Stop your puppy from biting your hands and feet by:
- Figuring out why your puppy is biting
- Ignoring their behavior and putting distance between you two
- Redirecting their biting to appropriate behavior, such as chewing a toy
- Rewarding good behavior
- Staying consistent
- Bringing them to the veterinarian to ensure they’re healthy and uninjured
It’s also important not to punish your puppy for biting and to never allow or provoke your puppy to bite.
In this article, I’ll discuss the reasons your puppy is biting so that you can get to the root of the problem. Then, I’ll dive into how to stop your puppy from biting your hands and feet—including addressing some of the reasons for biting that I’ve talked about.
1. Determine Why Your Puppy is Biting
Puppies may bite for many reasons, including:
- Being overwhelmed
- Injury or health problems
Because the way to prevent each of these situations can be different, it’s important to pinpoint why exactly your puppy is biting your hands and feet.
Most commonly, puppies bite playfully or are teething.
A playful biter may bite in the middle of playing with you. They may also pounce at your feet or tug at your hands in an attempt to get attention when they want to play.
Watch your pup’s body language to determine whether they’re being playful. They might wag their tail, have their ears perked up, or crouch down with their butt in the air.
Playful puppies can still bite hard. This is most common if they are separated from their mother and siblings too early, or if they’re the only dog in your home.
In those situations, your puppy wasn’t able to learn bite inhibition from other dogs, so it’s up to you to teach them.
Teething is seen in dogs under 6 months old.
Puppies teethe to relieve pain in their gums, just like human babies do. During this time, they’re also exploring the world with their mouths.
Your puppy should have a variety of chew toys, but this may not stop them from biting you. You’ll have to teach them by redirecting them to a toy every time they bite.
One way to tell that your puppy is teething is that they move your hand or foot around on their mouth or continuously chew at it, rather than just biting down once.
They may also be more prone to biting when they’re relaxed, as opposed to only during play.
Your puppy may also bite due to being overwhelmed. This can happen with too many cuddles, too much play, or too much attention.
Maybe you know that when you bring a puppy home, you’re not supposed to have the whole family crowd around them right away. This is to avoid your puppy becoming overwhelmed.
If you force your puppy to cuddle or pet them too much, this can also lead to overwhelming them. Allow your puppy to come to you for attention rather than forcing them to stay in your lap or near you.
Lastly, too much play can get your puppy riled up. They may become tired but still fight against sleeping, causing them to be more rambunctious than usual.
Injury or Health Problems
While this isn’t super common for puppies, it is possible that your puppy is injured or has a health condition that causes them pain.
They might bite your hands or feet for touching the painful area or messing with them too much when they aren’t feeling good.
For instance, maybe they have an injured leg and bite your hand whenever you pet that leg. This should be fairly simple to detect, since your puppy would bite you when you touch a particular area.
Just remember the common areas that dogs don’t like to be touched, like their tails—they may bite if you touch these even if they’re uninjured.
Of course, pain and other health conditions can also make your puppy feel cranky or not want to be messed with. This could also be the source of their biting.
If you’re concerned, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian to ensure all is well.
Your puppy may also bite your hands or feet because you’ve scared them.
This may not be on purpose! Perhaps they’re afraid of being stepped on or kicked with your foot, or you’re trying to train your puppy using the wrong methods.
For instance, dominance theory of dog training can lead to very fearful puppies and can even cause aggression.
Although it’s a common myth that you have to show your puppy who is boss, this truly isn’t the way they see the world.
This theory was founded after observation of captive wolves, and we later found out that even wolves don’t behave in the same ways in their natural environment.
In other words, it has long been entirely debunked as a training method for dogs.
To tell if your puppy is afraid of you, look for signs such as biting and then retreating quickly in a non-playful manner, cowering, and flinching.
Lastly, but less common, is that your puppy is biting your hands or feet out of anger.
Your puppy may be trying to protect themselves against a perceived threat or lashing out for some other reason.
If your puppy is angry, they might snarl, hold their ears back, or bare their teeth. Just keep in mind that all of these behaviors can also be caused by fear—it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between the two.
Sometimes, they even go hand-in-hand.
2. Ignore the Biting
In every case, the first step to stopping your puppy from biting your hands or feet is to stop everything and ignore them.
If you’re playing and they bite your hand, stop playing and walk away. If you’re cuddling on the couch and your puppy begins chewing your fingers, set them on the floor and ignore them for a few minutes.
Trying to scold or punish your puppy won’t help, but could actually worsen the situation.
3. Put Distance Between You and Your Puppy
While you do want to ignore your puppy, that doesn’t mean allowing them to bite you over and over while you do nothing.
Sometimes, it may mean repeatedly walking away or placing them away from you. For instance, going back to our example of a cuddly puppy biting you, you may put them on the floor only to have them jump up again.
You then put them on the floor again until they stay down, but otherwise say and do nothing. This will teach them that they can’t be on your lap receiving attention if they bite.
In other cases, you may need to walk away and keep a closed door between you and your puppy until they calm down.
Maybe they’re chasing you around as you clean the house, nipping at your feet. At that point, it’s time to stop the chase.
Put your puppy in another room or their crate until they settle down enough to be around you again. If they come back and bite again, repeat until they stop.
If your puppy is biting too much or too hard for you to handle them, removing yourself is always best so that you aren’t hurt further.
4. Redirect their Behavior
An alternative to ignoring your puppy in certain situations is to redirect their behavior. This is good if your puppy doesn’t know what they should be biting.
A great example of this is a teething puppy. Keep a chew toy nearby, and give it to them every time they bite your hands or feet.
If they begin to chew the toy, praise them for doing so. This will teach them that toys are for chewing, not people.
You may also do this with a playful pup. For instance, toss a toy across the room to redirect them from biting to play.
Be careful with this one, however, as it may feel like a reward for biting to some puppies. In that case, they may begin to bite every time they want to play fetch!
5. Reward Good Behavior
Always reward the behavior you want to see instead of biting with treats, praise, pets, or toys—whatever motivates your puppy most.
If you have a playful biter, reward them for playing nice. Teething puppies should be praised for chewing toys. Fearful or aggressive biters should be praised for interacting nicely.
6. Stay Consistent
Without consistency, these steps won’t work. It’s important to have patience, not to lose your temper, and to ignore or redirect your puppy every single time they bite.
While it can be tedious, it’s the only way they’ll learn. Biting can’t sometimes be okay, or your puppy will become confused.
Remember that this phase won’t last forever, and it’ll feel worth it once your puppy stops biting for good.
7. Don’t Provoke Your Puppy
Never provoke your puppy to bite you, whether through roughhousing, scaring them, or forcing them to cuddle.
If there’s something that causes your puppy to bite that you can stop doing, you should.
Of course, some necessary things like grooming may provoke your puppy to bite. In this case, you can’t stop the behavior, but should train them to become accustomed to it instead.
8. Don’t Allow Play Biting
As I’ve discussed above, allowing your puppy to bite sometimes will make them think it’s okay to bite at any time.
If you want your puppy to stop biting your hands and feet, you have to keep the rules consistent both during and outside of playtime.
Hands and feet should never be used as toys for your puppy to play with.
9. Don’t Punish Biting
The last “don’t” on the list is punishment.
It feels very natural to scold your puppy for biting, or even lecture or scream at them. Some people clamp their puppy’s mouth closed.
The problem is that these methods don’t work, and punishing your puppy can cause harm to them and your relationship.
Your puppy may become fearful and not even know why you’re angry with them. Dogs don’t understand cause and effect well enough, and puppies often don’t know that biting is wrong until they’re taught alternatives to that behavior.
Alternatively, your puppy might actually continue biting in order to get a rise out of you. They might not see shouting, for instance, as punishment—but instead as you being excited and ready to play, which makes them even more excited, playful, and ready to bite more.
This is why the steps above focus on ignoring bad behavior, and praising the behavior you’d like to see. These two things must be used hand-in-hand to be effective.
Of course, you should absolutely never hit or physically hurt your puppy for any reason, even if they bite.
10. Exercise Your Puppy
It’s so important that your puppy gets enough exercise every day. Excess energy and boredom can cause so many problems, including biting.
If you’re unsure how much exercise your puppy needs, check the guidelines for their age and breed (or a breed similar to them if you’re unsure or they’re a mutt).
You can also ask your veterinarian for guidelines.
11. If they’re Holding on, Press Inwards
Some puppies may bite down and hold on tight. The last thing you want to do in this situation is to try and pull away, only to create a game of tug of war with your hand or foot!
This can really hurt you, as well as encouraging your puppy to continue biting.
Instead, press inwards toward their mouth. This pressure will cause them to release their jaw, and then you can get your hand away.
Especially if your pup is small, be sure not to press too hard and injure them when doing this.
12. See Your Veterinarian
If you have any reason to believe that your puppy is biting due to an injury or health concerns, then step one should be making an appointment with your vet.
13. Hire an Expert
Lastly, if you can’t get your puppy to stop biting, consider hiring an expert trainer to help you with the problem.
You don’t want a grown dog who’s still biting, so eliminating this behavior early on is crucial.
Writer: Katelynn Sobus