While puppies are cute and adorable, they also come with some sharp teeth and nails that can cause some problems when they are younger and learning their manners.
Whether your puppy is biting your hair, biting your sleeves, or biting the rest of your clothes, there are steps you can take to ensure your clothes remain intact and your puppy learns how to behave.
In this article we will look at reasons that your puppy is biting your clothes, how to tell if your puppy is biting playfully or aggressively, and how to get your puppy to stop jumping and pulling on your clothes.
Why is my puppy biting my clothes?
Puppies explore the world with their mouth. Not only is it common for puppies to use their mouth to experience new things, but puppies are also often teething and need something to chew on because their mouth is painful. Some breeds of dogs are also more prone to biting due to their genetics.
If your puppy has gotten attention in the past due to biting your hair or clothes, they may also be biting out of boredom. Puppies will often engage in “naughty” behavior in order to get the attention of their owners, especially if it has been successful in the past.
In addition, puppies are not born knowing how to behave in a human world. To a puppy, playing with their mouth is a common and appropriate interaction. However, puppies often learn from each other how hard is too hard to bite, and puppies don’t wear clothes!
When you have a puppy, belongings will be chewed and furniture will end up with teeth marks. It’s a given that your puppy will very likely damage something at some point, because even the best management techniques may fail.
However, it’s also important to be guiding your puppy during this time so they begin to learn the proper behavior. Many times there is an improvement in general chewing after your puppy finishes teething – usually by 6 months – but the playful and excited biting at clothes will rarely improve on its own.
I just want to quickly jump in here and say we’ve created a mobile-friendly video course on dealing with unwanted puppy behaviors, and one of the modules covers puppy jumping and how to manage it, so be sure to learn more about it here.
Is my puppy biting my clothes aggressively?
Sometimes, when your puppy latches onto your clothes and won’t let go, it can be worrisome. We all want our puppies to be friendly and outgoing, and any potential signs of aggression should be addressed.
However, in the majority of cases, your puppy will be biting your clothes or hair simply for play! This is true even if your puppy is growling while they bite – play growls are especially common in puppies.
You can determine if your puppy is behaving aggressively or just playfully by looking at their overall body language. If your puppy is stiff, and has rigid body language, it’s a good sign that they are acting out of fear and aggression.
However, when your puppy is playfully bouncing and has loose and wiggly body language, it’s very likely that they are acting playfully and without manners rather than in an aggressive manner.
If you think that your puppy is behaving aggressively, it’s important to get a qualified trainer on board immediately. True aggression in puppies is rare and needs to be addressed right away in order to develop a plan.
Two great places to start looking for a qualified behavior specialist include the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers (looking specifically for a CDBC – Certified Dog Behavior Consultant) and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.
Even if your puppy is acting playfully, it is still a behavior that should be changed. After all, nobody wants holes in their clothes or to have a puppy jumping on them! In the next section, we will talk more about ways you can teach your dog to not bite your clothes.
If you think your puppy may have a problem with aggression, please read our comprehensive guide to puppy aggression.
How to Teach Your Puppy to Not Bite Your Clothes
There are several effective and positive methods to teach your puppy to not bite your sleeves and keep them from latching onto your clothes. Which one of these options works best for you will depend on the reason your puppy is biting, as well as your individual puppy.
Also, if you’re finding yourself yelling at your puppy, then be sure to read our post on how best to discipline your puppy.
“Place” or “Mat” is one of the best tools in the toolbox for any puppy owner, and is especially useful when it comes to over-excited puppies. We have an entire article on the benefits and best methods of teaching this must-do puppy command, which you can read about here.
Trade a Toy
Since puppies need to use their mouths, especially when they are teething, it’s unfair to the puppy to just punish them for biting and not provide them with another outlet.
Instead of only telling your puppy what you don’t want them to do, it’s more effective and kinder to tell the puppy what you do want it to do instead.
One of the best ways to redirect excited puppy biting is to offer them something that they can bite and chew on instead of your clothes or skin. By having a variety of chew toys easily accessible, you’ll be able to trade your sleeve, hair, shoes, for a toy so they have something more appropriate to chew on instead.
As your puppy is excited and trying to bite your clothes, offer the toy instead. You can move the toy around to encourage your puppy to play with the toy.
With time, your puppy should learn to bite toys when they become excited, rather than biting and pulling on your clothes instead.
Ask for an Incompatible Behavior
If your puppy is sitting, they can’t jump and bite!
This is called asking your dog to do an incompatible behavior, so they cannot continue the behavior we don’t want.
There are many options for an incompatible behavior. Sometimes, a sit is easiest, especially if it’s something that you’ve taught your dog already.
Other times, a hand target is a great option, if you’ve taught your dog to touch their nose to your hand.
You can also ask your puppy to sit on a bed or in their kennel for a brief moment as an alternate behavior. This shouldn’t be used as a punishment, but rather a fun behavior your dog is performing instead of biting and jumping on you.
Keeping treats on your person (or in a container close by) will help you set your puppy up for success. You’ll be able to reward your puppy for their good behavior – and rewarded behavior is more likely to continue!
Give Your Puppy a Break
Sometimes, especially when our puppies are biting our clothes and won’t let go, or when they’re super excited and it seems they’ve forgotten their brain, it’s actually because they are too tired to do anything else.
Tired puppies are just like tired toddlers, where they often run around to keep themselves awake instead of “giving in” to sleep.
If this is the case for your puppy, the best solution is to give them a break in an exercise pen, their kennel, or in another room. Without the stimulation and distraction of freedom and exciting people, your puppy will be able to settle down and nap.
If your puppy is upset about being put away for their nap, you can also leave them with a chew toy to ease the transition and give themselves something else to focus on instead.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Preventing your puppy from being in a situation where they might bite you and grab your clothes is just as important, if not more important, than teaching your dog what to do in the moment.
The fewer opportunities your dog has to bite your clothes and jump on you, the easier it will be to avoid the problem being long-term.
The first step is to pay attention to your puppy’s needs, to determine when they might need a nap the most, or when they are often bored and need extra attention.
You can prevent some of the biting by ensuring your puppy is well rested, and keeping them out of situations where they might get into trouble without your guidance.
Food puzzle toys are a great option for preventing boredom in your puppy. They will allow your puppy to stay occupied on another task, and by engaging their brain, your puppy will be more content than if they have had just physical exercise alone.
One of my favorite toys for long-term puppy entertainment is the Kong toy. They can be stuffed with a variety of food, such as yogurt or applesauce mixed with their kibble, and then frozen to even further the time it takes for your puppy to eat.
In addition, the cool nature of the frozen Kong can be very soothing for your puppy as they are teething!
Other food puzzle toys exist, such as snuffle mats or slow feeders, and are all great options to keep your puppy from being bored. A bored puppy will often create their own entertainment, which will likely be something we don’t want them doing.
Many puppies will also benefit from engaging in toy play, such as fetch or tug of war. Another great option, especially if you aren’t physically able to play tug of war with your puppy is the flirt pole, which acts as a giant cat wand toy, but for dogs.