How to Stop Puppy Biting and Growling: Tips for New Puppy Parents
There seems to be something about puppies that could make even the most cynical person immediately go, “Aww.” Indeed, puppies are, without a doubt, some of the cutest, funniest and most wonderful creatures there are. Most dog owners, when they first get a puppy, become practically mesmerized with it. It’s as if they’ve just had a baby, but it’s one of those “newer versions” you don’t have to change diapers for! Still, the main issue most dog owners have with puppies is — how to stop puppy biting and growling?
We’ve seen time and time again that it’s in a dog’s nature to growl, bark and bite when it’s afraid of having fun. However, if you’re tired of scars and would like to just cuddle with the pup without having to frantically look for bandaids — can anything be done about it?
Well, as you’ll soon see, there are various techniques on how to stop puppy biting and growling. All it takes is to have some patience, perseverance — and it would help if you could buy your weight in chew toys!
How to stop puppy biting and growling: when to start?
Now, you may not know this, but dog owners tend to get so super attached to their dogs that they forget they aren’t puppies anymore. We love to give excuses for bad behavior — “she’s still little/ his jaw isn’t that strong/ oh, they’re just playing.” However, in reality, after about 18 months, no dog should be considered a puppy. In fact, you’ll notice different changes in their behavior even earlier than that.
Why does this matter? Well, it’s important to mention it because puppies usually have a rather short attention span. When they are too little to learn anything from us, no matter how many times we repeat it, we cannot possibly solve the growling and biting issue. So, before you start, really consider if it’s just too early for the puppy to start acting like an adult dog. After all, puppies have a rather playful nature when they’re quite young. So, at some point, they might naturally grow out of this particular behavior.
In general, the rules are:
- We can start teaching a puppy simple commands like “sit” and “stay” when it’s about eight weeks old.
- Any formal training might not be possible until the puppy is six months old. However, this will depend on the breed and the natural “charm” of the dog, as well as how responsive it is to commands.
How to stop puppy biting and growling during the teething stage
Now, the teething stage starts when the puppy is about 16 weeks old. Right about that time, we will start noticing a few changes. For one, some clothes might suddenly disappear, and we’ll find them a day later ripped to shreds. Two — the puppy will love to bite and growl at us even more.
Of course, at that point, all this probably won’t be anything new. Puppies are quite playful as is, especially when they have someone who loves playing with them or lets them nibble on anything and everything. However, there are ways you can curb growling and biting when the puppy’s teething without having to go through bloodshed periods because you’ve become a large chewy bone.
Distraction is imperative
Naturally, we all want our puppies to go through the teething stage without biting or growling at us. Nevertheless, sometimes, distraction is the only thing that can help. Instead of reinforcing this behavior by giving the puppy an excuse to do it (after all, growing a set of new teeth is not easy), try to divert its attention.
For that, you’re going to need a lot of chew toys. Whether you choose the squeaky ones or the ones that will soothe the gums at the same time — it’s up to you. Consider the fact that squeaky toys may make the puppy a bit too excited to bite, which may not be the greatest idea ever.
In any case, chew toys are a must when teething starts. Not only will you save your shoes from all the chewing and biting, but you’ll open the doors to a whole new world of entertainment. After all — there’s nothing more precious than a puppy growling at its rubber bone!
We know, we know — it’s easier said than done. However, puppies are usually growling or biting us because they want us to play with them or because their gums hurt. Either way, it’s important not to show them that that’s OK. Otherwise, they might carry this sort of behavior into adulthood — and they won’t be that little then, right?
So, one of the best ways of stopping a puppy from biting or growling is to ignore it for a bit. We aren’t as interesting when we’re not yelping out of pain or taking part in the game. Therefore, by taking a time-out and possibly redirecting the puppy to something else, like a chew toy, we can curb this behavior and discourage the dog from ever trying it on us again.
When will the puppy naturally stop biting?
Some puppies naturally grow out of the biting phase after a while. Once the teething stops and they’re ready to learn more about how to become a great, obedient dog, they might stop biting altogether.
However, if the behavior was reinforced in their puppyhood, i.e., we didn’t do anything about it, they might continue it into their adulthood. When dogs see that they can get away with something, there’s nothing stopping them from doing it again. It’s only natural! If we see that we can immediately get a puppy’s attention by whistling, why would we try other approaches?
Bottom line? In order to learn how to stop puppy biting and growling, we need to take a more sensible approach. We first need to learn why it’s even doing it and see if there are any signs of aggression. Then, we can proceed to eradicate the behavior by slowly reinforcing good behavior and expressing frustration over the bad one.
Most dog owners get quite scared when they see their puppy growling and biting, either them or other people. It sure comes as a bad surprise. To think something as cute as a small puppy could produce such sounds and fierceness — well, it could make a grown man wonder.
However, most of us fail to notice that puppies are in general rambunctious. They love chewing on things, running around with their furry pals, and biting each other, as well as growling at toys, people and themselves! It’s in their nature to act that way because they’re engaging in something called “puppy play.”
Aggression and fear might make a puppy bite harder and growl louder, though. Still, in most cases, they’re just having a lot of fun.
How to stop puppy biting and growling when the pooch is clearly having a lot of fun
As said, puppy play is a type of normal behavior all breeds will display at some point. So what might be the problem then?
Well, as it turns out, even such positive experiences could potentially lead a puppy to think growling and biting is always normal. It’s not, especially if there’s a chance it could escalate at some point.
For example, maybe you’ve got a puppy and love waving your hands in front of it. That makes the puppy rather excited, as it means you want to play with it. It reciprocates by biting your sleeves and fingers (it’s nibbling at best) and growling.
That all seems fairly harmless, but if the dog learns that such behavior is normal, it won’t stop once it steps into adulthood. Such a dog could very well learn that human hands mean it’s playtime, of course. But will the same thought cross a scared puppy’s mind? It will likely misinterpret the signal. What’s more, just because it’s used to our hands, it doesn’t mean we should encourage it to bite and growl at other people. There has to be a limit, and we’re the only ones who can help the puppy learn where it is.
It’s important to limit puppy play, no matter if the dog is playing with humans or other dogs, and immediately stop it if it escalates. Puppy biting can be easily interrupted by switching out one of our hands (or feet) for a chew toy. We can also separate puppies that seem quite eager to fight until they spill some blood. In that case, we ought to put a leash on our dog but stay calm. When the dog sees we’re calm, it will pick up on that cue and after a while (and a few repetitions) learn that a limit does exist.
As far as growling goes, most of the time, it’s quite harmless. Some dog owners love to interpret it as “speaking” — the puppy is trying to communicate with us. However, if the puppy is snarling and growling, as well as showing off its teeth, playtime is over. Something has irked it the wrong way, and if we don’t interrupt the behavior by either distracting it or giving it a time-out, the situation might escalate further.
How to stop puppy biting and growling if the pooch is scared of something
On an entirely different note, you might be trying to figure out how to stop puppy biting and growling when your pet is scared.
This sort of behavior is, of course, abnormal. Puppies shouldn’t be afraid of anything, especially not us. However, sometimes, they might experience, see, or even feel something that could make them run under the bed. Then, as soon as we approach them, they start growling. If we try to pry them out, they snap at us and try to bite us.
Fear is a common cause of anxiety in dogs, and it’s often seen in rescues. Still, if the puppy is not, in fact, a rescue, there could be another underlying problem. It might be experiencing some separation anxiety because you’re rarely spending time with it. Something might have changed — a family member might have left, for example. Given that puppies don’t have a clear way of telling us how they feel, they may try to display their frustration by growling and biting.
In the end, a specialist, a dog trainer, or a vet could help you figure out what the puppy is scared of. In any case, it’s rare for a young puppy to feel this way or act so aggressively. Most of the time, this phase is seen in dogs that aren’t adults yet but are over their teething stage and are slowly building their character.
The devil’s in the details: normal vs. aggressive biting and growling
Puppies love chasing after their friends, rolling in the grass, biting each other’s ears, etc. However, when this sort of behavior becomes a bit extreme, it’s time to consider if there are some signs of aggressive behavior you might have missed.
To compare, most puppies will display the following while playing:
- Growling (light growls while rolling around with other dogs)
- Biting (more like nibbling the ears, noses, and paws)
- Spontaneous “attacks” (running to something and attacking it with its “big strong teeth”)
- Snapping (again, we’re talking about light snapping at another dog or human, which puppies use to react — there’s usually no ill intent behind it)
How to stop puppy biting and growling: signs of aggressive behavior
In contrast to the above-mentioned signs of normal behavior, aggression can be displayed through a few little twists in the overall puppy play:
- Long, fixed gaze and overall stiffness of the body (the puppy seems on edge and is nervous)
- Deep growling (most dog owners would call this “demonic growling,” and it’s obvious why; it’s the kind of sound you rarely hear your puppy produce — it’s a bit menacing)
- Stimulus-dependent attacks and bites (these aren’t the result of puppy play, but rather the overall tension)
If you notice any of these, it might be time to hire a dog trainer, as you may not be able to curb the aggressive behavior by yourself.
How to stop puppy biting and growling: tips on resolving the issue
Stop a puppy in its tracks
Before we stop the growling and biting altogether, we first have to consider why the puppy is doing it at all. Most of the time, if they’re not playing, dogs will growl or bite a bit when they’re scratched, petted and cuddled by someone other than their owner. That is a sign of clinginess, which usually stems from early childhood. So, if you want to stop a puppy from growling and biting in the future, aim to socialize it as much as you can. It has to learn from its experiences and not be too close to you all the time.
On the other hand, if the puppy is already growling and biting a lot each time you or someone else approaches it, you may need to look into behavior modification. In most cases, this could be a sign of anxiety — something is troubling the dog. Therefore, you can use the following tips to nip this issue in the bud:
If you’re the reason the puppy’s growling and is trying to bite you, stop doing whatever you’re doing. Reduce the tension in the air.
If you don’t know why it’s doing it, try to figure out the reason. Is someone at your front door? Is it because it’s on the leash or otherwise restrained? How about strangers? Is the puppy growling and trying to bite because you’re paying attention to someone else?
Try to reinforce behavior that doesn’t lead to biting and growling. That way, you may be able to show the dog that doing anything else but bite and growl could lead to treats, pats on the back, etc.
Minimize the number of stressors in the puppy’s life. If you just got the dog, know that there will be plenty of things that will startle it at some point. Thus, it’s not uncommon for it to growl and try to bite from time to time.
Puppies are rather small, and everything around them seems big and menacing. What’s more, the world is changing by the minute, which could easily affect the dog. Anyone would get stressed by that, let alone a puppy! So, instead of snapping back and yelling at it, try to minimize the number of stressors. It’s possible that the stress has gotten the best of it, and that there isn’t just one reason it’s growling or trying to nip someone.
Distraction is the best medicine. A puppy will most likely immediately stop biting if you divert its attention to something else. Whether that’s its favorite toy or food — it doesn’t really matter. The point is to help it refocus.
On another note, while training the dog, you should aim for as many repetitions as you can achieve. By distracting the puppy over and over again, it’ll learn that biting and growling is a bit frowned upon. After all, you’re always putting an end to it as soon as it begins, right? The puppy might take the hint after a few repetitions!
Aim to get the puppy plenty of exercise. A worn-out puppy is one that is more likely to stop growling and biting. Why? It simply won’t have enough energy for it. Besides, nothing is as fun as running around and chasing after someone. Other puppies will know how to react to bites and growls and warn the puppy if it’s too aggressive. Thus, the dog will learn bite inhibition from its own kind. And, at home, you can imitate other dogs; yelp a bit to let the dog know where the limit is.
Use time-outs and commands to stop the biting and growling. If the dog has gotten too excited, consider giving it a time-out in the crate. That way, it won’t get what it wants, which isn’t something puppies really love. But, unlike some humans, for example, they will learn from it over time.
Additionally, by training the puppy from the start, you’ll get better results if biting and growling become a huge problem. In essence, puppies that know how to follow orders are more likely to react to our “alpha” voice than those that are clueless about what “sit” means.
Overall, biting and growling in puppies isn’t a huge issue, especially if they’re still going through their teething phase. However, if it escalates into aggressive behavior, a certified specialist can help. They will be able to use all the various techniques to help the puppy overcome it. Additionally, you’ll get to use the same approaches at home and build a strong bond with your new best friend. What more could you ask for?