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How do I teach my Lab Puppy not to bite?

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So you’re wondering how do you get your Lab Puppy to stop biting. Don’t worry, learning how to train a puppy not to bite is a common concern among most new puppy owners. Before we begin discussing how to go about this seemingly daunting task, first let’s look at why your puppy starts biting in the first place.

Puppies learn by putting everything in their mouths. In fact, if you have an 8 week old puppy they are likely not aggressive at all when they get your fingers in their mouths. Try to notice if they are simply putting you in their mouth or “puppy mouthing” or if they are trying to tear your arm off (it’s likely not the latter).

It’s important to understand that a puppy this age is not being aggressive or mean even if it’s play growling when it’s doing it. At this point, the puppy is simply learning about it’s environment or they could possibly be play biting. So first step is to notice if they are simply mouthing or if they are actually clamping down and biting. As well, all of this is separate to biting when the puppy’s gums are bothering them and they are cutting their adult teeth which normally begins around 4 months of age and they lose their puppy teeth by the time they are 6 or 7 months old.

Putting things in the puppy’s mouth is actually necessary for your puppy to learn about its environment. They don’t have fingers or thumbs so putting things in their mouths is an important part of your puppy’s natural development. If you and all the humans in the home can consistently communicate, and this is key, consistently communicate the same way what is ok and what is not ok to bite then you should expect steady progress over a few weeks or month to the point of them only biting their chew toys. If the humans are not consistent then the puppy will have a difficult time understanding what is expected of them. This happens in the example where one human is consistent and does not let the puppy bite and the other one thinks they are treating the puppy by letting it nibble on their arm. In this case, if both people continue to treat the puppy in the way each wants, the puppy will come to learn not to bite one and that it is ok to bite another. Imagine once your puppy becomes an adult dog and this problem has not been taken care of. Yes, big, strong, heavy lab play biting you! Not good.

Ok, so if you are having trouble teaching your puppy what is ok to bite and what is not, I want you to realize that you are having a difficult time and accept that. It’s ok. Not many people are puppy experts and having no experience in this area sets us up for a challenge. Once you can determine if your puppy is mouthing or biting it is time to begin addressing the issue of teaching your puppy bite inhibition. That is to say, it is you that needs to show them, consistently and over a period of time, what is ok to bite and what is not ok. Until they go home with you they have likely been with their litter mates and have been biting each other over and over as they play. If they bite too hard, their litter mate will yelp to tell them that the rough play is a little much and they are being hurt. It’s this high pitched yelp that I want you to use if you need your puppy to let go of you or your pant leg or another item because they will likely already understand the yelp as a signal to let go. BUT!!! If you are yelping the puppy has already put their mouth on something they shouldn’t have. It is much easier to teach a puppy what TO DO before they do it, instead of teaching them what they did was wrong. So let’s focus on catching them before they begin the action to mouth or bite.

In order to keep your puppy biting what you want them to bite, you need to have a variety of toys of different textures for them. We normally recommend leaving only 1 or 2 toys on the floor at a time for them to play with. The other 5 or so chew toys should be kept up out of the way. This way as you see your puppy becoming bored with a certain toy you can pick that toy up and put it away while cycling a new toy into their play area. If you don’t show them what you want them to bite, when they become bored of a toy they will go on to bite your shoe, a chair leg or something else they aren’t supposed to bite.

Teaching Leave It would be one of the first things you do to stop your puppy biting. This is where you can begin to separate their impulse to bite and learn from having some human-taught self discipline in the form of leaving something alone. Start with a high reward treat and hold it in your hand with your fist closed. Your puppy will likely smell it and want it. What you should look for is the puppy backing off and when that happens, reward them with the treat. This shows them that they will not get the reward when they push at you for it, rather if they sit and wait the treat will come. Once they show they are not moving toward the treat in your hand make it a little more challenging by opening your hand and leaving the treat on your palm. Don’t let them take it, rather once they sit and make no movement toward you that is the behavior to reward. More on Positive Reinforcement training.

A second way to begin to teach them not to play bite you is to condition them to accept touch. Your puppy will be touched by many strangers, vets, groomers, etc…. in their lives and this should be normal to them. So in the same way we rewarded the desired behavior above, we will begin touching our puppy’s paws, head, tail, ears, etc…. and rewarding them with a treat when they do not bite. At first, while playing with your puppy you may see some movements toward you to bite, that’s ok still reward them for not actually biting in the beginning. As your puppy learns your expectations, you will be a little more demanding and only reward them with a treat when they do not make a motion toward you.

So, at first you reward not biting, as they begin to understand that over time you reward not mouthing, and finally once that is learned you reward not making any movement toward you with their mouth. If your puppy begins to switch from a bite to a lick you know you are proceeding in the right direction. Remember to keep focused on rewarding what you want the puppy to do and making that clear to them with a treat. Teaching them what not to do will end up in frustration for both of you.

Excitement could get in the way of successful training. There may be times when your puppy is so excited that they are out of control. This too is all part of being a happy puppy. However, it’s not possible to train when your puppy is in this state. To stop your puppy being out of control you may have to give them a little break using baby gates to section off an area or a crate. Once calm you can begin training again.

Another way to help teach lab puppies not to bite is by using the game tug. With a tug toy you get them involved in the game which will put them in to full bite mode. A little bit of play growling here is ok as it should not be seen as aggression rather play. So after a few seconds of tugging, maybe 8 or 10 seconds I want you to get your puppy to stop tugging. How you do this is to simply stop tugging and stop talking. You want to make your puppy uninterested in the game and when they are they will let go. At that moment reward them with a treat. To get them to let go it’s important for you to just hold the toy steady with no back and forth motion or no tugging. Once they realize that the tugging is no longer fun they’ll let go. Once they let go you cal also ad a command word such as “drop.” This teaches your puppy there are bite/play times and also non bite/play times.

So what happens if you see your puppy biting a chair leg? Well if they are already biting it you have slackened your supervision and made the situation possible. A young puppy should always be supervised by either a person, a crate, or a safe play area such as a fenced yard. The trick is, if you are watching, as they make a movement to bite the chair you grab a new chew toy and get their attention. This again, is showing them what is ok for them to bite which automatically takes care of teaching them what not to bite.

On a final note, it is important that you never let your lab puppy bite your hands or arms. Each time they attempt this and are successful they are learning that it is ok. Human skin is no match for a young lab puppy’s teeth. Once your puppy starts biting you it will be more difficult to stop than training them not to bite in the first place. It could be a traumatic experience for a young child to have a puppy play bite them. Young children often cannot tell the difference between play biting or a puppy biting them out of aggression. To do this teach young children to not stick their fingers out at the puppy as this will be seen as a teething toy by the puppy. Instead teach them to make a fist so the puppy can’t get it’s mouth around it. At the same time it is very important to teach your child to redirect with a fresh toy which again, teaches your puppy what you want it to bite.

A young child running is another invitation for your puppy to bite them. Puppies, and adult dogs as well can’t resist chasing you once you begin running. If your child does this the puppy will see the child as a big toy and want to play–which means want to play bite them. A cute way I’ve seen for young kids is if the puppy is chasing them, to make the game uninteresting you need to teach them to be a tree. Show them to fold their branches, put their roots in the ground and look down. Once the puppy is no longer having fun they will walk away–which is a desired behavior and needs to be rewarded.

If the puppy is chasing your feet or pant legs, have a toy on a rope handy. While the puppy is around drag this toy behind you for the puppy to chase. If they go for your feet, make the game uninteresting by standing still. If they then move to the toy reward them.

There can be many different things your lab puppy gets their teeth on. If you keep your cool, understand that teaching bite inhibition is a process over the course of a month or so, and be sure to show them the behavior you expect instead of trying to correct them with a no after they have already bitten something, you will see gradual success and have a dog who is a joy to experience.

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