German Shepherd puppy biting is one of the key behaviors you should take charge of as soon as possible.
And teaching your puppy how to use their mouth appropriately is up there with potty training as a vital skill.
Ignoring or encouraging biting behavior can lead to it spinning out of control.
And once your puppy is older biting could mean big problems…
Like puncture wounds, legal battles, confiscation, or worse – euthanasia.
Keep in mind that your German Shepherd puppy will be a strong and muscular dog one day.
Adult males can weigh anywhere between 30 – 40 kg (66 – 88 lbs) and females between 22 – 32 kg (49 – 71 lbs).
According to the National Geographic television show “Dangerous Encounters,” their powerful scissor-like bite exerts more than 1060 Newtons or 238 lbs of force.
So trying to control an adult Shepherds bite could end in disaster for you and your dog, and really is not an option.
While teaching bite inhibition (also known as a soft mouth) from puppyhood is a much more reliable option.
And as a professional dog trainer, I'll share all my best tips here for teaching inhibition using positive reinforcement methods to German Shepherds.
Advice on Bite-Inhibition Methods from a Professional Dog Trainer
In this article, you'll learn the four games I use to teach appropriate mouth use for this powerful breed.
But before you dive in, I'd like to touch on why it's vital to use positive, reward-based training to teach your puppy bite inhibition.
It's all about influencing the environment so you can reward good behavior.
Your puppy is a fearless breed. And considering their work function, they are bred with an innate persistence in the face of unruly sheep.
Your puppy is also a courageous breed, so they are used in police and military work.
The German Shepherd Dog Club of Canada's statement rings true…
The breed has a distinct personality marked by a direct and fearless, but not hostile, expression, and self-confidence and a certain aloofness, which does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships. The Shepherd Dog is not one that fawns upon every new acquaintance. At the same time, it should be approachable, quietly standing its ground and showing confidence and a willingness to meet overtures without itself making them.
All that being said, this breed is also very sensitive.
And so, my recommendation as a professional dog trainer is to educate this breed with positivity.
Reward good choices and redirect or manage the biting behavior you don't want to reinforce.
Further down in this article, I'll share some of the outdated advice on teaching this and why these methods should never be used.
And now, let's dive into everything you need to know about how to help your GSD puppy use their mouth appropriately…
Why Do German Shepherd Puppies Bite So Much?
These pups are often referred to as land sharks because they tend to nip and bite. So what is it that makes GSD puppies particularly nippy?
There are a handful of reasons which we'll dive into next…
Puppy Biting is in The Genes
If you're already the lucky parent of a German Shepherd puppy, you've probably noticed that your puppy is particularly nippy during the natural biting phase.
And you'd be right…
You might even have seen a meme like the one below depicting the “Evolution of the German Shepherd Puppy” and how it pertains to soft mouth training.
And it's a funny meme for sure. But so much of the nipping and biting is linked to their breed and genetics.
They Have a High Prey Drive
German Shepherds have a high drive for prey, and even the more chilled out Shepherds can kick into this drive in a split second. Meaning they love anything that moves fast!
Take some time to observe your puppy outside, and you'll notice how they pick up on the slightest movement and sound.
And should any kind of critter or even a bug start to move fast, your puppy will spring into action and quickly pick up momentum to chase as their drive kicks in.
Anything from balls, and garden critters, to other puppies can flip that drive into action.
And unfortunately, your hands, feet, or even your pant legs or long flowing skirt can become a target.
And the faster you try to move your hand, foot, or something else away, the quicker your puppy will move to catch it.
That's prey drive in action!
They are a Herding Breed
Your Shep is from strong herding stock, so chasing and ‘gathering' moving objects is pre-programmed into their genes, known as “gripping” in herding lingo.
Being a herding breed, the GSD is explicitly known as a “tending” dog.
This means they act as a living fence and guide the flock to graze while keeping them from eating valuable crops.
Working as a living fence means their job is to ensure the flock is contained in the correct areas and deal with the wayward sheep by gripping them at the back of the neck, above the hocks, or the ribs.
Remembering the work your puppy was initially bred to do and understanding their herding instinct will be helpful as you work on this training.
Before we look at how to curb your German Shepherd puppy's biting in a fun and positive way, we should first understand a few critical things about biting…
Is it Behavior or Temperament?
You need to realize the difference between behavior and temperament…
Biting is a behavior, and it's something all puppies do.
Biting, in general, regardless of age, is a behavior. And a natural one to boot.
The difference between a dog that's much more prone to biting and nipping has a lot to do with temperament.
And the following two factors play a significant role in temperament…
They Were Raised in a Poor Environment
In some instances, over-the-top nipping can indicate that a puppy has been raised in a poor breeding environment.
And in a nutshell, this means the puppy didn't get the opportunity to learn vital soft mouth skills from mom and littermates.
And the humans did a terrible job of ensuring that puppies gain the necessary skills from birth until they are sent off to their forever homes.
A lack of vital skills is worst in puppies who have been removed from their litter too early and in a single puppy litter.
GSD's bred in a good breeding program by ethical breeders rarely miss out on these skills.
This speaks to the importance of working with an ethical breeder when looking for a new puppy.
They Were Bred for Looks Rather Than Temperament
Unfortunately, more and more backyard breeders and puppy mills are springing up.
And since the German Shepherd is such a popular breed, many are bearing the brunt of poor breeding practices.
It's no longer unusual for me to see German Shepherds who fall entirely out of breed standard in every way.
And too often, these dogs are relinquished to shelters because along with poor breeding practices come poor temperament and weak nerves.
A sure recipe for disaster for both the dog and their human.
Max von Stephanitz would be genuinely disappointed to see what “breeding for looks” has done to his beloved breed.
Biting is Normal Behavior
Yes, biting is normal behavior for puppies and dogs. I mean, think about it…
If a dog is upset, he will not hire an attorney and sue you! No, he's going to bite.
And it's our responsibility to teach our dogs good bite inhibition through training.
Dogs Explore Their World with Their Mouths
All puppies, even adult dogs, go through life exploring with their mouths regardless of breed.
It's a normal and natural behavior throughout their life.
My 9 and 7-year-old Shepherds still spend much of their days exploring with their mouths.
Sure they are much more “selective” about what they pick up into their mouths, but they still use their mouths and noses to investigate.
Everything from picking up random leaves to chewing on toys, playing bitey-face with each other, and even rough-housing with me.
So expecting our dogs to stop using their mouths to explore is like asking a human to stop using their hands in their daily life.
GSD Puppies Bite Because They're Overstimulated
As you've already seen, German Shepherd puppies are likened to sharks and dinosaurs.
But often, their nipping is a manifestation of overstimulation and losing control of their bite force.
Sometimes, German shepherd puppies will get nippier and nippier when they are cranky and need a nap.
And considering they are a puppy with very little training in impulse control (including when it's time for a rest), it's up to you to teach bite inhibition in a kind and clear way.
Puppies SHOULD bite
Shock, horror! You read that right. Puppies should bite.
Right now, you're thinking:
Hang on, Gabriella! I thought you just said it's my responsibility to teach my puppy NOT to bite…
But stay with me here…
Puppies should bite so that they CAN learn that biting hurts, and it's the same way they'd learn that biting hurts if they were biting other puppies in a play session.
You should use your German Shepherd's natural biting behavior as a training opportunity.
Before we get to the good stuff, I'd like to highlight the BIGGEST mistake I see many owners make…
Don't expect your puppy to know what you want him to do unless you teach him first!
For example, it's unfair to yell at your puppy when he bites you during a play session if you've never taught him not to bite.
If you do, the result will be that your pup won't bite YOU anymore. But he'll still bite other family members, visitors, or even the postman.
Playing is very important for you and your puppy, and you should be able to play. But there must be boundaries.
You don't want a puppy with a habit of mouthing that becomes harder and harder as your puppy grows stronger.
If at any point you're feel as though you need the help of a professional for your puppy's nipping and biting behavior, it's vital that you reach out to a qualified trainer for assistance.
How do I get my German Shepherd puppy to Stop Biting?
I get this question in emails, in comments, and inside my Facebook group.
And the next 4 games will show you exactly how I teach my own puppies and clients' puppies to stop biting and learn to have a Soft Mouth…
4 Games to Curb German Shepherd Puppy Biting
The best time to curb a puppy from biting is during a play session between you and your puppy.
I suggest initiating these games with your puppy often. Not only to teach them solid soft mouth skills but also to build a strong bond of trust and a positive association with touch.
The Build-a-Bridge Game
It may look like some German Shepherd pups don't like to be touched. I worked with a client in 2021 who told me, “I can't touch my puppy at all – each time I try, she tries to nip my hand.”
This may be driven by fear or a playful gesture. Or even that her puppy didn't have a positive association with being touched.
Regardless of the reason, I had my client work to turn the act of touch into a positive association for her puppy through my Build-a-Bridge game.
The idea was to help her puppy look forward to being touched.
Here's how to play the game. I've included a quick demo video below also.
- Gear yourself up with treats and a clicker.
- Sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you (like a bridge).
- Start with your pup on your right side and toss a treat over to your left side. You want your puppy to walk across your legs to retrieve the treat.
- As your pup crosses over your legs, gently touch their side flank.
- Then click just before they reach the treat.
- Now repeat starting from the other side.
- As your pup becomes more comfortable being touched on their side, you can raise the criteria by increasing the level and frequency of handling other body areas.
- Save working on touching their head last because most dogs need plenty of time to feel comfortable with this.
- If your pup reverts to nipping, take a few steps back and work from a place where your pup can choose not to nip.
Here's that video of me playing this game with one of my dogs.
The Boop Your Snoot Game
This nose-to-hand targeting game is a nifty little tool in your training box.
If your puppy tends to come mouth at you when you are chilling as a way to initiate play, teaching an alternate behavior to replace the nipping is super helpful!
And with this game, your puppy will focus on targeting your hand instead of nipping it.
And as an added benefit, it's a great way to move a dog of any size into place without touching them.
Hand targeting (with the nose) builds confidence and will help your pup accept the approach of a human hand without feeling the need to nip at it.
- Gear yourself up with many treats and your already loaded marker word.
- Ideally, you want to use really high-value treats for this game.
- I use my verbal marker, “yes,” in the video. I recommend having a treat pouch, so your hands are free.
- In this game, you'll extend your hand out to the side and mark and reward your dog for touching their nose to the palm of your hand.
- Ideally, you want to keep both of your hands behind your back.
- When your dog performs correctly in each phase, you'll bring out your opposite hand to place a food reward into your extended palm and allow your dog to access the food.
- It's essential to keep your extended hand in place as you drop the treat into it.
- Rinse and repeat.
This game is broken up into 2 phases.
Phase 1: extend your hand and mark and reward your dog for MOVING TOWARDS your hand. Once your dog is reliably moving towards your hand, you can raise the criteria to phase 2.
Phase 2: extend your hand and mark and reward your dog for touching their nose to your extended hand.
Once your pup is ‘fluid,' you can add a cue if you want to. I use ‘touch,' but you can use anything you like.
Next, increase the distance or height, but wait until your pup is reliably targeting your hand with their nose each time without any nipping.
Here's a video demo and explainer for you to follow.
The Go Fetch! Game
Teaching your German Shepherd puppy to play fetch is a super way to get her focus off biting human limbs.
This might take a day or so to teach but if yours is anything like mine, the faster something moves the better!
- Toss a toy a short distance away and let your pup chase after it.
- Once your pup has the toy, call her towards you.
- When she returns to you, offer her a treat and she’ll drop the toy.
- Toss the toy again and repeat as above.
- When your pup is fluid in returning with and dropping the toy you can add a cue.
Check out this video for a demo and explainer to follow.
Need fetch toys for your puppy? Check out the best tennis ball launcher for dogs.
The Tug-o-War Game
The power of teaching your German Shepherd to play tug deserves an article all on its own.
But in short, it’s a great way to keep your German Shepherd’s mind off inappropriate nipping.
- Choose a tug toy appropriate for your puppy’s age.
- Make the toy as interesting as possible by moving it around with quick movements.
- Let your pup grab one end of the toy and pull.
- Allow your pup to pull for a few seconds and then reveal a treat
- As soon as your pup drops her end of the toy click and reward.
- Start again by making the toy super interesting and repeat as above.
Once your pup is fluid in dropping the toy you can add a cue. I say ‘drop it’ but anything you feel comfortable with is fine.
Below is a demo video with an explainer to help you play this game.
If your pup is still very young I recommend only using a tug toy MADE SPECIFICALLY FOR PUPPIES.
Something like this Redline Puppy Bite Rag is ideal.
Looking for safe tug toys for your German Shepherd? Check out the best tug of war toys for dogs!
What Kind of Toys to Use
Redirect your puppy's mouthing onto something more appropriate by using toys.
Overall, I recommend rubber chew toys for a couple of reasons.
- A reputable company will use non-toxic rubber that is safe for dogs.
- The rubber offers some “give” or bounce, encouraging your puppy to chew on the toy.
- This chewing will not only relieve the pain of teething but will also support natural ear development.
- Not only that but the act of chewing releases a cascade of feel-good calming hormones in your puppy's brain, which serves as a way to teach them self-regulation skills.
It's important to note that your puppy should never be left unsupervised with toys.
Eureka! The Soft-Mouth
After a few sessions, you'll notice a difference in how your puppy uses their mouth.
You'll notice a reduction in pressure before noticing a decrease in frequency.
But like with any training that involves a sentient being with feelings, drives, and needs that are changing as they grow and mature, it can feel like two steps forward and one step back.
But don't lose hope!
I speak from experience when I say perseverance and compassion go a long way to teaching a powerful breed like your German Shepherd to have a soft mouth.
The games you learned above and the videos I've shared will help you reach your goal of a puppy with a soft mouth.
But what to do if your puppy is in the middle of a biting frenzy and nothing is working?
The Yelping Method
This is a method touted as the best way to teach inhibition. And as an amateur dog trainer many years ago, I believed this too.
It does serve as a way to interrupt a biting frenzy. But on its own, the yelping method is not enough.
Knowing when to use the yelping method and what to do afterward is the difference between actually teaching a soft mouth skill and merely ramping up excitement and increasing the likelihood of biting more frequently and harder.
And this is exactly what you'll learn in my Acquired Bite Inhibition Protocol.
Acquired Bite Inhibition (ABI) Protocol
In my ABI Protocol, I share my exact process for:
- Using a positive interrupter when your puppy is in a biting frenzy.
- Scanning and rating the bite in a matter of seconds.
- Also running through a list of possible causes of the biting frenzy.
- What to do after you've interrupted your puppy.
- When to remove them from the situation and how to do this with kindness.
My tracking tool will help you collect data on your puppy's biting behavior and follow improvements over time.
Click the blue button below to get instant access to my Acquired Bite Inhibition Protocol and much more.
4 Things You Should NEVER do to Teach Bite Inhibition
#1 – Yelling at Your Puppy
Yelling at your dog is never recommended. And especially when you're working to help them control a natural behavior like nipping and biting.
It will only break down the dog-human relationship, breed mistrust, and instill fear in your puppy.
#2 – Alpha Rolls
Ugh, I dislike this so-called “training method”! And it may seem evident that alpha rolls should not be used in any circumstance.
In a nutshell, it's physical punishment and has a fallout you don't want to deal with.
But over the years, I've had many folks email me saying they've been advised by trainers, friends and dog-park buddies to alpha roll their nipping pups.
At best, alpha rolling will spur nipping on. At worst, it will cause aggressiveness to develop as your puppy attempts to defend themselves.
And at its saddest, alpha rolling will lead to a dog with issues of learned helplessness.
Learned helplessness looks like a shutdown dog who is too afraid to try something new – fearful of being forced into submission and punished.
#3 – Holding Your Puppy's Mouth Closed
I have no idea why people think this is an appropriate way to change biting behavior.
No living creature will sit back and allow their mouth to be held closed, and it's a natural reaction to struggle to break free from this grip.
Never mind that doing this to a puppy will cause life-long issues for human limbs near their face.
Think about how difficult this will make grooming and visits to the vet.
#4 – Putting Your Thumb Under Your Puppy's Tongue
Yeah, I know – where is the logic in that? I mean, you're basically setting your thumb up to be bitten and at the same time encouraging biting.
But you won't believe how many folks have emailed me desperate to stop biting and detailing this method as something they have done frequently.
I'm not even sure what the idea behind this silly method is, so suffice to say – please don't do this!
8 More Ways to Reduce German Shepherd Puppy Biting
The truth is, teaching a soft mouth is not an overnight skill!
And honestly, it's a skill that will require much back and forth until your puppy is done teething.
But, you can intentionally influence the environment to help your puppy make the best choices and reduce biting behavior dramatically.
This training requires a multi-pronged approach. Considering your puppy's natural needs and clever training approaches, as learned in this article.
The eight ways that follow below and what you've already learned will encourage alternate and more desirable behaviors.
And over time, you'll notice that these outweigh the nipping behaviors.
#1 Prevent Rehearsal
All habits are formed by continuous rehearsal. And if you ever acted in a school play, played an instrument in the school band, or even played a team sport, you know that rehearsals made the play, band, or team really good.
And the same applies to the behaviors you do (and don't want) your puppy to become habituated to.
The more your puppy rehearses biting (or any) behavior, the more ingrained it becomes.
And rehearsal of teeth on skin can quickly happen during play with your puppy.
So be aware and influence the environment so that your puppy puts their teeth on appropriate toys and not your skin during play, especially if you're engaging in rough play.
#2 Encourage Independent Play
Dogs are social animals, and many of them enjoy play and interaction with us. But as humans, we're not always in a position to drop everything and play.
This, in turn, can lead to a puppy rehearsing, nipping, and biting for your attention and play.
Other options such as lickimats and snuffle mats are lovely tools to encourage independent play and enrichment.
These activities should always be set up with some form of supervision which brings me to the following way to help your puppy bite less.
#3 Take Advantage of A Gated Community
A gated community can be created using playpens, ex-pens, baby gates, and crates. And the idea is to offer a safe space free from opportunities for your puppy to get up to mischief.
While offering them a place to practice some rest, relaxation, and self-regulation.
I use a mix of all of the above to provide a large enough space for large breed puppies like German Shepherds.
And I'll offer opportunities for independent play and enrichment inside these spaces where I can still keep an eye on them without the need for constant, direct supervision.
These communities also work exceptionally well as a tool in my Acquired Bite Inhibition Protocol for when all a puppy's needs are met. However, they are still in a biting frenzy.
And creating a positive association for your puppy's gated community all starts with good crate training practices.
#4 Capture the Calmness Code
We tend to focus on capturing and rewarding our dogs for doing something in dog training.
And rarely do we focus on rewarding our dogs for just doing nothing. But it's such a powerful way to instill a code of calmness in our dogs.
So, I always advise my clients to make it a habit of capturing their pup's calm behaviors.
This can be as simple as a verbal reinforcer like “nice work” in a quiet tone of voice every time you find your pup doing nothing but being calm.
Or it may look like you calming delivering treats to your puppy as you walk past the gated community and find them just chilling.
#5 Encourage Nap Times Regularly
As you've discovered, puppies don't yet have self-regulation skills. And when puppies don't get enough rest, they can get cranky, which leads to an uptick in nipping behavior.
Their environment can also lead to overstimulation of their senses, creating a cycle of not resting enough.
This is where a gated community is convenient to encourage your puppy to catch regular naps.
This will reduce overstimulation and tiredness, but it'll teach your puppy healthy and positive ways to self-regulate in the greater scheme of things.
#6 Invest in a Flirt Pole
A flirt pole has become a trusty friend in our home. And this handy tool has been a great help in raising my own pups into adults with excellent bite inhibition.
Here is an article all about flirt poles. And I've also included a video of me playing with a flirt pole in a very small space.
Some advice recommends using a flirt pole to redirect nipping. Which can work at a moment you have the flirt pole handy.
But it's kind of impractical to walk around with one all day!
I prefer my clients use a flirt pole to meet their puppy's natural needs to stalk, chase, catch and bite.
And with some structure to playing with this type of tool, you can easily teach your puppy to control their impulse, only engage on cue, and how to “let go” on cue.
The flirt pole truly is a versatile tool not only for training but also for relationship building and meeting the natural needs of your puppy.
#7 Play the Treat Toss Game
This game is a go-to for all positive reinforcement dog trainers. And it's one that I teach all my clients and students too.
It does mean you'll need to be armed with treats a lot of the time. But that's the nature of creating new behaviors.
Once that's done, the food rewards are replaced by real-life rewards. But that's for another article.
Now back to the treat toss game…
As your puppy approaches with that “I'm looking to engage with my mouth” look on their face, quickly toss a treat a few feet away from you and let your pup go after the treat.
Once they eat the treat, they will naturally come back into you, at which point you can rinse and repeat.
This is not only a low-key way to redirect your puppy's intentions positively, but you'll be amazed at the power of this game as the foundation of a solid recall!
And the cool thing is you can actually use a portion of your puppy's daily food allowance for this, so you're not over-feeding them with extra treats.
And still, you're really getting the value out of each piece of food.
#8 Play This Impulse Control Game
One of my dog training mentors took the standard way we teach a “leave it” behavior and pushed the envelope on this to create the It's Yer Choice or IYC game.
This game is not only a powerful impulse control training tool but also teaches dogs of any age the power they have in making choices.
Here's how to play it…
- Place treats in your hand and close it into a fist.
- Present your closed fist to your puppy.
- Observe and wait for a behavior that indicates impulse control.
- This can be anything from taking a step back to choosing a stationary behavior like sitting or down.
- Once you get an impulse-controlled choice, open your hand, pick up a treat and feed it to your puppy.
- If you open your hand and your pup goes in for the treats, just close your hand into a fist again.
- Then wait for another impulse-controlled behavior, rinse, and repeat.
Quickly your puppy will learn that choosing an impulse-controlled behavior and sticking to it even when your hand is open wins them reinforcement.
You have a toolbox filled with positive ways to help your puppy learn to use their mouth appropriately!
And before I sign off, here are 4 rules to simplify the steps…
4 Rules to German Shepherd Soft Mouth Skills
#1 – Only YOU initiate play.
#2 – No Hard Biting.
#3 – No Pressure Allowed.
#4 – Controlled Mouthing.
FAQ About GSD Puppies and Bite Inhibition
What age do German Shepherd puppies stop biting?
Most puppies will stop nipping and biting once they have completed their teething process. For German Shepherds, this is around 7 to 8 months.
Provided you have diligently taught your puppy to have a soft mouth, you'll see a reduction in the level of the bite pressure soon.
The frequency will take longer to reduce, but it's the change in the pressure of the nips and bites that indicates a move in the right direction.
Should I let my German Shepherd puppy bite me?
Helping your puppy not rehearse behaviors you'd prefer not to continue is vital for good training. So, although it's fun to play rough with your puppy, it's best not to let your puppy bite you, even during play.
How to get my German Shepherd puppy to stop biting my ankles?
It's not uncommon for puppies to nip at ankles, legs, and even loose-fitting clothing. And frequently, this happens while you are walking.
So I like to keep treats handy and drop them as I walk. Almost like a modified version of the treat toss game above. This will prevent your puppy from rehearsing biting behavior.
And it's also a great way to begin teaching your puppy that good things happen when they have all four paws on the ground – the foundation of teaching them not to jump on humans.
Your German Shepherd puppy's natural instinct to bite sets the stage for the perfect training opportunity.
- Your puppy won't know what you want (or don't) want him to do unless you teach him first.
- Use play sessions to teach appropriate mouth use with kindness at the core.
- Always apply the 4 rules to any interactions with your puppy during the soft mouth training.
- Ditch the outdated training methods and teach your puppy how to use their mouth appropriately using fun, positive and kind training methods.
Do you know how to stay safe and still break up a dog fight? Check out my recommendations here.