Last Updated on May 3, 2021 by Dogs Vets
Why do German shepherd bite a lot? Tips to Stop Dogs From Biting
If you’re blessed with a German Shepherd puppy, sometimes you might feel broken when it comes to those constant nibbling behaviors. Don’t feel bad. You’re not alone.
This breed is really known for nibbling, and those sharp puppy teeth hurt! If your arms are covered in bruises, scratches, and teeth marks, you’re definitely upset about it and looking for a way to lessen the pinching and to finally allow those wounds to heal.
Why do German shepherd puppies bite a lot?
So what makes The German Shepherd puppies in particular so snappy? There are a few possibilities. Note: The last two reasons depend heavily on the background of your particular puppy.
German shepherd Have a Strong Prey Drive
For starters, many German Shepherds have a very strong prey drive, so they are very attracted to movements. If you watch your cute puppy in the yard, you might notice how readily he catches the slightest movement of some creature in the grass.
His large ears will twitch to catch the faintest sounds, and his body will be ready to spring into quick action in a split second.
Balls, small creatures, and, unfortunately, arms, legs, ankles, and pant legs will soon become targets for his prey and turn into objects for a fun game.
And to make matters worse, any movement you make to move your hand away when your pup comes to nibble will further increase this urge and risk damaging your skin. That really explains all those “teeth scratches” you have on your arms and legs!
They are bred for herding
Also, this is a herding breed, so puppies like to chase and pick up moving objects and often do so using their mouths (a behavior known as grabbing in herding lingo).
In the old days, the shepherding style of German shepherds largely included what was known as boundary patrol, or herd containment. These dogs had to make sure sheep were properly contained, and unruly sheep were controlled by grabbing the top of the neck, ribs, or just above the hocks.
Breeding and husbandry expert Ellen Nickelsberg explains how puppy breeding tests are conducted and how puppies are selected based on their grasping style, which can vary between harmful and less harmful bites, full-mouth bites, and puppies that bite and hold. These preliminary tests are done when the puppies are very young.
They Are Exploring With Their Mouths
All puppies, regardless of breed, go through a stage where they will explore the world with their mouths. Puppy nibbling is completely normal behavior that most puppies undergo. It is similar to the putting-in-the-mouth period that babies go through during teething. However, in German Shepherds, the behavior may be more pronounced and more intense than in other puppy breeds.
For a good reason, many people like to call their German Shepherd puppies “land sharks.” Often, the bite is a manifestation of a dog being overstimulated and losing control of its bite force.
Sometimes, German Shepherd puppies will become more nipples and nippers when they are cranky and need a nap. Ultimately, it is up to the dog owner to teach proper bite inhibition through consistent rules.
They Were Raised in a Poor Environment
In some cases, an overbite can be an indication of a puppy raised in a very poor breeding environment, where the puppy did not have the opportunity to learn the ABCs of bite inhibition with its littermates, and mom and breeders did little it.
Some of the worst cases of bite inhibition are often seen in puppies removed too early from the litter or singles. In some cases, the bite may be genetic due to poor temperament and weak nerves.
They Are Bred For Their Looks Rather than Temperament
It’s unfortunate that these days there are more and more cases of poorly bred German Shepherds. I am no longer surprised to see huge German Shepherds, much taller than the normal mandates.
Often, I see many abandoned at shelters because they were bred poorly, with breeders focusing more on looks than temperament.
This would certainly really be a disappointment to Max von Stephanitz if he were still alive while he worked so hard to get that perfect, versatile, well-tempered German Shepherd specimen.
A word about bite inhibition methods
Below are some games I have successfully used with German Shepherd puppies. Before playing these games with your puppy, I want to stress the importance of using only positive, reward-based methods.
This is a breed that is known for being fearless and will often not back down when challenged. The German Shepherd was bred to persist and not give up in the face of unruly sheep. Because of its bravery, this breed is often used for police work.
According to the American Kennel Club and their standard, “the breed has a distinct personality characterized by fearless and direct expression, but not hostile, self-confidence and a certain detachment that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships. The dog must be accessible, quietly maintaining his position and showing confidence and willingness to meet openings without himself making them. ” However, this breed is also very sensitive.
If the puppy bites, you may be tempted to use coercion-based methods such as squeezing the dog’s muzzle hard or brutally grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and pinning him down to show him “who’s boss.” This is known as an alpha pull, and it’s something that should never be done unless you want to end up with a puppy that goes from playful biting to defensive biting.
Also, consider that coercion-based methods will negatively affect the dog/owner bond. The puppy will increase biting behavior since the puppy will bite more now and defend himself from rough and inappropriate handling.
This is the best way to teach a puppy that hands are bad and worth keeping away from the body! It can lead to puppies nibbling when you need to check their paws, nibbling when you want to brush their fur, and nibbling when you need to check their ears or teeth.
Fortunately, there are many better ways to teach good bite inhibition to these pups. In the photo above, you can see a snappy German Shepherd biting my arm before I underwent training and developed more “finesse.” This was his stereotypical response to any kind of touch.
Ironically, the owner of this puppy was advised by a veterinarian to roll the puppy every time he bit him. This is outdated advice that is no longer recommended by most modern dog trainers. As mentioned, this only leads to problems, which is why this puppy needed help, and the owner was desperate because he couldn’t touch him or enjoy petting him without having teeth marks.
Six games to train puppy bite inhibition
1. Basic Handling (also known as The Car Wash Game)
It may seem that some German Shepherd puppies don’t have a natural fondness for being touched. Not long ago, in my Yellow Creek Training Center, a German Shepherd owner said to me, “I haven’t been able to pet my puppy in months!” When you touch them, they may basically try to nibble on your hand.
This may be fear-based, or simply the puppy may be trying to play. It could just be if they aren’t used to it. Either way, you can work to make the touch something positive that your puppy will look forward to. This game was accidentally invented by me one day while sitting on the floor with a very snappy German Shepherd. It somewhat mimics your pup going through a car wash with you giving him a good “scrub” as he walks.
- Always sit on the floor and extend your legs for proper posture.
- Remember to equip yourself with tasty treats and a clicker your puppy likes. (If your puppy is not clicker trained, you can just say “yes” to mark the required wanted behavior.)
- With your puppy on your left side, toss a treat over the right side so that your dog must walk across your body to get his treat.
- As he passes-across your body to get his treat, pet him briefly on his sides and then click(or say yes) a second before he gets the treat.
- Then you must repeat the same thing from the opposite side, tossing the treat from the right side towards the left side, repeating the touching and clicking.
- As your puppy gets used to getting touched, you can raise the bar and increase the level of touch, and you can now start from the neck, touch the sides, and then the tail as he passes by.
- Remember to leave the head for last as most dogs aren’t too eager to be touched on top of the head at all times.
- Remember to go gradually and smoothly. If your puppy tries to nip at any time, that means you are going too fast in the process and need to go back a few steps backward by touching less intensely.
2. Being Gentle and Kind Pays Off
A puppy who needs to learn to inhibit biting needs to learn to take treats gently. Don’t waste giving your puppy kibble all at once from the bowl! Those are a lot of missed training opportunities! Reserve a portion of your puppy’s meal to teach him to take food gently from your hands. Do this every day.
To teach polite ways to mouth food, grab a handful of treats and hold them in a closed hands fist. If your puppy bites your hand, say “no bite” (or give a negative sign if you prefer or make a groan – see the note below about this) and don’t release the treat. When your dog stops nibbling and licks your hand, tell him he’s a good boy and release the treats.
Is yelling a good way to keep my puppy from biting me?
While you may have heard of the common practice of yelping like a puppy and stopping play, this method doesn’t work with all puppies. In some puppies with strong prey drives, yowling can excite them even more.
So you have to ask yourself, is my pain moaning increasing or decreasing behavior? If it is increasing and not decreasing, your yelp is probably positive reinforcement, which means the biting behavior will continue, and you are feeding it further.
This is the more likely scenario if, after your yelp, the puppy doesn’t stop but is actually more excited and returns to biting and with more intensity. If he is actually decreasing over time, what you are doing is probably working, and you should continue what you are doing. Beware of extinction bursts.
3. Hand Targeting
If your puppy tends to come with his mouth when you’re lying on the couch, you may find it helpful to train him in an alternative behavior to replace biting. In this case, try playing the hand target. This way, your puppy will no longer focus on biting your hand but on targeting it. Here’s how to play it:
- Extend your hand with the palm open.
- The moment your dog sniffs the hand without nipping, click (or say yes) and give a treat.
- Repeat several times.
- As your dog gets fluid, add the cue “target” and continue clicking and treating.
- Ad challenges by placing your hand higher, at a distance, lower, etc.
Tip: Don’t move your hand too quickly when presenting it as a target. This could increase the excitement and make your hands feel like a toy again, which is not what you want, especially in the early stages of training.
Fetch is another great game where you can train your puppy so that he can take his attention away from your hand and focus on a ball. This one is pretty easy to train, and I usually have him trained in half a day or so. If your dog is predisposed to retrieving, it will come naturally; if not, you can train him through back chaining.
- Toss the ball.
- Call your dog towards you.
- When he’s by you, show a treat.
- In order for your dog to get the treat, your dog will drop the ball.
- Get the ball and toss it right back again.
- When dropping the ball becomes efficient, add the cue “drop it or give.”
- When the treats gradually, the new reinforcement should be tossing the ball over and over again.
Tugging offers an alternative behavior to engage in that replaces nibbling.
5. Tug of War
The game of tug-of-war has always been a subject of controversy. In my own experience, when taught in a constructive and structured way, it is a fun way to keep a dog’s mind off of nibbling. This is a great way to redirect from the hands to the toy and release some pent-up energy.
Here’s how to teach your dog the Tug of War Game
- Get a tug toy and wiggle it in front of your dog to get him interested in it.
- Remember to grab the other side of the toy once your pup grabs it and pulls.
- At a certain point, freeze and show a treat to your dog.
- When your dog decides to drop the other side to get the treat, remember to say “good’ or click.
- Give the treat to your dog.
- Repeat several times.
- Once your dog becomes an expert at dropping the tug toy, add the cue “give” or “drop it.”
- Remember to reward your dog by starting another round of tug.
As described, there are a variety of ways to help your puppy learn proper bite inhibition the force-free way. If your pup continues to nip or acts aggressively, don’t hesitate to find a trainer near you employing positive-based methods and state-of-the-art techniques based on science.
6. Touch and Treat
This game turns touching your puppy in different places into a fun game. The goal is to create positive associations. Aim for a nice positive conditioned emotional response where your puppy goes from not liking or fearing being touched to looking forward to all the great associations.
1. Remember to start the game by briefly touching your puppy in the areas where he is least likely to react and take a treat. Rinse it and repeat several times, looking for that nice conditioned emotional response.
2. Gradually move to the areas where your puppy may not like to be touched, such as the top of the head, ears, or paws, always feeding a treat to create positive associations.
If your puppy tries to nibble, divide the exercise into smaller steps. For example, if your puppy tries to nibble when you try to stroke the top of the head, start by lightly stroking the nose or sides of the head and give a treat until he feels comfortable before moving on to stroking the top of the head.
This article is accurate and to the best of the our knowledge. It is not a substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized veterinary advice. Animals showing signs and symptoms of distress should be examined by a veterinarian immediately.
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