Many Labrador parents if asked “When do puppies stop biting?” will answer “Not soon enough!” Being bitten by an 8 week old puppy is surprisingly painful. It is also very upsetting.
Puppies start teething at 3-4 months old
With some exceptions, puppy biting will stop by the time your puppy has his full set of grown up teeth at 7 months.
Puppies bite because they are teething, but they also bite in play. So we’ll look at both these issues.
Fortunately, you can stop your puppy from biting long before they have cut all their adult teeth. And that is what this guide is about.
So let’s find out how to stop a puppy from biting you and start enjoying him again.
Do all Labradors bite?
Anyone who shares their home with a 10 or 12 week old puppy will tell you that Labradors bite!
And I can reassure you that this applies to all Labradors in the first few months of life.
Fortunately this is a phase puppies go through and not a permanent character flaw. And most adult Labradors are indeed very good natured dogs.
At what is normal, and what is not.
My puppy bites a lot
Worried new puppy parents will often say “but I don’t think this is normal puppy biting, he is biting such a lot, and mainly biting the children.”
And it certainly is worrying when the your children’s tears after playing with the puppy, are not the tears of joy you had anticipated.
When your new puppy is in full ‘biting mode’ and pursuing your terrified three year old around the kitchen, you can be forgiven for wondering if you have made a terrible mistake in bringing him into your lives at all. Let’s take a closer look
My puppy is biting my children!
If your children are in tears at being bitten every time they try to play with and cuddle their new friend, you may be wondering if your puppy is becoming aggressive.
You may even worry that your children might be at risk.
Fortunately I can reassure you that this is not the case. While your puppy may frighten your children with his sharp teeth and growling. The way he is behaving now does not mean he will be a threat to their safety in the future.
Happily, studies have shown that behavior in small puppies is not predictive of the way that they will behave as adults!
The way some small puppies bite and frighten children even more than they do adults has everything to do with the way children behave around puppies and nothing whatever to do with the character of your puppy
Why do puppies bite children?
Some breeders will not sell puppies to homes where there are small children. This is because puppies often bite children and teenagers harder and more persistently than they bite grown-ups.
It is normal for puppies to make small children cry, but before you rush your puppy off to the local shelter, bear with me a moment, because I can help with that.
Children give off conflicting signals to the puppy. And because puppies are poor at interpreting children’s movements and vocalisations they respond inappropriately.
Fortunately there are lots of ways to make it easier on yourself and on your kids. We’ll have a look at those in a moment.
But in short, you need to be a little patient at this point, and it helps to know that this phase does pass quite quickly. And that it is completely normal for all puppies to bite a lot, and to bite children with particular enthusiasm.
Why do Labrador puppies bite so much?
It has to be said, Labradors are even more bitey than some other breeds of dog during this stage in their development. In fact, retrievers generally tend to be very bitey as puppies.
We have bred these dogs for generations to be a little obsessed about putting things in their mouths, so maybe it isn’t so surprising that they are very mouthy when they are still small and very playful.
The constant biting can still come as a shock though, to anyone who thought that they had adopted a ‘gentle’ breed. As can the pain of being bitten.
“These are not ‘nips’!” say many new puppy parents “they are real ‘bites’!”
My puppy bites so hard!
“But wait a minute ” you cry “I am actually being injured by my puppy, surely that isn’t normal?”
The answer I’m afraid is, yes, it is. Puppy bites do hurt. And sometimes they leave marks.
Pain, bruising, scratching, little tooth marks on your toddler, these are all part and parcel of raising a puppy. Some very enthusiastic puppies will even draw blood on occasions.
All this is normal, but I will explain what you can do about it.
Is my puppy aggressive?
Perhaps the most serious concern that new puppy parents have, is the fear that their puppy is becoming aggressive.
We may have lived alongside dogs for thousands of year, but that doesn’t alter the fact that these are powerful predators with jaws capable of doing great harm.
It is only natural for an inexperienced puppy owner to worry that their puppy’s behavior might be a sign of a dangerous animal in their midst
The thing most likely to make people think their puppy is aggressive isn’t the constant biting, or how hard their puppy bites, or even how much it hurt.
What really worries people is the snarling.
My puppy is growling at me
When puppies play, they practice being fierce. They throw themselves into the whole play acting thing with huge enthusiasm.
And they are brilliant at it.
Your puppy’s aim is to make himself sound hugely fierce and scary. It’s all part of the game. And the most important part of that game is to make as much noise as possible and to sound as angry as possible.
So, all puppies growl or snarl ferociously when they play, while they are biting, and sometimes when they are trying to entice their poor owners into yet another game.
Your pup won’t just sound fierce, he’ll look fierce too. His little face will be all scrunched up, his lips drawn back, his teeth showing. It’s not surprising your kids have gone right off him!
Your puppy’s mother, and his brothers and sisters all understood this was a game and weren’t bothered by it. So he has no idea that he is frightening your children or that you are wondering if he is turning into a horrible aggressive and dangerous beast.
Please do be reassured, that however fierce your ten week old puppy sounds. It is just a game. He is truly just playing.
Normal puppy play behavior
So, the hard truth is, all puppies bite. And many puppy bites are quite painful.
Some Labrador puppies bite more than most, and biting a lot, and growling or snarling at the same time is normal.
So is biting so hard that it makes your eyes water, and even occasionally breaks the skin.
Puppies bite at hands that go to stroke them, at bare feet, and happily tug away at clothing, all the while trying to sound as fierce as they possibly can.
All this is normal.
When do puppies stop biting?
Even if you do nothing, if you don’t play physically with your puppy very much, the biting will naturally begin to decrease at around four to five months of age.
This tends to happen without much active ‘no-bite’ training in families where there are just one or two adults, who are experienced with puppies and don’t get puppies excited.
It also happens in working dog families where the dogs may be kennelled or at least are not allowed unsupervised interaction with anyone apart from their trainer or main carer.
A study carried out on Guide Dog puppies in 2001 showed that simply rejecting interaction and refusing to play was enough to stop the puppies biting their adult puppy walkers.
But, and it is a big but – in most young families, this is not always what happens.
In many families, especially where the puppy is a novelty, everyone plays with the puppy, and often in quite a physical way. This gets puppies very excited and tends to make biting worse.
Inexperienced puppy owners also tend to inadvertently prolong the biting phase by rewarding the puppy with attention when he bites.
Things that make biting worse
To summarise, these are the three things that make biting worse in most Labrador puppies
- Poor bite inhibition
Let’s take each of these in turn:
Puppies bite more if they are excited. The more excited they get, the harder they bite.
Rough physical play gets puppies excited, rubbing puppies tummies, chasing puppies, grabbing at puppies. All these things get puppies bubbling with excitement
Noisy behaviour can get puppies excited too, so children squealing, or crying, grown ups shouting or getting cross. All these things can send little puppies into a kind of ‘meltdown’
Rewarding puppies with attention
Rewarding puppies for biting also makes puppies bite more, and prolongs the biting phase.
You might not think you are rewarding your puppy for biting, but you probably are. And you are probably rewarding him with ‘attention’
Puppies love attention. Labrador puppies are particularly social and love attention more than most puppies do.
Any kind of contact with you, or other members of the family, including physical contact, talking, shouting, even eye contact, all reward your puppy.
And if you give him these things while he is biting, this will reinforce the biting behaviour and he will bite more in the future
Poor bite inhibition
What makes the bites hurt more, is poor bite inhibition.
So the next section explains what bite inhibition is and how you can help your puppy improve his.