Help! I Have a Piranha Puppy!


Puppies bite. A lot. My favorite puppy cartoon is a shark in a harness on leash. Boy, is that the truth. Puppies are like baby sharks. Those razor sharp little teeth hurt! I tell my clients it’s part of the training process and growing up. Now that I have a 10-week-old Border Collie puppy, Marvel, I am getting a big refresh on puppy biting.

Puppies explore everything with their mouths as they learn about the world around them. Is this something I can chew? Or something I can play with? Marvel is constantly grabbing whatever is in her path. We place appropriate chews and toys for her to find and praise her for these found treasures. In some cases, she squeezes into small spaces, like behind a door or under the sofas. She has flushed out quite a few dust bunnies for me!

If you observe a puppy, you can see thought bubbles over their little heads. Does it squeak when I bite it? Or make a strange new noise? A human saying “ouch” can sound fun to some puppies. A small child shrieking? Even more fun for puppy! Marvel adores our eight-year-old son because he makes the coolest sounds, especially when he’s playing LEGOs or singing or doing his favorite character voices like Bugs Bunny.

Motion is exciting for dogs of all ages. Does it move or run away when I bite it? A human waving his or her arms around looks like an invitation to play. A small child running is just begging to be chased! Cats who are not used to dogs will often run away. Now the puppy thinks they have found a small playmate just their size. Our 20-year-old cat, Bruiser Bear, is confident and cool, having schooled every single dog we’ve ever had. Marvel is fascinated by him. But she hasn’t chased our elder kitty because he doesn’t run.

From the puppy’s perspective, a human who talks and moves is the best thing EVER. If they say “ouch” or yell, and they wiggle those dangling arms all around, that’s a Piranha Puppy PARTY! No wonder the puppy is confused when their human gets mad for playing and biting at them. It’s like we offered a party invitation and suddenly yanked it away.

Here are three puppy biting solutions that I share with clients and use with my own puppies:

1) Teething Tools

Puppies MUST chew. Give them something safe and sturdy. Walk into any pet supply store (choose a local, independent shop if you can). You’ll see a variety of puppy teether toys. Marvel’s favorites are the Kong Puppy Teething Stick and the classic Kong rubber toy in a mini size. With both Kong toys, you can fill the middle with yogurt, pumpkin or peanut butter, then freeze overnight. She also loves the Nylabone Puppy Teething Pacifier, which are dangling keys on a ring like the popular human baby toy.

My favorite is a rubber cow milking liner because it’s cheap, recycled and durable (with supervision, of course). The recycled “udder tugs” feature an enticing farm smell that my dogs can’t resist! My favorite independent source is . Plus, as my puppies grow up, they can continue to use them as a tug and retrieve toy.

2) Impulse Control Games

Your fingers look like meaty sausages to your puppy, and their texture is nice and chewy! No wonder our puppies think our hands are perfect chews. I play impulse control games with my puppy so they learn early that human skin is off limits. There are a variety of popular, simple impulse control games. I prefer teaching hand target (nose touch), kisses , and It’s Yer Choice, developed by internationally acclaimed dog trainer and agility pioneer Susan Garrett ( My clients often mistake this for Leave It. The two cues are similar, but the way in which you teach them and their application is quite different.

It’s Yer Choice, as the name implies, means the dog has a choice. I control access to the reward, whether it’s a treat, toy, person, or anything else the dog finds reinforcing. Hold a fistful of treats in front of your puppy’s nose. What do they do? Go crazy, of course! Lots of biting, licking, chewing and pawing. These are all impulsive or nonthinking behaviors, like a kid in a candy store grabbing as many goodies as they can. Be patient. You will see your puppy realize that this is not working. They will pause, and maybe even take a step back. Say “yes!” and give your puppy one of the treats. For all the details, check out the video of 10-week-old
Marvel learning IYC.

What is the difference between IYC and Leave It? IYC allows the puppy to have choices, think, and make the right choice because you took the time to set them up for success. Leave It is a good emergency cue in which you control your dog’s behavior, such as when you’re on a walk and see a chicken bone. Leave It as a well-trained cue could save your dog’s life. I taught my Therapy Dogs this cue for when we went into nursing homes, just in case a resident had dropped a pill. My agility dogs know it, too, because we often travel and stay in hotels. You never know what the cleaning crew could’ve missed, such as a safety pin or another unsafe object.

3) Crate Recharge

A tired puppy may fool you with their sprints around the living room, bouncing off everything! Biting at your hands, feet and clothing can also signal that the puppy needs a rest. I use a crate for Marvel to recharge her growing brain and keep her safe. Place a teething tool like the ones I mentioned above to help your puppy unwind and take a much-needed nap. Crates also help with potty training, destructive chewing and generally, keeping them out of trouble. They also prepare your puppy for success while traveling in a vehicle, and staying at a vet, groomer or doggie daycare.

Be sure to read my article about crate training if you need guidance to make it a positive place for your puppy. We also teach this important skill in our Puppy Kindergarten classes and in-home training.

Please let me know in the comments if my tips helped your little land shark be more polite. Feel free to share your own positive training tips and favorite teething tools! Of course, cute puppy photos are welcome, too.