Ask the Trainer

Ask the Trainer: Putting a Stop to Play Biting

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Hi Kevin!

Husky

We have an 8 month old siberian husky named Timber. We got him from a breeder when he was 13 weeks old. We did lots of reading and blogging before we got him and even still do now. He is a great dog, training for most things has been a breeze. He was potty trained in a couple weeks, is crate trained, will sit, shake, lay and stay on command. He has never shown any sign of aggression towards any dog, person or anything. In the house is myself, my husband and three kids (ages 14 to 18).

My issue is that he ‘bites’ people in a way that seems very playful but it’s super annoying. I don’t believe he is intending anything except playing. He may start with a nudge, then his 8 front teeth and if you try to ignore him he tries whole hand in mouth or bites onto clothes, shoes. Again I stress it’s not aggressive, tails wagging and sometimes he’s talking away. He never does this to me but does it to everyone else including strangers once he’s comfortable enough to let them touch him they also become his giant chew toy. I can sometimes get him to stop and settle down by sitting near me or laying down but other times no matter what I do nothing works. I call him in another room, in the house or anywhere away from the situation with a ‘Timber come. Be a good boy and you can have a treat`. Sometimes that works but most of the time it works for 5 minutes or so.

He has lots of chew toys which he loves, does not chew food, empty shoes or anything else. I think I’m missing a step somewhere in getting him to stop with others, like I said he doesn’t do it to me. He may give me the nudge but stops at that. I also realize that when he was small the hubby and boys would play with him allowing him to bite them playing around, I never allowed that. He gets plenty of exercise on our property and we walk him on leash daily. 

Any advice is much appreciated.

Thanks!
Christina

Hi Christina,

The way you are describing this does make it sound as if it is play biting. Play biting is one way that a dog plays with other dogs or even humans. In order to make this behavior go away we have to make sure that Timber does not get anymore enjoyment out of the play biting. If he play bites, and things happen after that he enjoys, he will continue to play bite. This is how positive reinforcement works. I am going to post a link to a video at the bottom of this that will show you how to teach Timber an alternate behavior that can be a little bit more fun than being bitten. It is called hand targeting. The idea behind teaching him to target a hand is that he can’t bite your hand and target your hand at the same time. This is what is referred to as teaching an incompatible behavior. By teaching hand targeting and reinforcing the behavior you can make it much more likely that he will hand target instead of play bite.

In regards to punishing the play biting behavior I recommend using what is referred to as negative punishment. What I mean by this is utilizing time-outs. I want you to use a 2-word system. The first time he play bites I want you or the person being bitten to tell him, “no.” “No” in this sense will mean that the behavior he is currently doing is incorrect and he needs to try something else. In the beginning he will not know what,”no” means so he will go right back to play biting. If he does goes right back to play biting I want you to tell him, “too bad” and remove him from the people. Put him in a place that is no fun and that he can’t destroy anything. Do this for 2-5 minutes. After that time is up let him out and let him try again. If he makes the wrong decision (play biting) repeat the process I just mentioned. If he comes out and does the correct thing make sure you praise and reward him to let him know he is doing the correct thing. It will probably take a couple repetitions doing the time-out process before he starts to catch on.

Another easy thing you can do is use a leash since he doesn’t do it to you. If he starts to do it you can just grab the leash and pull him away from the person that he is trying to do it to. Once he settles down you can try to let him play with the person again appropriately.

Be patient and very consistent. Speak clearly to him when communicating so he has a better chance of understanding what you are saying.

This video will demonstrate how to teach hand targeting to Timber:

Thank you for the question!
Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA

Kevin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT.org)  and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator through the American Kennel Club. He currently resides in Ohio with his dog, V, a six-year-old Shepherd/Lab mix, where he operates All Dogs Go To Kevin, LLC, specializing in helping build positive relationships between humans and their canine companions using clear communication, not pain and fear. For more training tips and tricks, and to meet his amazing dog, V,  follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar Of Nicole

    Nicole

    says:

    Oh wow. I taught my puppy at 8 weeks to basically do the same thing but “kiss” instead of touch. I’ve been pretty accomodating with her so far (teaching bite inhibition & she’s 5 months) but when she get’s over-excited it can start to hurt a bit. Not to mention her love for sleeves.

  2. Avatar Of Christin

    Christin

    says:

    Thanks for the response Kevin. I started holding his collar and making him sit next to me when he starts this. appreciate your response and am on it.

  3. Avatar Of Vanessa

    Vanessa

    says:

    One tactic I used to break my puppy of play biting was yipping. When dogs play fight each other and get too rough, the “victim” dog will yip in a way that communicates the action was painful. Whenever my puppy would om-nom-nom on my hand I’d let out a really high pitched “Yip!” and pull my hand away, then give the cold shoulder for a minute or two. It took a little time for it to get through, but it worked. Every dog learns differently!

  4. Avatar Of Michele

    michele

    says:

    My 8 week old jack rat puppy is super sweet and very lovable but at times he seems like he is mad with his tone of growls when playing with people or other dogs I so don’t want him to grow up and be mean but he has a streak in him not towards me but others. Please help me break him of this.

  5. Avatar Of Shriyansi

    Shriyansi

    says:

    Hi Kevin,
    My 16 month old boxer has the same habit, and giving him time outs isn’t really helping. We’re very consistent, but it doesn’t seem to be working. He also tends to do ‘herding’ behaviors – gently holds my hand in his mouth as I walk around the apartment. He tends to nip at my clothes playfully when he wants attention (I use the no no technique and walk away). He’s also a very vocal dog, but that too, is in play. There’s no aggression and he’s a pretty obedient dog otherwise – comes when he is called, sits, stays. Is good on the leash (though that took a LOT of training). He’s intelligent and an absolute joy to train when it comes to tricks, bit somehow behavioral corrections seem to just not work. What are we doing wrong? (It’s just the hubby and I in the house, and an 18 month old cocker spaniel – who doesn’t have any of these problems)

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