How Do I Get My Puppy to Stop Biting my Toddler?

Adrienne Farricelli

To get a puppy to stop biting a toddler, it's important to first recognize why the puppy is biting in the first place.

To get a puppy to stop biting a toddler, it helps to firstly determine what is triggering the biting in the first place. Is it just play? Is the puppy resource guarding a certain item? Is the puppy getting cranky and needs a nap? What is triggering the biting? There is biting and biting in the dog world and therefore it's important to carefully observe the dynamics taking place to ensure that the biting is tackled correctly. Because there may be a variety of interventions needed, you want to employ the most effective. For persistent cases or if your puppy is showing signs of aggression, play it safe and enlist the help of a dog trainer/behavior consultant for an in-person evaluation.

Toddlers and Puppies: The Perfect Match?

Toddlers and puppies may seem like the perfect match: they are full of energy, love to play and they are cute like buttons. When parents bring home a new puppy, they likely envision the perfect picture of toddlers playing in the sun, blowing dandelions and making wishes while puppies follow along chasing butterflies. Yet, this perfect picture is often a far cry from reality! Sorry to burst the bubble, but the most likely picture often features toddlers running away from a nippy puppy determined to tug on their shoe laces and clothes and who will even bite their legs and hands.

Puppy teeth are very sharp and although these pups may be playing, those needle-like teeth are sharp enough to cause toddlers to become frightened and even cry. This leads to desperate new puppy owners wondering what they can do to ameliorate the situation. As mentioned, not all puppy biting is creating equally, so the first important step is recognizing why the puppy is biting in the first place.

Puppy Biting Toddlers Due to Play

Most often than not, puppies bite toddlers due to play. When you bring home a new puppy at the age of 8 weeks, his life just prior to that to a great extent entailed rough and tumble play with his litter mates. Play with his siblings mostly encompassed biting the other pups' ears, tails and legs. Puppies would pin each other to the ground, chase each others' legs while running and grabbing tails using them as tug toys. Sounds familiar? Most likely, once welcomed into your home, your puppy will seek the same type of engagement with you and your toddlers.

Rather than tugging at ears and tails though, puppies will start tugging at clothing such as skirts, pant legs, shoe laces and the drawstrings of hoodies. Often times, they will also bite any moving body parts such as hands, fingers, legs, ankles and feet.

Toddlers are often irresistible to play with because they are full of kinetic energy, closer to the ground and in perpetual play mode. Actually, to put it bluntly, toddlers tend to overstimulate puppies. Their high-pitched voices and unpredictable movements cause predisposed puppies and young dogs to go into hyper-mode, and the more hyper they get, the more and harder they bite.

How do we ascertain a puppy is biting due to play? We mostly look at context and the puppy's body language. Most puppies play by chasing, biting clothing and body parts and tugging. During play, you may notice play bows, happy play faces and barking enthusiastically in a high-pitched tone. While puppies do growl during play, it's mostly seen when they are tugging toys or clothes while pulling backwards. While biting due to play is quite natural in puppies, rough play shouldn't be encouraged. Also, when not tackled correctly, play biting may become a puppy's default way to interact and garner attention.

Puppy Biting Toddlers Due to Resource Guarding

While puppies bite out of play a lot, there are some types of more serious biting. Resource guarding in dogs takes place when the puppy or dog is in possession of something perceived as valuable and therefore he or she doesn't want the toddler approaching or grabbing the item from them. In this case, the biting therefore occurs when the puppy has a toy, bone or other food item and the toddler gets too close to him or reaches towards the item.

Usually, these puppies are quite tense, they will freeze when the toddler approaches, and keep their head low towards the protected item. Growling and teeth baring usually takes place as a warning before biting, but not always. Not all puppies are prone to resource guarding, but they may always start if toddlers pester puppies while they are eating or repeatedly grab treats or toys from them.

Puppy Biting Toddlers Due to Crankiness

You know when kids are cranky and start misbehaving? Well the same applies to puppies. A tired puppy is often a cranky puppy who is more predisposed to biting. Usually, these puppies really want to take a nap, but they are just too overstimulated.

Puppies need to sleep a lot as they have a lot of growing to do, so if it's been a while your puppy hasn't napped, and he is now biting non-stop, most likely he is in dire need of some rest, but doesn't know how to turn off that "on button', especially if he's surrounded by noises and two hyper toddlers playing nearby.

Puppy Biting Toddlers to Make Them Stop

It is important to always carefully monitor toddlers and puppies when together. Just because a puppy is small and can't exert the biting force of an adult dog, doesn't mean the situation should be underestimated. First of all, it's important to think for the future. Sometimes toddlers may engage in forms of play that may encourage the puppy to act defensive and if this isn't tackled soon enough, things will get much worse in the future. Yes, that means when your puppy is an adult dog weighing 80 pounds and equipped with powerful jaws.

Toddlers may often need guidance on how to interact with the puppy correctly and understand that puppies are not toys. Rough handling may lead to the puppy biting in hopes of having hands off of him. This way of interacting may lead to problems down the road when the puppy is pet, must be picked up or have an ear or paw medicated.

Puppies who are sleeping should not be bothered by toddlers. Toddlers should also avoid startling puppies with loud sounds and scary movements in their direction. Some particularly shy or nervous puppies may particularly struggle with toddlers. These puppies may bite out of defense because they feel threatened by the toddler approaching or cornering him.

How Do I Get my Puppy to Stop Biting my Toddler?

Puppies and toddlers can sue be quite a handful! Now that you are acquainted with various reasons why puppies bite toddlers, it's important to tackle the issue based on this information. However, it's important to consider that some forms of biting may require the intervention of a dog behavior professional to ensure the safety of your children and prevent further problems down the road.

  • Understand that toddlers may struggle in understanding how the puppy should be handled and they may be too young to follow directions required for implementing dog training. It is therefore up to you as the parent to intervene as needed.
  • Implement management strategies so that both the puppy and toddlers can have some breaks from each other. Erect a baby gate or use a play pen, where the puppy can spend some time alone and rest as needed. Your puppy may benefit from a crate covered with a blanket and some calming music for dogs, to buffer stimulating sights and sounds.
  • If the puppy is chasing the toddler and nipping when he catches up, ask your toddler to stand "like a tree" and wait for the puppy to lose interest. Movement is what puppies are mostly after. You can even turn it into a game of "Red Light, Green Light" reminding your toddler to freeze when the puppy starts acting excited. It is best to have your toddler freeze before the puppy has a chance to latch on. If the pup persists in biting, have your toddler leave the area.
  • Redirect your puppy from your toddler by training him to respond to a smacking sound made with your mouth. First, make a smacking sound and toss a valuable treat for your puppy to chase and eat. Repeat several times until you get a reliable response. Practice then with your puppy on the leash as he watches your toddler walk around. Then practice with your toddler playing at a distance. Then practice with your puppy on a long line (longer leash) and then only once he responds reliably, you can practice with him off leash. Make sure to redirect your puppy before he has had a chance to latch on. Once latched on to your toddler's clothes, puppies are more difficult to distract. Once redirected, for longer pauses, rather than tossing a treat to chase, provide your puppy with a stuffed Kong to enjoy in a quiet area away from all the hustle and bustle. Remind your toddlers to keep space when Rover is eating.
  • Make sure to teach your puppy how to be gentle with his mouth. These are some puppy bite inhibition games and here is how to train your dog to take treats gently. Once safe to do so and your vet gives you the final OK, it may also be helpful to allow your puppy to play with other vaccinated pups in fun organized play dates so to drain some energy and further refine his bite inhibition.
  • Make sure your puppy receives enough exercise, training and mental stimulation. Exposing a fired-up puppy full of energy to energetic toddlers is a recipe for biting, biting and more biting.
  • Aim to teach your toddler good practices too. Make rules to follow such as letting sleeping puppies lie, giving space when puppies are eating, using indoor voices nearby the puppy and playing with toys rather than the puppy. Make sure to reward good conduct as often as it happens. Toddlers need positive reinforcement too!
  • For resource guarding, kennel/crate the puppy when he is fed anything valuable as well as when the child or anyone is eating for safety and enlist the help of a dog behavior professional using force-free behavior modification.

Disclaimer: for stubborn cases or if your puppy is exhibiting worrisome signs of anxiety or aggression, please enlist the help of a dog trainer or dog behavior professional. This is for safety and correct implementation of behavior modification. By reading this article, you accept this disclaimer.