How to Train Your Dog to Not Bite Your Hands

Medium
4-6 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

Maybe you’ve been playing frisbee with your dog in the backyard, or you’ve just come home from work and Fido greets you with an excited, whole body wiggle, ready to play. You get down on all fours to wrestle and roughhouse, and then it happens - your fingers or hand end up in his mouth and he just can’t stop nibbling. Dogs learn to bite their owners’ hands in a variety of ways. Puppies curiously explore the world with their mouths, young dogs might give a quick nip to get attention from their owners, and sometimes your dog might be interested in your salty skin or the remnants of the pizza you just ate.

It doesn’t matter how biting hands has become a habit, it’s important to put a stop to it before it becomes an issue and especially before your puppy moves on to the practice of biting your face, or begins to get too rough with the kids. Breaking the hand-biting habit takes some commitment, especially if your dog is a bit older, but with dedication, your dog will soon understand that people are not for biting.

Defining Tasks

Teaching your dog not to bite your hands is important to ensure your friends and family feel comfortable around your best friend, and to ensure the habit doesn’t develop into anything more serious. Before you start, you should make sure you know why your dog is biting your hands. If it truly is for play or attention, his mouth and body will be relaxed. His tail will be wagging and he may even stick it in the air as a sign of play. 

However, some dogs will bite or nip out of fear or aggression. If your dog looks nervous or curls his lip in an unfriendly way before he bites, you should seek help from a trainer or behaviorist immediately to curb this bad behavior. Dogs might also nip if they are in pain, so make sure your dog doesn’t have any tender lumps, bumps, or joint pain. If you suspect your dog might be biting because he is in pain, make an appointment with your vet to assess any treatment needs.

Getting Started

To learn how to stop a dog from biting, you first need to determine why the pattern of your dog nipping is forming. Once you’ve determined that the hand biting is a playful bad habit and not a more serious issue, you can begin teaching your dog to stop biting your hands. Most dogs learn through play and experience, so playtime with your dog is the perfect time to start. You will need:

  • Treats or rewards to give him when he reacts well
  • A chew toy to distract him
  • Bitter tasting dog spray or lotion to put on your hands; make sure it is made specifically for dogs
  • Consistency to make sure he learns that biting your hand is never a good option 

There are several methods you can try to stop the naughty but frisky behavior of puppy play biting. Methods like giving verbal cues work best for puppies and young dogs, while providing a chewy alternative is sometimes more effective for older dogs. Whichever method you choose, start early, and your best buddy will learn an important lesson that will help him interact with people and dogs the rest of his life.

The Deterrent Method

Effective
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Step
1
Understand his motivation
One of the reasons your dog may bite your hands is because he likes how you taste. Salty skin mixed with food or flavors from your day may be irresistible to your dog. If you teach your dog that you don’t taste very good, they will be less likely to bite or nibble.
Step
2
Find a bitter deterrent spray or lotion
Dog trainers have long used flavors that dogs hate to prevent a puppy from chewing during teething, or an older dog from gnawing furniture or other household items. You can pick up an anti-chewing spray at your local pet store, just make sure whatever you choose is safe for pets.
Step
3
Apply to your hands
Before you start to play with your dog, or before you walk into your house, make sure to coat your hands with the bitter spray or lotion.
Step
4
Greet or play with your dog
Play with or greet your dog like you usually do. When he begins to bite your hands in play, he’ll quickly release your terrible tasting hand. Continue playing to show that you still want to interact. Hopefully, it will only take one or two mouthfuls of the bitter taste for your dog to learn that your hands are not fun to bite.
Step
5
Be consistent
It may take several sessions of play or greetings for your dog to remember that human hands make for an unpleasant taste. If there are several family members or friends who play with your dog, ask them to put the spray or lotion on too. This way your dog learns quickly that all human hands are unpalatable.
Step
6
Wash your hands
Make sure to wash your hands with soap and water before giving your dog treats, especially to reward him for good behavior. You don’t want him to associate that bad taste with rewards.
Recommend training method?

The Redirect With a Toy Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Understand the method
Sometimes dogs bite or nip because they are mouthy, have excess energy, or they get too excited while playing. You can change this behavior by giving them a toy to chew on instead of your hand. If your dog grew out of puppyhood with a biting or nipping habit, this method could work for you.
Step
2
Identify triggers
Does your dog give your fingers a nibble when your attention is on other things? Does he excitedly nip your hands when you walk in the door? Maybe he gets over excited during play time and uses his mouth to play. Determine which situations trigger this bad habit so you can be ready to redirect him with a toy.
Step
3
Have a chew toy ready
After you’ve determined when your pup is most likely to bite your hands, make sure you have a chew toy like a flavored bone, rawhide, or fabric rope accessible. You’ll have to act fast to replace his hand biting habit with a toy chewing behavior.
Step
4
Praise your dog
Tell your dog he’s a good boy once he takes the toy and begins playing with it. Soon he’ll learn that chewing the toy is more fun than nibbling on your hands.
Step
5
Consider alternative activities
If your dog continues to get carried away when playing or wrestling, consider activities that bring you in less physical contact with your dog. Playing fetch with a chuck-it or frisbee is a fun way to exercise and interact with your dog with little risk of him getting carried away and biting your hands.
Recommend training method?

The Verbal Cue Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Understand the method
This method may be easier to use on puppies who are still developing social behaviors, but adult dogs who never learned that their owners aren’t chew toys can still benefit from this method. The basic idea is to use your voice as a verbal cue to let your dog know that biting your hands isn’t the right way to play.
Step
2
Give a loud "yelp" as soon as she bites
When you’re playing with your puppy, make a loud ‘yelp’ when her mouth touches your hand and stop playing. She should startle at the sound and stop biting.
Step
3
Let your hand go limp
After you yelp, let your hand go limp in her mouth. When you relax your hand you stop the play. If you tug your hand away, your dog might still think it’s ok to play bite your hand.
Step
4
Briefly stop play
Your puppy was having a ball before she bit down on your fingers. If you stop play for 15 to 20 seconds, she’ll quickly come to realize that biting your hands means all the fun stops, and she doesn’t want that.
Step
5
Resume playing
After a brief stop, go right back to playing with your puppy. When she bites your hands the next time, repeat the same yelping sound and stop playing for a few seconds again. If you are consistent with your reactions, your puppy should learn within a few weeks that biting hands means play stops.
Step
6
Give a time out
If you have an older puppy or dog, you may need to up the consequences for biting your hands during play to make sure they understand that this is not an acceptable behavior. If your dog continues to bite your hands or increases how much she bites, give her a time out. When her mouth closes on your hands, say a stern “No,” and walk away from play. Don’t start playing again for five or ten minutes.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Yuke
Chihuahua
6 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Yuke
Chihuahua
6 Years

My dog nips me or scratches every time
I go to pick her up. I usually don’t pick her up except in certain circumstances I have to. How can I get her to stop?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
614 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jenna, It sounds like she needs trust and respect for you built. I suggest desensitizing her to being touched and handled and generally adding more structure and certain obedience commands to increase her respect for you. To desensitize her to being touched practice the following as often as you can with her meal kibble. Gently touch an area of pup's body while feeding a piece of food. For example, touch an ear and give a treat. Touch a paw and give a treat. Hold her collar and give a treat. Touch her tail gently and give a treat. Touch her belly, her other paws, her chest, shoulder, muzzle and every other area very gently and give a treat each time. Keep these times calm and fun for pup. Touch while she is eating the treat and stop touching as soon as the food is gone. You can start this exercise while wearing thick leather gloves until she is more comfortable if she may bite when you touch even while eating food. The following methods and commands are good ways to build respect: Working and Consistency methods: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Crate manners: https://thegooddog.net/training-videos/free-how-to-training-videos/learn-to-train-the-good-dog-way-the-crate/ Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo If things get worse, you feel overwhelmed, things are dangerous, or you want the help, hire a professional trainer to help you with the above exercises, especially the touch with treats. Ask lots of questions and find a private trainer who specializes in aggression and behavior issues and comes well recommended by previous clients who have struggled with similar issues with their pups. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Koko
German Shepherd Pitbull
4 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Koko
German Shepherd Pitbull
4 Months

My puppy is 4 months old and seemed to go and bite my ankles and feet since the first day we brought her home. She somehow goes straight for me feel and ankles some days and doesn't stop. It hurts so much and I feel like I've tried everything!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
614 Dog owners recommended

Hello Carley, First, if you can find a free puppy play date class attend one of those with her so that she can learn how to control the pressure of his bite by playing with other puppies. Petco and some other pet stores with training offer free puppy play classes if you call and ask for the schedule. If you have any friends with puppies under 6 months of age, set up play dates with those puppies too. Moderate the puppies' play and whenever one pup seems overwhelmed or they are all getting too excited, interrupt their play, let everyone calm down, then let the most timid pup go first to see if they still want to play - if they do, then you can let the other puppies go too when they are waiting for permission. Second, check out the article linked below. Starting today, use the "Yelp" method. At the same time however, begin teaching "Leave It" from the "Leave It" method. As soon as pup is good as the Leave It game, start telling pup to "Leave It" when she attempts to bite or is tempted to bite. Reward pup if she makes a good choice. If she disobeys your leave it command, use the Pressure method to gently discipline pup for biting when you told her not to. The order or all of this is very important - the yelp method can be used for the next couple of weeks while pup is learning leave it, but leave it will teach pup to stop the biting entirely. The pressure method teaches pup that you mean what you say without being overly harsh - but because you have taught pup to leave it first, pup clearly understands that you are not just roughhousing (which is what pup probably thinks most of the time right now), so it is more effective. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite When pup gets especially wound up, she probably needs a nap too. At this age puppies will sometimes get really hyper when they are overtired or haven't had any mental stimulation through something like training. When you spot that and think pup could be tired, place pup in their crate or an exercise pen with a food stuffed Kong for a bit to help her calm down and rest. Also, know that mouthiness at this age is completely normal. It's not fun but it is normal for it to take some time for a puppy to learn self-control well enough to stop. Try not to get discouraged if you don't see instant progress, any progress and moving in the right direction in this area is good, so keep at it. Finally, I would invest in some good close toe boot type slippers to wear inside right now - so that you can do the above calmly instead of jerking away or yelling because it hurts when she bites - the exciting movement or vocalization probably makes pup think it's a game even more - and is miserable for you. While teaching pup this, some good coverings on your feet should help you do so with less pain. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Soc
Pit bull
8 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Soc
Pit bull
8 Months

Not aggressive, just very playful. Loves to jump and mouth on me, especially on guests. I’ve tried redirecting her with a toy, and ignoring her. It’s gotten better but is still very bad (it’s been 3 months since I’ve started)

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
65 Dog owners recommended

Very cute - and strong! Soc will benefit from obedience classes right away. Group lessons will socialize him with people and other dogs, and teach him commands he needs to know to be well-behaved. Sit, down, stay, and come are all essential. The down and stay commands are what you need to use to have Soc not jump on people. Read these guides for instructions: https://wagwalking.com/training/perform-the-down-position and https://wagwalking.com/training/perform-a-long-stay. Then you can use these commands to do the Wait on Mat Method: https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-visitors-calmly. Good luck and have fun training!

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