How to Stop a German Shepherd Puppy From Biting (Bite Inhibition Games)

Updated on August 20, 2019
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

German shepherd bite inhibition is important, so teach it early!
German shepherd bite inhibition is important, so teach it early! | Source

If you are blessed with a German Shepherd puppy, you may at times feel at your wits' end when it comes to those constant nipping behaviors. Don't feel bad—you are not alone. This breed is indeed notorious for nipping, and those sharp puppy teeth hurt! If your arms are covered with bruises, scratches and teeth marks, you surely are upset about it and are looking for a way to decrease the nipping and finally allow those wounds to heal.

Why Do German Shepherd Puppies Bite So Much?

So what makes German Shepherd puppies in particular so nippy? There are a few possibilities.

Note: The last two reasons depend highly on the context of your particular puppy.

They have a strong prey drive.

For starters, many have a very strong prey drive, so they are very attracted to movement. If you watch your puppy in the yard, you may notice how readily he captures the slightest movement of some critter in the grass. His big ears will twitch to capture the faintest sounds, and his body will be ready to pounce into action in a split second.

Balls, small critters, and unfortunately, your arms, legs, ankles and pantlegs will soon become targets of his prey drive and turn into objects for a fun game. And to make things worse, any movement you make to move your hand away when your pup comes to nip will further increase this drive and damage to your skin. That explains all those "teeth scratches" you have on your arms!

They're a herding breed.

On top of that, this is a herding breed, so the pups like to chase and gather moving things and they often accomplish this by using their mouths (a behavior known as gripping in herding lingo). In the old days, the herding style of German Shepherds encompassed for a good part what was known as boundary patrol, or flock containment. These dogs had to ensure the sheep were properly contained and the rebellious sheep were controlled by gripping the top of the neck, the ribs or just above the hocks.

Breeder and herding expert Ellen Nickelsberg explains how puppy herding trials are conducted and how puppies are selected based on gripping style which may range between damaging and less damaging bites, full-mouth bites and puppies who bite and hold on. These preliminary tests are done when the pups are very young.

They're exploring and testing their environments.

All puppies, however, go through a stage where they will explore the world with their mouths. Puppy nipping is completely normal behavior most puppies go through. It's similar to the mouthing period babies go through when teething. However, in German Shepherds, the behavior may be more pronounced and more intense than in some other breeds of puppies.

They're overstimulated.

As seen, for a good reason, many like to call their German Shepherd puppies "land sharks." Often, the nipping is a manifestation of a dog getting overstimulated and losing control of his bite force. It is ultimately up to the owner to teach proper bite inhibition through consistent rules.

They were raised in a poor environment.

In some cases, the excessive nipping may be an indication of a puppy raised in a very poor breeding environment, where the puppy didn't get a chance to learn the ABCs of bite inhibition with his littermates and mom and the breeders did little about it. Some of the worst cases of poor bite inhibition are often seen in puppies removed too early from the litter or singletons. In some cases, the biting may be genetic, due to a poor temperament and weak nerves.

They were bred for looks rather than temperament.

It's unfortunate that nowadays there are more and more cases of German Shepherds bred poorly. I am no longer surprised to see enormous German Shepherds, much taller than the standard warrants. Often, I see many relinquished to shelters because they were bred poorly, with the breeders focusing more on looks than temperament. This would certainly really be a disappointment for Max von Stephanitz if he was still alive as he worked so hard to get that versatile, well-tempered perfect German Shepherd specimen.

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German shepherd bite inhibitionGetting puppy used to gentle handling
German shepherd bite inhibition
German shepherd bite inhibition | Source
Getting puppy used to gentle handling
Getting puppy used to gentle handling | Source

A Word About Bite-Inhibition Methods

Following are some games I have used with success with German Shepherd pups. Before playing these games with your pup, I want to emphasize the importance of using only positive, reward-based methods. This is a breed that is known for being fearless, that often won't back down when challenged. The German Shepherd was bred to persist and not give up when faced with rebellious sheep. Because of its courage, this breed is often used for police work.

According to the American Kennel Club standard, " the breed has a distinct personality marked by direct and fearless, but not hostile, expression, self-confidence and a certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships. The dog must be approachable, quietly standing its ground and showing confidence and willingness to meet overtures without itself making them." Yet, this breed is also very sensitive.

If the puppy nips, it may be tempting to use coercion-based methods such as squeezing the dog's muzzle tightly or roughly taking him by the scruff and pinning him down to show him "who's boss". Yet, consider, that some of these pups will just come back for more and you will just increase the arousal levels; rather than decreasing them. Even in German Shepherd puppy play I occasionally see this behavior. A puppy may bite too hard, the German Shepherd will yelp, but the German Shepherd may not back off from play to give the other puppy a time-out as some other puppies do, but gets aroused and rather goes on to bite more.

Also, consider that coercion-based methods will negatively affect the dog/dog owner bond and increase the nipping behavior as now the puppy will nip more, but now to defend himself from rough and inappropriate handling. This is the best way to train a puppy that hands are bad and worth keeping away from their bodies!

Fortunately, there are many better ways to teach proper bite inhibition to these pups. In the picture above, you can see a nippy German Shepherd nipping my arm before undergoing training and developing more "finesse." This was his stereotyped response to any type of touch.

Getting puppy used to enjoy basic handling.
Getting puppy used to enjoy basic handling. | Source

Five Games to Train Puppies Bite Inhibition

1. Basic Handling (a.k.a. The Car Wash Game©)

It may look like some German Shepherd pups don't have a natural liking to being touched. Not too long ago in my Yellow Creek Training Center, I had a German Shepherd owner tell me "I haven't been able to pet my puppy for months!" When you touch them, they may basically try to nip your hand. This may be based on fear, or simply the pup may be trying to play. It could just be though they're just not used to it. In any case, you can work on making touch something positive that your pup will look forward to. This game was invented by me casually one day as I was sitting on the floor. It somewhat mimics your puppy going through a car wash with you giving him a nice " scrub" as he walks by.

  1. Sit on the floor and extend your legs.
  2. Arm yourself with tasty treats and a clicker. (If your dog is not clicker trained, you can just say "yes" to mark the wanted behavior.)
  3. With your pup on your left side, toss a treat over the right side, so that your puppy must walk across your body to get the treat.
  4. As he passes across your body to get the treat, pet him briefly on his sides and then click(or say yes) a second before he gets the treat.
  5. Then repeat the same from the opposite side, tossing the treat from right side towards the left, repeating the touching and clicking.
  6. As the pup gets used to getting touched, you can raise the bar and increase the level of touch, you can start from the neck, touch the sides and then the tail as he passes by.
  7. Leave the head for last as most dogs aren't too eager to be touched on top of the head.
  8. Go gradually. If at any time, your pup tries to nip, you are going too fast, and need to go back a few steps by touching less intensely.

german shepherd pup bite inhibition training
german shepherd pup bite inhibition training | Source

2. Gentleness Pays

A puppy that needs to learn good bite inhibition needs to learn how to take treats gently. Don't waste giving your puppy kibble all at once from the bowl! Those are many lost training opportunities! Reserve a part of your pup's meal to train how to take food gently from your hands. Do this every day.

To teach polite mouthing manners, get a handful of treats and keep them in your closed fist. If your dog bites your hand say "no bite" (or give a negative marker if you prefer or make a yelping sound—see note below about this ) and don't release the treat. When your dog gives up nipping and licks your hand, tell him what a good boy he is and release the treats. For more on how to train your dog to take treats gently, read my article on training a dog to take treats gently.

Is yelping a good way to stop my puppy from biting me?

While you may have heard about the common practice of yelping like a puppy and stopping the game, this method doesn't work with all puppies. In some puppies with strong prey drives, the yelping may arouse them even more.

So you must ask yourself, is my yelping in pain increasing or decreasing the behavior? If it is increasing and doesn't reduce, your yelping is likely positive reinforcement, meaning that the nipping behavior will continue and you are further fueling it.

This is the most likely scenario if after your yelp, the puppy doesn't stop, but actually is more aroused and comes back to more biting and with more intensity. If it is actually decreasing over time, what you're doing is likely working and you must continue what you are doing. Be aware though of extinction bursts.

German shepherd bite inhibition games.
German shepherd bite inhibition games. | Source

3. Hand Targeting

If your puppy tends to come mouth at you when you are lying by the sofa, you may find training him an alternate behavior to replace the nipping helpful. In this case, try to play hand target. This way, your puppy won't focus anymore on nipping the hand but in targeting it. Here is how to play it:

  1. Extend your hand with the palm open.
  2. The moment your dog sniffs the hand without nipping, click (or say yes) and give a treat.
  3. Repeat several times.
  4. As your dog gets fluid, add the cue "target" and continue clicking and treating.
  5. Ad challenges by placing your hand higher, at distance, lower etc.

Tip: Don't move your hand too fast when presenting it as a target. Doing so may increase arousal and make your hands look like a toy again, which is not what you want; especially in the initial stages of training.

4. Fetch

Fetch is another great game you can train your puppy so he can get his focus away from your hand and focused on a ball. This is quite easy to train and I usually have it trained in half a day or so. If your dog is predisposed to fetch, it will come naturally, otherwise, you can try to train it through backchaining.

  1. Toss the ball.
  2. Call your dog towards you.
  3. When he's by you, show a treat.
  4. In order to get the treat, your dog will drop the ball.
  5. Get the ball and toss it again.
  6. When dropping the ball becomes fluent, add the cue "drop it or give".
  7. Wean the treats gradually, as the new reinforcement should be tossing the ball over and over again.

Teaching German shepherd pups bite inhibition
Teaching German shepherd pups bite inhibition | Source

5. Tug of War

The game tug-of-war is a subject of controversy. In my experience, when taught in a constructive and structured manner, it's a fun way to keep a dog's mind out of nipping. This is a great way to re-direct from hands to toy and release some pent-up energy. Here's how to teach it.

  1. Get a tug toy and wriggle it to get your dog interested in it.
  2. Grab the other side of the toy and pull.
  3. At some point, freeze and show a treat.
  4. When your dog drops the other side to get the treat, say "good' or click.
  5. Give the treat.
  6. Repeat several times.
  7. Once your dog gets good at dropping the tug toy, add the cue "give" or "drop it".
  8. Reward your dog by starting another round of tug.

As seen, there are many ways to help your pup learn proper bite inhibition the force-free way. If your puppy 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. A good resource is the Pet Professional Guild.

Is your German Shepherd puppy nippy?

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2013 Adrienne Janet Farricelli


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    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      10 days ago

    • profile image


      7 months ago

      My 'puppy' is over a year old. I got her a few weeks ago from a shelter, and can't believe that anyone would let this beautiful girl go. But she is very mouthy and pawsey. Any suggestions on getting her to stop pawing me, because those dew claws really hurt.

    • profile image


      11 months ago

      Very excited to try these techniques. We rescued a 5 week old puppy from puppy mill conditions, and we’re having to pretty much reprogram her. We normally wouldn’t have taken her on, except our son was there, and she made eye contact with him while just lying there covered in filth. So yeah, she’s made a great turn around in just a few days. Potty trained, loves snuggles, and gets along with children. We’re working on basic commands now, and then to biting inhibitions. Thank you for the informative article. I’ll update with our progress. :)


    • profile image

      Sally Hansen 

      13 months ago

      Thanks for an informative article. Owning a GSD is always a rewarding experience..l have owned 9 so far. I am a 6year long expat living in the Seychelles where we can not purchase GSD pups as they may not be bred on the island...considered dangerous ? My last two died within 3 weeks of each other last November (they came with us from RSA already sterilized).l still read many articles on the breed and hope to find a way of owning another somehow. Patience, tone of voice and training is vital..l wish l had a problem pup instead of nothing....

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      15 months ago

      Becky, have you already tried the puppy bite inhibition games suggested in the article? You want to keep her focus away from biting and engage her in alternative behaviors. On top of these games, you can try ask her for a sit and toss kibble away from you repeatedly. This provides a workout, obedience training and an alternative behavior to replace the biting.

    • profile image

      Becky Steele 

      15 months ago

      We have a 10 week old GSD and I'm finding her biting very difficult to manage.

      She is completely chilled with my husband but she often goes into frenzied biting spells with me. If I have her on my own she will relentlessly pursue me (even trying to climb things) so she can bite me. Sometimes I can calm her and she will sit happily with me, but often nothing seems to work. She doesn't respond to yelping, and if I remove myself from the situation she gets very worked up and even more frenzied.

      We have a 4 year old who is very calm (she's not noisy or running around) and she won't go anywhere near puppy because she often sees her 'attacking' me. The pressure to stay calm makes it much harder to know what to do and I have no idea how to handle her. Any suggestions?

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      22 months ago

      Sher, good luck in training your pup good bite inhibition. Keep me posted on how it goes!

    • profile image


      22 months ago

      This article is excellent for people with other breeds too. I have a second Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. My first dog was the perfect dog, so imagine my surprise when my tiny puppy was biting with those sharp teeth. It was like owning a furry pirahna.

      I didn't know what to do as the puppy was so tiny I was afraid I'd hurt it by reprimanding it. But I had no idea how to stop the biting. I'd tried the usual yelping with no results other than amping up the biting, so this very helpful with concrete ideas to change the behavior. I'll be darned if a four pound puppy is going to terrorize people.

    • profile image


      23 months ago

      love Pethelpful so much it is super raw and cool love that German Sherheard

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      23 months ago

      It takes some time for the puppy to learn how to use a softer mouth, but usually you should see big improvement by the age of 6 months. You are in the middle of the way, but still have work to do. It sounds like he is trying to play with your hands and ankles and you need to redirect this behavior. If he nips your ankles, stop moving as movement is what triggers the behavior. Keep a treat pouch always clipped to your belt and fill it up with a portion of your pup's daily dosage of kibble. From today, your pup will have to work for it. Teach him to sit and toss the kibble every time you catch him with the intent of nipping you. So the moment you notice the intent, freeze, ask him to sit and toss a treat from your pouch to catch. This provides him with some exercise and mental stimulation he craves in a more productive way. Make it a fun game. Remember: the more a behavior is rehearsed, the more it puts roots. So if you can manage to redirect him even before he nips, you will have him rehearse more good behaviors than the problem ones so the good behaviors strengthen and then bad ones weaken. Good luck.

    • profile image


      24 months ago

      I have 3mo old GSD, I adopted him when he was 6w old from a local backyard breeder. Please help me understand my case better. I spend time with him 24/7, he is my third dog, I used to have an English shepherd, a boxer; I was pretty confident to train a dog before GSD. Here is my case with my puppy. He recognizes his name and obey the commends, come , sit, down, up, hand shake, good potty trained, no accident, walk with leash. I tried everything for bite inhibition. I can feed him by hand, on my lap, I can touch almost every part of his body, I can take out something from his mouth, even knuckle bone. These are all good things I managed, But on the other hand, I still have scratches and bite marks on my hands and ankles. He sometimes nipS, bites and growl on me. I always use positive reinforcement techniques. I am just wondering if I succeed on bite inhibition, this is all I can do, or there are more thing to do? Or Do I need more time to see improvement? Thanks. Ozzy

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      jahan pourazam 

      2 years ago

      good advices

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Thank you for such a great article. I too have a GSD puppy who is really very naughty and always bites me.And I think this article would be very helpful!!!

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I wish I'd found this 6 months ago. You give great tips. We have a 9mo female German who was so mouthy. She's getting a ton better, but we still have our bad days. Loves to bite my legs and hands. I can usually distract her with tug at this age but when she was 3-5mo it was impossible. She was so driven. So just hang in there with your pups because I've been there and survived. I'm going to start using these methods you've suggested. Thankfully we already use the tug method.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      2 years ago

      Kilara, have you tried the other games listed? I have listed several that can provide clarity that hands are toys, nut can be sources of great things when they are left alone. Some German shepherds have a strong herding instinct and are attracted to everything that moves. when she goes after your feet, make them boring by stopping and redirecting her with perhaps another toy or look for a flirt pole.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      I just got a German shepherd/husky mix puppy 2 weeks ago. From what the people said when I we got her she should be about 11 weeks old now. I have tried to play the tug of war game with her, however she is still more interested in trying to get our hands and fingers. Also when I take her out for her walks (still trying to get her potty trained) she feels that going after my feet and legs is a good idea. I'm not in a position to be able to let her off the leash as training is difficult as well since everyone feels they have to have a hand in that and won't let me do it. We got her for me primarily as a support animal. Any ideas on what I can do? I have told everyone to back off and let me do the training, but no such luck.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      3 years ago

      Glad to hear you found the German shepherd puppy bite inhibition games helpful, good luck with your pup!

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      The step by step instructions are so helpful! By far the best article I've read about GS puppy's. Thank you so much!!

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      4 years ago

      Hello Liz, I am happy this article on puppy bite inhibition games turned out helpful to you. Let me know if you have any questions. Happy training!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Thank you very much for sharing this information! I have been searching for an article that describes my 3 mo old Shepherd Greta. Looking forward to trying your suggestions.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      5 years ago

      Lisa, for this you really need to seek a behavior specialist to guide you through behavior modification. Look for one that uses systematic desensitization and counterconditioning. Your pup is still young, seek help NOW before this becomes a big behavior problem. Resource guarders can and will bite given the chance. Your kids should not "try to take it away" as this allows the dog to rehearse the behavior and it reinforces more and more. Read this hub for more details:

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      lisaLess than a minute ago

      Hi, I'm looking for ways to stop food agression. I have a 6 month old german Shepard pup. We rescued him at 41/2 months. A day after bringing him home. He came down with parvo. When we got him back he was very underweight and starved. He was on a diet of chicken and rice for a week. Now he is crazy over people food. So here's the problem he doesn't have agression with his normal dog food but if he gets people food he gets aggressive towards my other dog and the kids if they try to take it away, not so much me and my husband tho. Today he ate a hole through my 9 year Olds backpack to get to a bag of popcorn and when she tried to take the backpack from him he growled and snapped at her hand leaving marks. Please help we have been through so much with this pup and would hate to have to get rid of him over this.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      5 years ago

      Hello, thanks for stopping by this hub. You can do the first game in another position if you feel it works better. Just getting him used to being touched as he walks by you as you toss treats.

    • vikkijov profile image


      5 years ago from Mystic, CT

      Your description of the puppy biting exactly describes Clyde. He does get more bitey and worked up when squealing or bringing him to the floor. The suggestions you gave sound positive, except whenever you sit on the floor, Clyde just starts to bite. So the first game doesn't seem like we could do it safely.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 years ago

      Hellow Ladydeonne, thanks for stopping by and commenting. The beauty about training and consulting with clients is that each dog assigned to you always teaches you something new. It's a never ending process!

    • ladydeonne profile image

      Deonne Anderson 

      6 years ago from Florence, SC

      Though I don't have a German Shepard puppy, I enjoyed and learned from your article. I like to learn things about how to train and handle dogs because what I don't use, I can share with other dog owners.


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