Your new puppy loves to play and interact with you. It is adorable when it curls up and sleeps nearby. Yet, it also seems to have times where all it wants to do is sink its tiny, razor-sharp puppy teeth into your hand, ankle, or clothes; if this sounds like your puppy, then you are likely waiting to know why puppies bite their owners if it will ever stop, and how you can encourage your puppy not to use you as a chew toy.
So, why do puppies bite their owners? Puppies and dogs use biting as a form of communication. Biting isn’t always aggressive. Puppies mostly bite because they are feeling strong emotions such as excitability, tiredness, or even fear. Puppies also bite because they know it gets their owner’s attention, and biting feels good as they begin to lose their baby teeth and replace them with their adult ones.
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With so many potential underlying causes, it can be tricky to know what your puppy is feeling and how best to respond.
So let us delve into the reasons more closely before turning to what you can, and perhaps should, do about it.
Why Do Puppies Bite Their Owners?
Puppies may bite or nip at their owners when they are feeling strong emotions such as over-excitement, exhaustion, fear, or frustration. They may also bite as part of their play routine, and sometimes they bite simply because they are a puppy who is teething – much like a human toddler!
Let’s look more closely at the reasons puppies may bite their owner.
Just like an excited child can lose control of their actions, so can a puppy!
Puppies show excitement with their entire bodies, and that includes their teeth.
Oftentimes an excited puppy will be wiggling back and forth, tail wagging vigorously, and maybe jumping or barking.
Along with this behavior, they can often find themselves snapping their jaws which leads to biting the humans they are so happy to be around.
Puppies need a lot of sleep – around 16 hours a day! A tired puppy usually goes along with a grumpy puppy.
A puppy who is tired will not be as tolerant of excessive petting, play engagement, or human interaction.
In order to express that they would like to be left alone to rest, they may nip or bite at people who disturb them.
If your puppy is yawning, trying to find a soft spot to lay down, and seems more interested in biting at you than playing, they are likely in need of a good quiet nap.
A Fearful Puppy
Outside of eating, teeth serve a major role in a dog’s defense system.
In the wild, teeth are the way a dog gets a predator or attacker to back off and leave them alone. Puppies may bite if they feel scared and have no way to escape.
A puppy who has experiences with people hitting them, pulling their tail, or being overly verbally aggressive is likely to easily experience fear.
The only reaction they know to have when feeling this way is to bite at the person scaring them until they go away.
Puppies Get Frustrated
When you are a puppy, you have a lot to learn!
Puppies are learning their owner’s routines, they are learning basic commands and manners, and many are learning to spend time in their crates or to not have accidents in the house.
This can be overwhelming and frustrating for some puppies. When a puppy is frustrated, it will do anything to change the task – including nipping at hands and fingers.
Puppies also like to get their way, which means they can get frustrated if they feel they are not getting enough attention or want to get on a piece of furniture they aren’t allowed to be on.
In order to express this, they may find their owner and nip at their pants or legs.
As A Form Of Play
Puppies don’t always realize how sharp their teeth are against human skin, and not all biting is aggressive in nature.
When dogs play with each other, they often use their teeth as part of their games.
In a pack, larger dogs would let younger ones know when the biting was too hard through growling and other signals.
As humans, we may experience our puppies using their teeth for play, and it is up to us to set the boundaries on when and where that’s a good choice.
Puppies, like people, have a set of baby teeth and then a set of adult teeth.
The big difference is that they get their puppy teeth, lose them, and grow their adult teeth all within about six months!
That is a lot of activity happening in one little mouth, involving lots of pain and drool, and it can make puppies feel the need to bite and chew at everything – their owners included.
Do All Puppies Bite Their Owners?
The honest answer here is that, yes, nearly every puppy will at some point nip, chew, or bite at its owner. This isn’t usually a sign that your puppy will be aggressive as an adult or that you are doing anything wrong as a puppy raiser. Puppies only have a few ways they can express themselves, and they are naturally designed to use their teeth to do it!
While all puppies will bite from time to time when they are young, some breeds are more likely to bite frequently or for longer phases of their life.
Certain breeds have been bred over time to do tasks that require them to nip or bite to be successful.
Many people are surprised to find that herding breeds such as Australian Shepherds and Border Collies may be extra nippy as puppies and adults because this is a skill they would use to encourage sheep and livestock to move and herd.
Other dogs bred for protective work may also be more likely to bite as puppies.
If you have a puppy that frequently nips under certain circumstances or bites with undue aggression, it may be worth consulting a trainer for guidance.
Puppies love to use their teeth, but the good news is that with consistent love, training, and patience, most puppies can be taught when and where it is acceptable to use their teeth and when it is not.
Do Puppies Grow Out Of Biting?
Most puppies go through a period of time where biting is common, but as they mature, they tend to bite and chew less. This change in biting comes as the result of a mix of maturity and training.
Puppy biting tends to reach its peak between 9 to 12 weeks of age and may persist until they are between 6 to 7 months old.
You will likely notice that around five months old, your puppy is starting to naturally nip and bite less as they mature.
Not only do puppies start to mature mentally after six months of age, which makes them less excitable and reactive, but puppies have also mostly completed their teething by this point.
Puppies that are still frequently biting their owners after nine months of age may have reasons other than their age and puppyhood for biting.
At this time, it would be smart to look at your puppy’s environment, training, and health for reasons that owner biting is continuing to happen regularly.
How Do I Stop My Puppy From Biting When Petting?
From an early age, you can take steps to stop your puppy from biting when you pet it. The key to curbing biting when being petted is patience and consistency, along with the help of a few good chew toys.
When your puppy bites, it is acceptable to calmly but firmly say “no,” remove your hand from the puppy’s space, offer an alternate chew toy, and praise your puppy for any calm behaviors they display.
Teaching your puppy a verbal cue to stop biting and other undesired behavior from an early age is a smart move as an owner.
Remember, your voice should be clear and firm without screaming at or scaring your dog.
Your command can be as simple as a firm “No,” or any other word that is easy for you to say consistently when your puppy bites.
By adding a verbal cue, you will eventually be able to warn your puppy against biting other people and other naughty behaviors even when you are a short distance away.
If you are petting your puppy and it bites you, remove your hand slowly and stop petting your puppy for a moment.
Be careful not to jerk your hand away, as this may trigger your puppy’s chasing instincts and lead to more biting. Simply lift your hand and tuck it away from puppy teeth.
Reward Good Behaviour
When your puppy shows signs of being calm – sitting or laying down while watching you or nearby activity – reach forward and start to pet them.
Make sure to give them calm verbal praise as you pet them gently. When they are calm, pet your puppy for a bit and then remove your hand again before they have the urge to start biting.
If your puppy immediately starts biting at you again, remove your hand as you did before.
Sometimes a puppy may simply not want to be petted.
Other times they may be in a playful mood and are going to engage in play-biting your hand every time you reach forward. Instead of fighting their mood, redirect it!
If one of my puppies is trying to bite me when I pet them and I have performed the above procedure several times, I know that the puppy is too focused on play and energy-burning to enjoy a calm petting session.
That’s when I remove my hand, wait for the puppy to calm a bit, and then invite the puppy into chewing play with a safe chew toy.
By replacing my hand with an acceptable toy, I’m not rewarding my puppy for biting.
Instead, I am teaching my puppy what things it is and is not okay for them to sink their teeth into!
If your puppy has a biting habit that is causing you or another family member frequent pain or harm, it is completely okay to seek the help of a professional dog trainer.
With a fresh eye on the situation, a trainer can assess your dog’s personality, environment, and behaviors to find the best way to put an end to biting.
It is important to understand that puppies do not stop biting overnight.
Training and maturity must work together over time to eliminate puppy biting.
Have other questions about puppy biting or other related behavior? Well, my following guides may be of help:
- Why Does My Puppy Bite His Tail?
- Why Does My Puppy Lunge At My Face?
- Why Does My Puppy Bite His Paws?
- Why Does My Puppy Growl When I Pick Him Up?
- Why Does My Puppy Bite My Ears?
- Why Does My Puppy Have Hiccups?
- Why Does My Puppy Pee In Her Sleep?
- Why Does My Puppy Lick My Feet?
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.