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Sandra C. asked what to do about her young Australian Shepherd that likes to nip at her and sometimes bites hard enough to draw blood. AKC GoodDog! Helpline Trainer Paisley Lunchick offers up some advice.

Biting is a normal part of being a dog and serves a variety of functions. Some breeds, such as the Australian Shepherd, use nipping with their front teeth to herd sheep, cattle, or other livestock. For dogs bred to nip while herding, it’s a deeply ingrained behavior.

Puppies bite during play to practice fighting and that is when they begin to learn “bite inhibition” (how to moderate the strength of their bite). Puppies first learn bite inhibition from their mom and littermates. Other puppies may squeal loudly when bitten during play, and mom may (gently) step in with her own teeth to stop a puppy that is getting too rough. A mother dog will also get up and walk away from an overly rambunctious pup. Some puppies have not completely learned bite inhibition by the time they come to live with their new owners, so that training needs to continue at home.

How to Teach Bite Inhibition

When you bring a dog home, the very first rule you should establish is “no hands.” It’s common to want to use your hands while playing with a puppy, but instead, offer lots of fun toys that he can bite, like squeaky toys, stuffed toys, and fleece tug toys.

At some point, though, your puppy’s teeth are bound to touch your skin, even if it’s by accident. Here’s what you should do when that happens:

  • Stand up and walk away — don’t play with your puppy for 3-to-5 minutes. You can also make a high-pitched “yelp” before walking away.
  • Redirect to a toy — when you go back to playing, avert your puppy’s attention to a toy.
  • Give him a time-out — gently put your puppy in his crate (but be very careful that he doesn’t learn to associate his crate with punishment).
  • Go to a class — enroll your puppy in an AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy class to provide socialization with other dogs.

Here’s what NOT to do:

  • Use hands as toys — avoid putting your hands near his face while you play.
  • Shove him away — this may encourage him to play rougher.
  • Punish your puppy for biting — this might make him not want to play at all.

When Puppy Biting Is More Than Just Play

Sometimes puppy biting is more than just play. But how can you tell? During play, a puppy’s body should be loose and relaxed. He may growl and bark, but can easily be redirected with a toy or treat. If your puppy is growling or biting around food, when you go to put on his leash, or in other non-play situations, you should speak to your veterinarian or a professional dog trainer. This could be a sign of more serious behavioral problems.

Our dogs are cherished members of the family, sharing our lives and providing unconditional love. But all dog owners know that our canine partners have different perspectives on life than we do.

If you have ever asked, “Why does my dog do that?” then this feature is for you. The AKC GoodDog! Helpline training team will answer your questions on dogs’ behavior and offer training advice to help you and your pup have the best relationship possible. The AKC GoodDog! Helpline is a seven-day-a-week telephone support service staffed by professional dog trainers. For more information on the service and how to enroll, go to
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