German Shepherd puppy biting is one of the key behaviors you should take charge of as soon as possible.
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 one day be a strong and muscular dog.
Adult males can weigh anywhere between 30 – 40 kg (66 – 88 lbs) and females between 22 – 32 kg (49 – 71 lbs).
And they have a powerful scissor-like bite exerting more than 1060 Newtons or 238 lbs of force. Trying to control the strong bite of an adult dog could end in disaster for you and your dog.
German Shepherd Puppy Biting is in The Genes
If you're already the lucky parent of a German Shepherd puppy, you've probably noticed that your GSD puppy is particularly nippy.
And you'd be right…
Some owners loving refer to their German Shepherds as land sharks. And it's true, to begin with.
Of course, that's until they have learned that biting human limbs is off-limits.
German Shepherds have extremely high prey drives, so they love anything that moves fast!
Anything from balls, garden critters, to other puppies, and unfortunately your hands, feet, or even your pants can become a target.
And the faster you try to move your hand, foot, or something else away, the faster your puppy will move to catch it.
To top it off, your German Shepherd puppy is from strong herding stock so chasing and ‘gathering' moving objects is pre-programmed into their genes.
Being a herding breed their job is to ensure the flock is contained at all times, and to deal with the wayward sheep by gripping them at the back of the neck, above the hocks, or the ribs.
Keeping in mind what your puppy was originally bred for will be really useful as you work on bite inhibition.
Before we look at how to take charge of your German Shepherd puppy biting we should first understand a few key things about biting…
Behavior or Temperament
It's important for you to realize the difference between behavior and temperament…
- Puppy biting is a behavior and it's something all puppies do.
- The reason for puppy biting is temperament. Certain dog breeds are more prone to biting than others.
Biting is normal
Yes, biting is normal behavior for puppies and dogs. I mean think about it… If a dog is upset, he's not going to hire an attorney and sue you! No, he's going to bite.
It's our responsibility to teach our dogs not to bite through training.
Puppies explore their environment through their mouths, very much like human babies do. Your puppy will put anything in his mouth, including your fingers and limbs!
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 German Shepherd puppy NOT to bite…
But stay with me here…
Puppies should bite so that they CAN learn that biting hurts. It's the exact 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 a lot of 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 members of the family, visitors or even the postman.
Playing is very important for you and your puppy and you should be able to play. But there have to be boundaries.
What you don't want is a puppy that has a habit of mouthing that becomes harder and harder as your puppy grows stronger.
Previously in this article, I recommended mimicking a littermate – or the ‘ouch' method as a way to curb German Shepherd puppy biting. Over time, and from questions and emails I've received it's clear that for the regular German Shepherd owner it's not always obvious whether this method is causing more arousal or not. Therefore, I no longer recommend this method.
4 Games to Curb German Shepherd Puppy Biting
The best time to curb a German Shepherd puppy from biting is during a play session between you and your puppy.
I suggest initiating play sessions with your puppy as often as possible until you have taught your puppy to have a soft mouth.
I suggest using a clicker for these games. If you don't already know how check out my article on clicker training before getting started.
- 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 her on her side.
- Then click just before she gets the treat.
- Now repeat starting from the other side.
As your pup becomes more comfortable with being touched you can raise the criteria by increasing the level and frequency of touch by moving from her neck to her sides and then her tail.
If at any point your pup turns to nip or bite, take a few steps back to the point where this was not happening and go forward from there again.
Nose targeting is a handy little tool to have in your training box.
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.
- Extend your arm with your palm open and fingers facing the ground.
- At the moment your German Shepherd touches your hand without nipping click and reward.
- It’s important for your puppy to actually touch your hand with her nose.
- Remove your target hand, offer it again in the same position, and repeat as before.
- Once your pup is ‘fluid’ you can add a cue. I use ‘touch’ but you can use anything you like.
Now you can start raising the criteria by increasing distance or height but wait on this until your pup is reliably targeting your hand with her nose each time – and without any nipping.
During the initial stages, move your target hand slowly. If you move too fast, it’ll arouse your pup into biting.
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.
Need fetch toys for your puppy? Check out the best tennis ball launcher for dogs.
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 ‘give’ but anything you feel comfortable with is fine.
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
Redirecting your puppy's mouthing onto something more appropriate by using toys.
Other puppies might not like soft or rubbery toys but rather a rope toy. Only by purchasing some of these toys will you learn which your puppy likes best.
Kong toys are great because you can fill one end with something delicious your puppy loves.
I use organic peanut butter. But you can use treats or even a portion of your puppy's meal.
It's important to note here that your puppy should never be left unsupervised with toys.
Eureka! The Soft-Mouth
After a few sessions, your puppy should have her ‘Eureka' moment and start being a lot more gentle.
This is called a ‘soft mouth'.
Mouthing means gentle play with the mouth and no hard biting or pressure.
With mouthing it's important to remember that only you control mouthing. You initiate mouthing and you decide when it stops.
Here are 4 rules to simplify the steps to German Shepherd puppy biting control…
4 Rules to German Shepherd puppy biting inhibition
#1 – Only YOU initiate play
#2 – No Hard Biting
#3 – No Pressure Allowed
#4 – Controlled Mouthing
4 Things You Should NEVER do to Teach Bite Inhibition
#1 – High Pitched Yelps
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, high pitched yelping is not a smart way to teach bite inhibition.
Like many other dog trainers, I used to recommend this method. But as we grow and learn, we discard things that are inefficient.
And yelping like a puppy is one of those inefficient methods. From my experience, it revs puppies up, which leads to more biting.
Or frightens the more sensitive ones. Neither of which are good things.
#2 – Alpha Rolls
Ugh, I dislike this so-called “training method”! And it may seem obvious that alpha rolls should not be used in any circumstance.
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.
And if you've never seen a dog suffering from learned helplessness, imagine a shutdown, traumatized dog who's too afraid to do anything, including exploring their environment or bonding with their human family.
#3 – Holding Your Puppy's Mouth Closed
I have no idea why people think this is an appropriate way to change biting behavior.
I mean no living creature is going to sit back and allow their mouth to be held closed. It's a natural reaction to struggle to break free from this type of grip.
Never mind the fact that doing this to a puppy will cause life-long issues when it comes to 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!
The key takeaways here are:
- 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 take charge of your German Shepherd puppy biting.
- Always apply the 4 rules to puppy biting inhibition.
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Do you know how to stay safe and still break up a dog fight? Check out my recommendations here.