Why Does My Puppy Ignore Toys and Bites Me Instead?

Adrienne Farricelli

Help, my puppy ignores toys and bites me instead, what can I do to stop this behavior? Here are some tips.

Why does my puppy bite me instead of his toys? Aren't toys meant to provide puppies with hours of entertainment? Should I stop purchasing toys since they are worthless? Or should I purchase different types of toys? Most of all, what can I do to stop my puppy from biting? She is ruining all my clothes, bruising my feet and legs and scratching all my arms with teeth marks!

These are all valid questions and understanding why your puppy ignores toys and bites you instead requires some troubleshooting. Once we know the dynamics going on, knowledge is power and we can take steps to ameliorate the situation.

A Look Back in Life

Most dog owners welcome a new puppy into their homes without realizing what happened when they were still in the breeder's home with their litter mates and mom. Well, here is a little glimpse into life back then.

Once the puppy's mobility gets better (puppies are born barely able to crawl) and their ears and eyes open, they start exploring the world and explore a lot of it with their mouths. They'll be mouthing anything in sight and they'll start playing with one another. This means biting and chewing on each others' ears, legs and tails. A good amount of their day is spent this way, so we shouldn't be surprised if once they are welcomed inside our homes, they'll want to play the same way with us.

With no more litter mates to play with, these young pups are eager to play with us and they'll do so by engaging in the only way they are most familiar with: nipping! And this means they'll be nipping our feet, legs, arms, fingers, pants, skirts, hair, ties, hoodie strings and even shoe laces!

But wait, what about toys? Isn't Rover supposed to play with his toys? Why is he choosing to play with my arms, feet and legs rather than his toys? Why does my puppy bite me instead of his toys?

Why Does My Puppy Bite Me Instead of Toys?

Understanding why puppies choose to bite their owners rather than toys is a good question. We ultimately purchase toys for our puppies in hopes of entertaining them for a while and to distract them, and therefore toys help keep our hopes high, only to lead to frustration when the puppy abandons them in lieu of our arms, legs and feet, what gives? Here are some possible explanations.

Toys Turn Boring

Many dogs are attracted to toys, but once the novelty effect is over, they'll get pretty boring. If your puppy sees the same toys each day laying around, after some time they become quite irrelevant.

Not Attractive Enough

There are toys and toys in the dog world. Your puppy may be attracted only to toys made out of particular types of textures or he may be after specific toys that keep him more entertained.

Lack of Interaction

Perhaps, the biggest reason why puppies ignore their toys and choose to bite their owners is the fact that toys are rather static and lack interaction. In other words, what stimulates dogs the most is movement.

The average dog toy is pretty much static when it's laying on the ground and even if your dog carries it around, it's not likely to move around as much as you do when those sharp teeth make contact with your skin. You are therefore the best thing around to play with, and the closest to his former playmates he has left behind and misses playing with.

Helping Your Puppy Make Good Choices

So now that you know a little bit better why your puppy is choosing you over his toys, what can you do to curb the excessive biting? It's not like you can withstand those sharp puppy teeth all day long! And yelping like a hurt puppy often causes pups to even nip more or harder as you now have turned into a fun pin-cushion toy that squeaks too! Here are some tips.

  • Rotate your puppy's toys. This way, you add a taste of novelty so that your puppy may gain a bit of renewed interest. So if you have a lot of toys, try to hide some from plain view so that every day you offer something he hasn't seen for a while, which may help curb the boredom.
  • Increase attractiveness. Not all dog toys are created equal. Some toys are more attractive than others. Particularly appealing toys may be toys that smell like animals (like tug toys made of real rabbit fur), toys that emit squeaky sounds or toys offering an intriguing auditory and tactile sensation when crushed (crackle toys such as water bottle toys). Some dogs love shaking toys
  • Offer interactive toys. If your dog is coming towards you with the intention to bite, stop him in his tracks by tossing the opposite way a ball the bounces so that he'll go after that or grab a flirt pole toy that he can chase and grab to keep himself entertained. You may find it helpful to keep several balls in your pocket ready to launch at a moments' notice or carry a flirt pole around your waist like a belt. It is best to redirect your puppy before he has had a chance to bite and latch on, since by then, he'll likely be too focused on biting than anything else making it harder to redirect.
  • Teach your puppy alternate ways to interact with you rather than nipping. Hand targeting, tugging a toy with you and fetching are good options. Here is a guide on how to train bite inhibition games to puppies.
  • Offer food puzzles. These can keep your puppy busy for some time and often require a dose of your puppy's daily allowance of kibble. Why not use kibble to keep your puppy busy by working for his food rather than just pouring food out of a bag and allowing your pup to wolf it down with no effort within seconds? A great food dispensing toy is the Kong Wobbler.
  • Many advise to ignore puppies when they bite, but some people often do not realize how hurtful puppy teeth are! If possible, avoid wearing shoes with shoe laces, long skirts and wide leg pants. Instead, wear tall boots (like Wellington boots) and gloves: many puppies lose interest when biting on tall boots and gloves also because we are less likely to get hurt and move around. Movement once again is what mostly attracts puppies so lack of movement makes feet/legs lose their big appeal.
  • If possible, once your vet gives you the green light and your puppy has complete his vaccines, organize play dates with other puppies or even better, enroll him in puppy classes. This way your pup can romp around and play, learn new skills and drain excess energy while further refining his bite inhibition.
  • More tips are available here: why do puppies attack your feet?