Now puppy biting is easily in the top 5 things I get asked about. Usually people reach out desperately and ask, “How do I stop my Shih Tzu puppy from biting me?” Here’s the thing: you don’t want to stop a puppy biting.
How to stop my shih tzu puppy from biting. Getting a puppy is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. And you know what that means? Puppy biting. Desperate calls come in all the time about this one thing and the solutions may surprise you.
I know it’s frustrating but people misunderstand what it’s all about and come at the problem all wrong. Most of what you see on the internet or have people tell you completely misses the point.
Let’s start with why puppies bite. Play biting and fighting is absolutely one of the most important developmental pieces for your Shih Tzu puppy.
The only things puppies do more than bite is poop, pee, and sleep.
That tells us that it’s important and there is a reason why Mother Nature has programmed them to do it so much.
Shih Tzu puppies play bite because they must receive feedback for their bite pressure, this gives them the skill of monitoring and adjusting the force of their jaws. That process is what develops “acquired bite inhibition” or ABI.
What Is Acquired Bite Inhibition?
Good ABI is what makes a safe dog in adulthood. This can only be done in the early stages before it’s locked in forever.
There are presently no methods to alter this after adolescence. Thus play biting for puppies is not only natural, it’s absolutely necessary.
If you were to observe your puppy playing with another puppy, they’d bite the other one during the course of play.
Puppies bite so they can receive feedback on the force of that bite. This is why they have such sharp teeth—so they can get a reaction with their relatively weak jaw muscles.
An adult dog that has never adequately developed ABI will not know how to monitor and adjust the force of their jaws when they have big adult teeth and big adult jaw muscles.
Consider this scenario: a dog is asleep in the family room and a toddler accidentally steps on it. A dog with good ABI won’t even make contact, whereas a dog with poor ABI might bite that poor kid, maybe even badly. In this case an ounce of prevention is worth a kiloton of cure!
So the bottom line is you don’t want to stop puppy biting because then the bite training stops too. Okay so what do we do about it? Well first, we focus on intensity before frequency.
In the correct progression you will see a reduction in the intensity before you see a reduction in frequency.
This is a training master key. Biting will get softer and softer before actual incidents of biting diminish. Force MUST be trained before frequency.
They’re separate variables in the brain and force has a time limit on it whereas frequency does not.
Second, provide meaningful feedback. The first part of that is to socialize your puppy. Dogs do the work of feedback 50 times faster and better than we do.
Get your puppy to off-leash puppy classes or playgroups as soon as possible. You can do this after the second round of shots.
You can also have other puppies over to play—lots of them. A good puppy class or a series of playdates will make a tremendous difference in your puppy, not just with the biting.
The second part of your feedback game is that your puppy has to believe that humans are super sensitive.
Every time they bite you, you cry out. Don’t cry out like a puppy, and don’t try to yip like a puppy. You’re not a dog, you’re not fooling anyone. You’re a grown adult, act like it hurts (which it probably does). Loudly say, “Ouch!
That hurt!” Here’s the secret to making that work. The internet tells you to cry out but never fills in the rest of the strategy. First, do not jerk your hand (or whatever body part) away. Quick movement is stimulating and that triggers chase drive.
They’ll just go harder for it. Instead, leave it there your puppy needs to be the one to back off. Second if you say “Ouch” loud enough and sharp enough, your puppy should buck their head back. Immediately start praising and allow them to re-engage.
If they’re softer tell them “good puppy.” If not keep up the feedback. Ramp it up a little with tone and volume without making it scary. “Good [praise and sharp sounds when biting] “good boy good boy that was fantastic that was fantastic”.
This commentary needs to be both binary—right and wrong—and constant. One or two times ain’t gonna do it. It takes weeks to do it right. It’s a progression and we just talked about progressions in a previous article. And remember you’re not trying to stop biting with this strategy.
You want to see it getting softer and softer and softer over time. Also make sure to cry out even if they grab your clothing or hair; your puppy doesn’t know the difference between these and skin and should eventually be gentle with both.
“Ouch! Ouch! Good, good boy! Thank you!” “Good puppy, sweetheart. Good puppy. Oww-ouch! Good puppy. Good.” If however during a session your puppy is too jazzed up and is not responding to the work then leave, simple as that.
Don’t put the puppy somewhere else for a timeout; that’s non-instructive and it’s not fast enough. YOU be the one to get up and leave. This is how puppies do it with each other. A hard bite produces a yelp and play stops momentarily.
Well, nobody wants that so they learn to monitor and adjust. If you—the Playmate of the moment— gets up and leaves unceremoniously that’s a big thing to a puppy. Come back in 30 to 60 seconds and try playing again.
This is precisely one of the reasons we don’t let our Shih Tzu have free reign of the house yet. They exist in gated off rooms for a while and earn more space over time. In the meantime, you have to be able to get away when the puppy is too intense.
You also can’t keep labeling play biting as bad behavior—it’s not. It’s inconvenient for us humans, but we don’t call it bad behavior when a baby poops its pants or cries at night. You know this is part of what you signed up for, inconvenient as it is.
Puppy biting is natural and necessary! Don’t waste the opportunity you’ve been given to create a safe adult dog. As you work you should be seeing the ABI progression. You’ll notice your puppy’s biting getting softer and softer over the weeks if you’ve given consistent, timely, and appropriate feedback.
The play biting will eventually just be soft mouthing. At this point it is appropriate to start addressing the frequency of incidents. We can begin addressing the number of incidents because we’ve cultivated a dog that thinks differently about the way they use their mouth.
You should ideally have been integrating obedience training into your puppy work all along the way anyways, so it’s a simple manner to use incompatible behaviors to stop the mouthing.
By now the mouthing behavior is more about controlling their environment than it is trying to elicit feedback, so now you can focus on polite behaviors, redirecting, building impulse control, engaging them in interactive and instructive play, and simply continuing to give good representative feedback on their behavior.
Chew toys for quiet time comes back into play here. If you’re a follower of this blog you know that we have preached the gospel of creating a chew toy addicted dog. Settling down with a toy is emotionally satisfying and teaches them to learn to occupy themselves.
Gentle tug for playful opposition and energy expenditure is also one of our favorite teaching tools.
This provides an opportunity to build manners, impulse control, and more motivating reward structures. Also make sure you’re using good food handling to short-circuit nipping.
By about 18 weeks the brain chemistry starts changing and your window for learning acquired bite inhibition will start closing. Don’t wait! By six months it will be pretty much closed and the strategies we talked about won’t work any more.
If you have an eight or nine month old dog jumping up and grabbing your arms or sleeves, and you haven’t done that work already you’re gonna be in a pickle.
You’ll need different methods to fix that because off leash classes, crying out, or walking away won’t work anymore.
Now you can really only focus on a frequency and the force of biting is what it is. Contact a qualified trainer or behaviorist near you to help you out. Now let’s do some myth-busting!
There are a lot of solutions offered by articles on the Internet and well-meaning friends, and most of these are total rubbish.
Let’s dissect them. Using leave it or drop it— these prevent any opportunity to learn bite inhibition because they’re not providing the right kind of feedback. These are important to learn on the side but useless for play biting.
Use these for mouthing after they’ve mastered their bite inhibition. This only works if they’ve had specific lessons on the meaning of that phrase away from the situation they’re biting in. It also stops the bite training altogether, so it’s no use for us at all.
Tap them on the nose—this is great if you want to teach your dog that you’re a bully. Also great for creating a head shy dog.
However, it does nothing for bite inhibition. Actually you’ll probably get some relief from the biting though because the puppy will just stop interacting with you altogether.
Stick your thumb in their mouth and smash their tongue against their teeth—oh my god! This makes no training sense whatsoever. It’s abuse.
Please stop doing that. Using a squirt bottle—do we squirt babies in the face when they’re doing something that annoys us?
Using a muzzle— this prevents all mouth interaction and pretty much guarantees a hard biter as an adult. Also it means no eating, drinking, playing with toys, or anything else related to just being a puppy. It’s lazy and irresponsible.
Redirecting to a chew toy—Puppies aren’t trying to relieve teething pains when they play bite. As you’ve learned they bite to learn ABI. You might get a temporary respite but it’ll be short-lived and you missed a teachable moment.
Chew toys are awesome but they’re for chewing during quiet times. Chewing is relaxing and it does relieve teething discomfort but play biting serves a whole other purpose. Don’t waste the opportunity.
As we have already said puppy biting is a perfectly normal behavior. It’s a normal behavior but it’s not pleasant for us humans, so we want to teach our puppies not to bite us right?
Well, we do but not quite so fast. First thing I want to talk about is the teeth, because puppy teeth and adult teeth are very different and there’s a very important reason for this.
Puppy teeth are very sharp. they’re like little tiny needles and it hurts when they bite you. adult teeth are very dull, they’re more powerful, they’re not as brittle as puppy teeth but they’re more dull.
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Teach Your Shih Tzu Puppy Bite Inhibition
There is a reason why puppy teeth are so sharp and that is because they need those sharp teeth to learn bite inhibition. Bite inhibition is what allows your dog to have a safe mouth, not to be a danger to you, other people and other animals.
If we were to take our puppies and leave them with their mother and their litter-mates for six months, we wouldn’t have to have this issue of teaching our dogs bite inhibition.
What would happen would be our puppies would be biting each other and when they bite down on another puppy hard they would yelp.
If they don’t yelp the dog that was bitten too hard would snap at the other dog, this is how puppies learn how hard to bite from each other.
This is why puppies have such sharp teeth, because they’re so sharp even just a small amount of pressure hurts, so if that small amount of pressure hurts and causes another dog to Yelp they learn to be gentle with that sharp teeth.
when they get their adult teeth they now think that that gentle pressure hurts even less so there’s a reason why puppies have puppy teeth. They fill out around 6 months and then the adults teeth come in, that’s also a big time for destructive chewing.
Because we usually separate the puppies from mom and litter mates at 8 to 12 weeks it now becomes our duty to teach our dogs bite inhibition, and if we don’t teach our dogs to have a soft mouth you’re living with the danger.
So I stressed this and why it’s so important, especially for people with large dogs or dogs with powerful jaws. It’s a safety issue, we have to teach them as a puppy to bite softly because otherwise as an adult dog they’re going to be dangerous.
So the question is usually how do we stop puppy biting?
Reduce The Biting Frequency
Before we reduce the frequency of the biting we need to reduce the pressure, so what we’re going to do is to them teach them how to bite softly.
That’s essentially what bite inhibition is, it’s biting soft. And we do this through a game we’re going to let the puppy chew on us.
We have them on our lap or playing with them and he starts nibbling on our finger, and then he nibbles on our arm and we let them do it just as long as it’s not hurting. It’s going to be uncomfortable of course, but it’s not terrible pain.
What we do is we wait until he bites down a little harder than he’s been doing, the second that he bites down too hard we react and show him that what he did wasn’t comfortable.
We don’t show him we are angry but we do show him it wasn’t comfortable. You can try and yelp at him with a really high pitch like puppies do.
Your puppy will react, he will realize that he hurt you and he’s gonna be confused, and then you go back to playing with him.
You continue with this and if he bites you too hard again you will react the same, eventually he will get to know how hard he can bite you without hurting. This is what he would have done naturally if he had been left with his mother and brothers and sisters.
This is a slow business, remember puppies have the puppy teeth until they are about six months old, so you’re doing this over the course of six months. Essentially teaching the puppy how soft to bite, how powerful his jaw is.
OK, so right now we’re working on reducing the pressure of the bite. Once we have the biting under control, where the puppy now knows how hard he’s allowed to bite down and how powerful his jaws is we now need to work on reducing the frequency of the bite.
How Do We Reduce The Frequency?
There are a couple things that we can do, the first thing we want to do is redirect the puppy. You should have toys in every single room of your home to redirect the puppy to bite the toy rather than you.
Carry toys in your pockets so you are never without one, so when he comes running up to you and grabs your pant leg, we don’t get angry or mad we just very calmly grab his collar, pull him off and give him a toy.
Shake the toy around in front of him to get his attention from biting you to biting and playing with his new toy. Puppies love movement so if you can get them more interested in the toy rather than you he will learn much quicker to bite the toy rather than your hand.
I will hear people say that “I try to redirect him but he doesn’t go for that toy” If he’s not going for that toy we need to look at why not. Maybe the toys are too boring, we should rotate our toys so he doesn’t get board. I have lost count of how many toys I own for my dog but he never gets them all at once.
There’s a big chest and every day we rotate, 5 new toys come out and five go back in so the toys are always new and always exciting. By the time you cycle through all of them he thinks it’s a brand new toy coming out.
So number one is if your puppy’s not interested in toys, either we need to buy some new ones to get them more excited or if you have a lot of toys start rotating them.
A very exciting thing for your puppy are puzzle toys, especially those with food in them. It doesn’t have to be a lot of food, just enough to get them off your pants, to get them to stop biting you.
Whatever it is when you put down a little puzzle toy with food, food is a number-one priority and resource for dogs.
Use toys with food in them, even if it’s just a small amount because this treat is a higher reward and higher priority to your dog than your pant leg.
Another thing you can do is setting up the puppy to see that when he bites you, something bad happens. One thing that is very affected are the bitter sprays, what you do is before you play with your puppy spray it on your pant legs and your hands.
I don’t want you to be ruining your clothes so test it out on a small area first. Most of them are water-based so you can put it on pretty much anything without risk, but just test in a small area first.
You can put it on your body, you can put it on your hands but be warned it tastes really bad so don’t get it in your mouth.
You can spray it on your hands so when the puppy goes to bite you they will get it in their mouth and they won’t like it. That’s one way to reduce the frequency of the biting.
Another way is to use a hot sauce. You put a little bit of hot sauce on your pants and when they go to bite you and they get that super spicy hot sauce, it stops them.
The final and the most effective thing is what I call a reverse timeout. We grab the dog and we put them into isolation where there’s no food or any toys. You can put them into a bathroom, a closet or hallway but only for a very short period of time.
Reversed Timeout Is The Opposite.
Instead of us taking the puppy and putting them into timeout, we go into timeout. So we’re playing with a puppy and he bites us really hard, what we do is we don’t react, we just stand up and we leave the room and we leave the room for 10 seconds.
We’re not mad, we’re not angry, we don’t yell at the puppy, we get up and we leave the room for 10 seconds, then we come back as if nothing has happened.
When you come back into the room give him some praise, but if he does it again just leave the room. What you are teaching your dog is that if he bites you are going to leave and playtime is over.
Remember this is the second part, this is when we’re working on reducing the frequency of the behavior. In the beginning we’re not getting up and leaving because we’re teaching the puppy by addition, once he learns by an addition and we’re trying to reduce the frequency.
The reverse timeout is very powerful because your dog wants to be with you, the reverse timeout is powerful if you have a good bond with your puppy and he wants to be with you.
Shih Tzu’s are social animals, so as long as you have a good bond with them then timeout is a very effective tool.
So instead of us taking the puppy and putting him in timeout, we’re leaving, we’re teaching the puppy that when you bite us all plays is over.
Remember your little eight week old puppy is just that, he’s eight week old so he doesn’t know any better.
He doesn’t know he’s not supposed to bite, he doesn’t understand that biting is not something that humans like, he just knows how to be a dog.
He only knows how to be a puppy, so you’re going to have that patience with this. You’re not going to teach your puppy to stop biting in a day, you’re not going to teach him bite inhibition in a day.
It’s gonna take a few weeks or even a couple of months to guarantee that your dog has a safe jaw, has a safe mouth, has good bite inhibition and then to reduce the frequency.
By six months, generally speaking you shouldn’t have any issues with puppy biting you anymore because by six months, and once the adult teeth come in they will have outgrown this stage of learning.
That’s about the age they would outgrow it natural living with a group of dogs with their mom.
So puppy biting takes work, it’s not the most pleasant thing and it hurts having a little puppy teeth biting into your hand but in the long run its worth the effort.