How to Stop a Puppy From Nipping or Biting Children (15 Tips)

To stop a puppy from nipping or biting children, you will need to take a multi-faceted approach, tackling the behavior from various angles.

How to Stop a Puppy From Nipping or Biting Children (15 Tips)

To stop a puppy from nipping or biting children, you will need to take a multi-faceted approach, tackling the behavior from various angles.

What's Up With Puppies Nipping and Biting Children?

Many parents may welcome a puppy into their home only to regret the choice because they weren't expecting them to start nipping their children. A disproportionate amount of nipping may even lead your children to start acting afraid of the puppy and no longer wanting to interact with him/her.

Perhaps the puppy has even made your children cry because his nipping hurts and your children want to run around and play, but your puppy won't leave them alone as he is constantly nipping their feet and legs as they move about.

It's unfortunate that puppies have such needle-sharp teeth and children have such delicate skin. Fortunately, though, a puppy's jaw strength is weak compared to that of an adult dog which is why generally, we don't see as much harm compared to bites from older dogs.

But why do puppies seem so intent on nipping in the first place? And most of all, why are children their favorite targets?

What Makes Children Prone to Puppy Bites?

Children are often running around amok, giggling, flailing their arms around, talking in high-pitched excitable voices and displaying loads of kinetic energy.

Puppies are attracted to children as they remind them of their playmates or fun tug toys that squeak as they're waving their fingers and hands away when bitten.

However, not all forms of nipping and biting are created equally.

Nipping vs. Biting

This article will address the typical nipping seen in puppies who are playing and get easily aroused around children, chasing, jumping and nipping.

If your puppy is biting your child when he's in possession of a resource (like a bone, food, sleeping areas, or toys), you may be dealing with a case of resource guarding. This requires a different approach, so please consult with a behavior professional.

If your puppy nips when he's being pet by a child, he may be "playing" with the child's hands, but this can also be a sign of your puppy struggling with being touched and handled.

Watch his body language for signs of stress, and when in doubt, please seek the aid of a professional. Your puppy may not have been socialized well with children, or he may feel overwhelmed and fearful.

Some puppies need to learn to tolerate, and hopefully enjoy, touch through positive handling exercises. However, it's always recommended to work with a professional if there are signs of fear or aggression.

Puppies perceive young children as fun playmates.

How to Stop a Puppy From Nipping Children

Stopping a puppy from nipping or biting children requires a multi-pronged approach tackling the issue from various angles. Puppy nipping doesn't stop overnight, but with time and consistency, the nipping behavior should gradually reduce over time.

1. Avoid These Methods

It may tempting for parents to correct the puppy's biting through physical corrections such as muzzle grabs, nose bops, tapping on the nose, delivering an alpha roll or scruff shakes, or even pushing the puppy's cheek into his teeth. However, all these methods can backfire (on top of being inhumane) and cause problems down the road that are far more troublesome than the original biting.

These methods are rather outdated and based on the old assumption that puppies may want to be alpha dogs and take charge. More about this is explained here: "help my puppy think he's alpha!"

2. Identify What Triggers the Nipping Behavior

Not all puppies are created equally. Some puppies may get nippy only when the children are running around. Others may get nippy when the children try to pet the puppy or maybe when the children sit down on the floor.

However, it's not unusual for puppies to want to nip children even as they're just walking around, watching TV or sitting on a chair. This is most likely to happen when the puppy is very young and hasn't been offered alternate activities to engage in.

Also, consider timing. Many puppies are at peak "nippiness" in the mornings and evenings. Most puppies also get super nippy when they start getting tired and are in dire need of a nap.

Once you have identified triggers, situations and times when the biting is worse, jot them down on a piece of paper. Next, start implementing management strategies.

3. Use Management Strategies to Prevent Rehearsal

Management simply entails preventing putting puppies into overstimulating and overwhelming situations that evoke wild nipping behaviors. The main goals of management are to prevent rehearsal of the problem behavior and keep children safe from physical and emotional scars.

Here's the thing: The more dogs are allowed to rehearse problematic behaviors, the better they get at it and the more habit-forming those behaviors become.

If a puppy is allowed to constantly nip the children excitedly, he will get into a routine where just the mere sight of children will put him in the mood for playing, getting overstimulated and nippy.

On top of this, a puppy nipping the children can cause children to get bruises and teeth scratches, not to mention that they may develop a fear of the pup and a general reluctance to interact with the puppy.

So when it comes to puppies and children, below are some examples of management. Of course, these are just temporary, transient solutions until the pup learns how to better gauge the force of his biting and learns better impulse control.

For instance, when the kids are at school, the pup can be allowed more freedom around the home and should spend time training, playing and socializing under the guidance of the adults. When the kids are home, then management options can be used and rotated as needed.

Use a Baby Gate

A baby gate can provide a "split plan" with puppies having their own play area and children another, but they can still see and hear each other. This can prevent pups from wanting to constantly nip the kids.

A baby gate may also help prevent a puppy from chasing the children when they move from one room to another.

For large-breed puppies, I like to use Carlson's extra tall baby gate so that it can still be helpful once the puppy grows.

Use an Exercise Pen

Keeping the puppy in an exercise pen is another option that can also be handy if you're using pee pads to potty train your puppy. Make sure your pup has water, toys and safe chew items to keep occupied on one side and the pee pads on the opposite side.

Use a Crate

Use the crate to confine your puppy for relaxation time and naps. Puppies need frequent naps during the day. When puppies aren't sleeping enough and are overstimulated, they get cranky and start nipping. Putting the puppy in the crate in a quiet area with a chew toy should promote sleep.

Tether the Puppy

The puppy can be tethered to something stable, such as the leg of a table or another piece of heavy furniture that is safe and sturdy. Avoid furniture that can tip over or be dragged. For safety, only tether to a harness and not a collar, attaching the tether to the back clip. Never leave a tethered puppy unsupervised. Provide your puppy a bed or mat to rest on and something to chew.

A good indoor tether should be chew-proof and difficult to tangle.

Try Umbilical Cord Tethering

In umbilical cord tethering, you simply attach your puppy's leash to a belt clip so that your puppy goes where you go. You can rely on tethering when the children and pup share a room, like during mealtimes or when children are doing homework or watching TV.

Outdoor Tie-Out

An outdoor tie-out can also help when the children and pup share the yard. Pups should be provided with chew toys and things to keep busy while confined. They should always be supervised when tethered, and they should only be tethered to objects when wearing a harness.

Keep Your Puppy on Leash

Keeping the puppy on leash with you when around the kids can help, too so he's at distance from them and cannot jump on them or nip them.

4. Train Better Bite Inhibition

All puppies need to learn to bite more gently. This is a very important skill that needs to be mastered before the puppy's jaw gets stronger.

While puppies learn the ABCs of bite inhibition when in the litter with their mom and littermates, once they are welcomed into their new homes, they must reduce their biting considering that humans have delicate skin and lack the fur to cushion their bites!

You can start training bite inhibition by training your puppy to take treats gently and providing feedback.

You can verbally mark rough biting with an "ouch!" said sharply, but avoid yelping/squealing like a hurt animal (which overstimulates many pups). Be sure to praise (and give a treat) when the pup uses a soft mouth.

This is something that takes weeks rather than days to accomplish. Pups need to learn human skin is super sensitive. Do this when your pup is calmer. If he is too aroused, leave the area and try again when he is calmer.

Taking the puppy to classes and play dates with other vaccinated pups can help a lot too, as they get to further work on their bite inhibition.

5. Train Helpful Obedience Cues

When the children are away and the home is quiet, it's a good time to start training the puppy. Puppies have short attention spans, especially the younger ones, so you want to split your training into several brief sessions lasting no more than 3–4 minutes at first.

You can train a puppy to sit, lie down, leave it, drop it, hand target and come when called. Later on, you can use these to your advantage in many situations.

For instance, you can ask your puppy to sit when around children, ask him to "leave it" when you notice him about to approach your child, ask him to "drop it" if he's carrying around a child's toy, and you can call your puppy if you notice he's about to chase a child.

Make sure to start training in a quiet room and when the children are not around. Then, practice in other areas of the home and under more distractions, adding them gradually.

Use your pup's kibble if he likes it, or try some low-calorie treats to reinforce those desirable behaviors. For small dogs, here are some ways to train without spoiling your pup's appetite. The science of positive reinforcement training tells us that when behaviors are reinforced (with food, treats, toys, life rewards) those behaviors tend to strengthen and repeat.

If your puppy is at any time not attentive, it can often mean that there's something too distracting going on, or your puppy may need to go potty, is thirsty or is getting tired. Always keep sessions fun and brief and end them on a positive note to increase eagerness in training.

6. Train Responsiveness to Redirection

Redirection entails catching the puppy when he is about to nip or is nipping and engaging him in another activity.

One of my preferred options for redirection is training your puppy to become responsive to a smacking sound you make with your mouth. Start by making kissy sounds and tossing a treat in your pup's direction. Rinse and repeat several times until you start noticing your puppy looking at you for a treat upon you making these kissy sounds.

Then start adding distance. Move gradually away from your pup so that when you make the kissy sound, your puppy will have to move in your direction and come to you to get the treat. Rinse and repeat several times, practicing in various parts of the home and gradually increasing distractions.

More Ways to Reirect a Puppy From a Distance

Other ways to redirect the puppy from a distance include saying:

  • "Rover, catch!" as you toss a ball in his direction.
  • "Rover, let's play" as you wiggle a flirt pole around.
  • "Rover, find!" as you toss kibble and treats on the ground treasure-hunt style.
  • "Rover, tug!" as you wiggle a long tug toy enticing him to latch on.

Make these activities extra irresistible and rewarding by offering access to such toys only when training rather than leaving these toys out and available most of the time. Providing these toys only when training makes them extra special, and thus more powerful.

7. Gradually Add Distractions (Children!)

As your pup learns to respond to training cues and becomes responsive to redirection at home in different settings away from the children, it is time to gradually and very systematically start asking the pup to perform this taught behavior despite the children being around.

You can start with low-level exposures that will help your puppy succeed. For instance, at a greater distance from where your children actively play or closer when your kids are instructed to stay calm. Here are some examples:

  • Practice responsiveness to your smacking sound by keeping your pup by an indoor window and redirecting as your pup watches your children play in the yard.
  • Have your puppy on leash and practice sits, downs and hand targets while you sit on the deck at a distance from the children.
  • Practice obedience cues with your puppy when behind the baby gate or exercise pen as your children play at distance.
  • Practice "Rover, catch!," "Rover, play!" and "Rover, tug!" while your puppy is on a long line (~20 feet) at a distance from your children.

Remember: If your puppy is at any time not attentive, it can often mean that there's something too distracting going on or you aren't using reinforcers that are not high-value enough.

Learn to recognize when your puppy is over threshold. When this happens, try to lower the level of distraction and remember to be very generous in reinforcing.

Challenges are common when competing with strong distractions (wanting to play and chase the children). So if your pup did well at home without the kids around with kibble, when around the children, use some stinky liver treats or pieces of chicken.

8. Ask Children to Follow Rules

Children should be taught to appropriately interact with the puppy and should always be supervised by an adult when around the puppy. They should be discouraged from engaging in rough play or wrestling with the pup to avoid putting the pup in a position for nipping and practicing high arousal levels.

To play with the pup, they should use a toy that is kept between the pup's mouth and the child's hand. Long tug toys may help reduce the chances of puppy biting.

The Tumbo Tough Tug Rope is something I like to use with nippy pups. This is preferable because it is 5 feet long and children can drag it behind them. This can work well, as pups will choose to nip this rather than the child's moving feet, clothes etc.

If the pup decides to nip hands/legs while playing with a toy, the child should give feedback such as saying, "whoops, too bad!" and leave the area. This gives the puppy feedback that playtime ends when he starts getting rough.

9. Involve Children in the Training

Once your puppy does well, you can involve your children in the training if they are older and able to follow your instructions. Ask your children to act calm and keep their voices calm. For younger children, you may have to be the one who redirects the pup most of the time.

Keep your puppy on leash and have your children ask the puppy to sit, lie down, hand target, etc. and then reward the puppy with treats. If your puppy is still rough in taking treats, have them drop the treats or toss them at a distance.

Children can also take turns and practice approaching the puppy when on leash/tethered, and give a treat if the puppy allows them to walk by and doesn't nip or jump, or say, "ooops, too bad," turning around and leaving should the puppy try to nip.

After some reps, the puppy can even be asked to sit, hand target or lie down. If he complies, the child rewards with a treat. If he nips, the child says, 'oops, too bad" and leaves.

In a similar fashion, children can enter the baby gate and ask the pup for sits or hand targets and toss a treat, rinse and repeat several times in a row. But the child must leave should the puppy nip so the puppy learns that all fun ends when he nips.

10. Play Constructive Games

There are also many games children can play with the puppy under adult supervision that do not encourage nipping. For instance, an adult can hold the puppy and the child can go hide, and then say, "where am I?" as the adult releases the pup to go find him.

Once the puppy reaches him, the child can then reward with a few tossed kibble. Then the adult holds the pup again while the child goes to hide.

Puppies can also be trained to come when called in a Round Robin fashion, with children taking turns calling the puppy and rewarding him for coming.

Adults should monitor for signs the pup is getting tired and take the pup to a quiet zone to chill down and enjoy something to chew.

Most children love to be involved in training the puppy; just make sure to always supervise and that they follow your instructions carefully, showing them firsthand what to do so as not to confuse the puppy.

Tip: Avoid having your children lie down or sit on the floor with the puppy if this seems to encourage nipping. This can be worked on later once the puppy is calmer and learns better ways of interacting.

11. Desensitize to Movements and Voices

Many sources suggest that children "turn into a tree" when puppies nip. I am not sure why this notion is so widespread because it's pretty unrealistic expecting children to stay still when a puppy is nipping and hurting!

Although this may work at the moment in some cases as pups lose interest, it can cause more nipping as a result of an extinction burst or, once the puppy leaves and the child moves, the pup may start nipping again.

Children can also be quite inconsistent with their behaviors, so they may turn into a tree for a bit and then tire and resume moving, which leads to inconsistency and confusion for the puppy.

Such inconsistencies may end up reinforcing persistence, since the puppy learns that if they endure their nipping, the child gives up and starts moving again or starts (understandably) squirming from the pain.

Rather than relying only on the "turn into a tree" method, I suggest incorporating desensitization exercises. By desensitizing, we are making the puppy less sensitive to hand and foot movements by the child.

At a distance, with your pup on leash, you can have your child practice making quick movements of the arms and then legs while you make your smacking sound and feed your pup a treat for redirecting to you.

You can do the same by asking your child to say excited things in high-pitched voices or doing other things that seem to make your puppy excited.

By doing so, you are training an alternate response and helping your pup make good choices. You are also making your pup less sensible to movements and hyper behaviors.

At some point, you can train your puppy to sit and watch your child making the movements and praising for not giving in to the temptation of chasing and nipping. This is a great exercise in impulse control.

Remember: If your puppy is at any time not responsive, it can often mean that there's something too distracting going on or you aren't using reinforcers that are high-value enough. Try to lower the level of distraction (increasing distance/making the movements or voices less intense), and remember to be very generous in reinforcing.

12. Provide Outlets for Natural Behaviors

Puppies have a natural need for playing and exploring the world through their mouths. Make sure to provide plenty of outlets during the day so that these needs are satiated.

Provide brain games, feed meals in food puzzles, provide toys that your puppy can tug on and chase and stock up on a variety of age-appropriate chews to help teething puppies.

If you have access to a friend with another vaccinated puppy, you can organize play dates so that your pup can get rid of excess pent-up energy and play as he likes.

13. Ensure Your Puppy Isn't Tired

As mentioned, puppies can get particularly nippy when they are tired or overstimulated. Even the most inhibited puppies can become mouth-crazed when tired or overly excited. Sort of like toddlers throwing a tantrum.

It is best to provide your pup with a quiet place to relax and nap during the day, ideally before your puppy has a chance for starting to nip. Puppies need a lot of sleep to grow.

14. Track Your Progress

You won't stop a puppy from nipping/biting children overnight, but with time you should see a reduction in the intensity and frequency of the biting. To better grasp whether progress is being made, keep track of the biting episodes.

Go back to your paper where you wrote the instances when the biting was occurring and monitor whether there is a decrease in those instances.

Even if there are small signs of progress, embrace those, as they will pave the path for more and more progress.

15. Consult With the Pros

Last but not least, if you are struggling, don't hesitate to consult with a dog trainer/dog behavior consultant using force-free training and behavior modification techniques. You can find a vast array of force-free professionals in the directory of the Pet Professional Guild.

Always supervise your child when around a puppy

The Only Time I Suggest "Turning Into a Tree"

As mentioned, I am not a big fan of the "turning into a tree method." However, I have found that this method can work in particular circumstances—that is, if the pup's nipping is aimed towards a child's feet, ankles and lower legs and owners are willing to go an extra mile and have their kids wear tall Wellington boots and extra layers of clothing.

That way, children won't feel the nips and are capable of standing still. The pup will soon lose interest as the boots don't allow much grip and there is no more movement and screaming to make the children resemble a fun tug toy that squeaks.

When All Else Fails

Sometimes, things may not work out as desired, and you may be forced to consider rehoming your puppy. You may not have the time, patience or finances to work on training or hiring a professional. It takes a lot of work to juggle a puppy in a household with children.

Sometimes, you may also stumble on more complex cases, such as puppies removed from the litter too young, singleton puppies or very high-drive puppies bred from working lines. Some pups are just not genetically wired right, or they are not a good match for your family.

Remember to always make the safety and well-being of your children your top priority. In such cases, you just need to do what works best for your family, even if this means tough decisions such as returning the puppy to the breeder or rehoming.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2023 Adrienne Farricelli


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