It is normal behavior for puppies to nip, but you may notice that your German Shepherd puppy nips more than other breeds. This is primarily due to this breed’s inherent high prey drive. But what can you do about this?
To stop a German Shepherd puppy from biting, it is necessary that you begin positive reinforcement training from a young age and that you properly socialize your puppy as well. It is also helpful if you encourage different forms of non-contact playing like tug-of-war and fetch.
A nipping GSD pup may cause you a lot of bite marks, scratches, and frustration! If left untrained, she may never learn how to inhibit her own bite force and grow into a huge dog with a potentially hazardous biting capability.
Therefore, it is very necessary that you train your puppy properly to stop the biting from an early age.
The Bite of a German Shepherd
There’s a saying that when a German Shepherd bites you, she’s in it for the long haul. An aggressive 70-pound dog pouncing on you can get quite ugly fast.
Think broken bones, damaged muscles, deep lacerations, bruises, scars, and expensive medical bills. Although uncommon, it can sometimes lead to the victim’s death.
German Shepherds have a bite force of 238 PSI (pound-force per square inch, or the measure of strength that a bite inflicts on the victim), compared to humans with a bite force of 162 PSI.
In fact, the American Animal Hospital Association lists the German Shepherd as one of the six breeds with the most dangerous bites, based on a US study.
Therefore, training your GSD to inhibit her bite is mandatory as it not only rewards you with a well-behaved dog, but also ensures your safety as well as the safety of the people around you.
A crucial step towards correcting this nasty behavior is to first understand why German Shepherd puppies bite.
Before we move on, take a look at some important and useful information that we’ve written for you in the following 2 articles:
Why Do German Shepherd Puppies Bite?
Nipping or biting stems from various reasons. Understanding the root of the behavior will equip you with the proper corresponding countermeasures to correct it.
German Shepherds Have a High Prey Drive
One of the primary and distinct characteristics thatmake a German Shepherd a popular choice for police and military work is their high prey drive, coupled with their intelligence and high trainability.
Why Are German Shepherds Good Police Dogs?
Originally bred as herding dogs (hence the word “Shepherd” in the name), GSDs work closely with the flock and deal with unruly sheep by gripping them on the back of their necks (as opposed to Border Collies who tend to the sheep by “gazing” at them from a distance).
Take a look at the video below showing what GSDs were originally bred for. At the 6:47 mark, the handler even explains that some biting is necessary, but that it’s part of the training so that the dog does not go overboard.
GSDs also have a natural inclination to chase almost everything that moves in their surroundings. Your GSD is very sensitive to even the tiniest movements that occur in her environment – whether it’s a squirrel, a rat, a ball, or your hand!
All too often, people get a German Shepherd without prior knowledge of its inherent characteristics – a high prey drive included – leading to a frustrated owner who does not know how to handle his dog’s improper behavior that could have been corrected.
They Are Teething
As early as two weeks old, the baby teeth of pups start to come out. Puppies use their mouth to explore their environment, so nipping is to be expected.
This behavior, called teething, can last until the puppy is six months old when all her adult teeth have started showing.
Teething is very uncomfortable for puppies and can lead to sore gums, so puppies turn to anything to chew to soothe the discomfort. Unfortunately, this can include biting you!
They May Be Taken From the Litter Too Early
Young puppies learn to naturally inhibit their biting through socialization with their mother and their siblings.
A puppy does not quite understand yet the force of her own bite unless she bites too hard and the recipient reacts by yelping out of pain.
This interaction among puppies and their mother is crucial, and it happens during the puppy’s early socialization period between three to six weeks old.
Taking a puppy away from her mother prematurely will therefore deprive her the chance to learn important socialization skills.
As a rule of thumb, the American Kennel Club (AKC) recommends that you take home a puppy that is no less than eight weeks old. By this time, the puppy should have had ample time to interact with her playmates and learn bite inhibition.
We concur that you should never take home a puppy that is less than 8 weeks old. In fact, more than half of the states in the U.S. have laws or regulations that mandate how old a puppy must be before it is allowed to be sold or adopted.
This does not mean, however, that your puppy will completely stop nipping. As the new parent, it is your job to continue training the dog so that any subsequent bites should be gentler.
For more on selecting the right German Shepherd puppy from a litter, including additional information on the proper age, what to look for in a puppy, and what to expect from ethical breeders, be sure to check out the 2 articles linked below:
The Puppy Might Be Overstimulated, Fearful, or Anxious
Sometimes puppies lose control of their bite because of overstimulation. Overstimulation can happen during playtime, or when your puppy has become cranky due to teasing.
Your GSD puppy may also bite out of fear. Your puppy has but 2 defenses – to run away or to bite. If your puppy feels cornered, then biting is the defense that she will most often resort to.
What Can I Do to Stop My German Shepherd Puppy from Biting?
Because biting is normal canine behavior and GSDs are a breed that is more prone to it, the goal here is to inhibit the bite, not completely stop it.
At the end of your training, your GSD should have achieved that lovely “soft mouth.”
Below are the do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when training your GSD puppy in bite inhibition.
Do Start Training Early
We keep mentioning throughout this site that training and socializing your GSD as soon as you get her home is crucial.
Although training older dogs is not impossible, it is true that it is easier to train younger puppies, when habits are still new and can be easily corrected.
If left untrained, adult German Shepherds can be prone to aggression towards other animals and humans, which can result in tragic situations.
It’s very important that you do not overlook the importance of early training and socialization. To get a better understanding of what is involved with these necessary steps, be sure to read these 2 excellent articles:
Do Use Toys as Alternative Items to Chew
Puppies will nib on your hands or your feet especially during the teething stage. Train this behavior away by offering the puppy a toy whenever she starts biting your hand or your ankles.
This teaches her what is acceptable to bite and which is not. It is good practice to always keep a chew toy nearby in anticipation of the biting behavior.
Do Teach Them That Biting Means “Game Over”
If your puppy continues to bite, ignore your puppy by turning your back away from her and tucking your hands in your armpits.
She needs to understand that biting ends playtime and that it does not give her anything in return. Over time, your consistent reinforcement of this will be highly effective to curb your puppy’s biting behavior.
Don’t Use Force, Coercion, or Any Type of Physical Punishment
Some people use coercion-based methods such as the “Alpha Roll” to teach the dog that the human is the dominant one in the relationship.
In the Alpha Roll, the human pins down the dog on the floor on his side or back and holds that position to exert dominance.
This stemmed from early studies which deduced that wolves maintained a hierarchy in the wild where one member of the pack is an “alpha.”
In truth, this concept has been debunked by wolf experts of today who observed that wolves volunteered to pose submissively as a retreat.
Besides, it has also been proven in many studies that dogs have very different behavior from wolves.
The “alpha roll” is therefore an outdated training method that should be scrapped and never used on your pet, as it only leads to more behavioral problems.
Pinning your dog will cause him to freeze out of fear, which can also turn into aggression. It also teaches your dog that physical touch is something to be feared.
Your dog may never trust you this way, and you don’t want this to happen if you want to form a healthy bond with your pet. Nobody wants to be punished by hand, not humans and certainly not dogs either.
Do Reward Good Behavior
Dog trainers and experts agree that positive reinforcement using rewards are highly effective in forming and keeping desirable behaviors as a puppy matures into an adult dog.
Try reaching out your hand to your puppy’s nose. If her nose touches your fingers without biting them, give her a treat and praise generously.
Hold off the treat if she bites. Do this repeatedly until she associates the treat (the reward) with not biting your hand (the good behavior).
If You Have Children, Do Train Them to Behave Properly Around Your Dog
Never allow your child to tease your German Shepherd puppy! Acts such as taking away a dog’s snack, cornering the dog, pulling its tail, or simply hugging it too tightly can anger the dog and cause it to bite.
In fact, most dog bite cases in children occurred because of teasing!
Instead, teach your child to be gentle with your pet, as even unintentional rough play can result in unwanted events. Dogs get cranky too, especially when they get hurt or feel that their privacy is being invaded.
Never leave your child alone with your puppy unattended. Supervise their interactions at all times.
Studies show that parents trust their dog around their kids too much that they overlook the signs that the dog is in distress.
Do Encourage Other Forms of Non-contact Playing, Such as Fetch or Tug Play
Avoid playing with your hands. The idea is to redirect your dog’s attention from your hands and to stop her from seeing them as toys to chew on.
Tug-of-war and fetch can be amazing opportunities for play that don’t involve direct physical contact.
For tug games, keep in mind, however, that your dog must be calm and not overstimulated before playing. Otherwise, your puppy may get too serious and hold on to the rope too much.
The AKC recommends that for breeds that are prone to aggression such as German Shepherds, tug-of-war can be safely carried out if the puppy knows you are in control and follows your commands.
Once this has been established, a game of tugging can be used both as an exercise and as a reward for your dog.
Heavy duty rope toys such as the Blue Island Dog Rope Toy for Aggressive Chewers should be safe for your GSD puppy yet durable enough to withstand her aggressive chewing.
When playing, always remember to be gentle with tugging as your puppy still has baby teeth!
If You Have Other Pets, Do Encourage Your GSD Pup to Play With Them
This will expend your dog’s energy and make her less prone to biting. By doing this, you are also socializing your puppy with other animals – an essential skill to learn for a well-rounded behavior.
That being said, do not completely write off playing with your puppy! Playtime is still an excellent opportunity to bond with your dog, but make sure to keep it safe and fun by establishing boundaries.
A Note on Yelping
Some veterinarians recommend “yelping” or mimicking the sound of a dog in pain when your puppy bites you to teach her that biting isn’t acceptable.
This method, however, is a matter of trial and error. Some puppies respond to this positively. On the other hand, many puppies get aroused by this and become even more aggressive.
It’s up to you to see how your puppy reacts. If you yelp and she stops biting without expressing any signs of aggression, the method has perhaps worked.
You are then free to continue doing so until the puppy learns to stop biting hard.
When Should I Worry About My Puppy’s Biting?
Although biting is normal, it can sometimes be hard to recognize whether your puppy is playfully mouthing or exhibiting “temper tantrums,” which is a form of aggressive behavior.
In playful mouthing, a puppy’s face should still be relaxed, the tail wags, and biting isn’t forceful.
On the other hand, temper tantrums, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, are characterized by a stiff body, lips pulled back to show teeth, and growling.
Biting will be more forceful and painful, since the behavior is typically caused by fear or anger. A German Shepherd puppy may be more prone to displaying this behavior, especially around unruly children.
If these tantrums happen frequently, it’s time to seek a professional such as a veterinarian, a certified dog trainer, or an animal behaviorist ASAP.
Just because biting is normal behavior in puppies doesn’t mean that it should be tolerated.
Bite inhibition is crucial especially among German Shepherds, a breed that is widely reported to be the culprit of many dog bites in America.
Bite inhibition is simply one of the many important skills that your GSD must learn during her training. It can spell the difference between gentle playing and aggressive biting that leads to serious injuries.
Always remember that dogs have feelings, too. They are not perfect little angels that never get angry. Even the most well-mannered dog in the world will snap out of irritation.
Just like humans, dogs don’t appreciate being teased, they get anxious around unfamiliar spaces and people, and they value their space and privacy – and they deserve respect just as we humans do.