after a while because he gets more out of these activities when he’s bored.
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