German Shepherd Puppy Bite Inhibition Games

German shepherd bite inhibition, teach it early!
German shepherd bite inhibition, teach it early! | Source
German shepherd bite inhibition
German shepherd bite inhibition | Source

Teaching German Shepherd Puppies Bite Inhibition

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 indeed is notorious for nipping, and those sharp, puppy teeth hurt too! If your arms are full of black and blues, 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.

So what makes German Shepherd puppies in particular so nippy? Well, 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!

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.

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.

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 ABC' s of bite inhibition with his litter mates 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.

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..

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. Following are some games I have used with success with German Shepherd pups.

Getting puppy used to gentle handling
Getting puppy used to gentle handling | Source

A Word About Bite Inhibition Methods

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 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!

There are fortunately, 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 Bite Inhibition

Game 1) Basic Handling (aka 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. (*note 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 gradual. 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

Game 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 to train your dog to take treats gently, read my hub on "training a dog to take treats gently"

*Note: while you may have heard about the common practice of yelping like a puppy and stopping the game, you need to evaluate if this method works with your puppy. It doesn't work with all. With 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

Game 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.

Game 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

Game 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 eliciting 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.

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ladydeonne profile image

ladydeonne 3 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.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

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!

vikkijov profile image

vikkijov 2 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 image

alexadry 2 years ago from USA Author

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.

lisa 2 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.

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alexadry 2 years ago from USA Author

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:

Liz 15 months 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 image

alexadry 15 months ago from USA Author

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!

Jean-luc 5 months 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 image

alexadry 5 months ago from USA Author

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

KiLara 3 months 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 image

alexadry 3 weeks ago from USA Author

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.

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    Adrienne Janet Farricelli (alexadry)1,687 Followers
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    Adrienne Farricelli is a former veterinary hospital assistant and now a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of dog books.

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