Dog bite inhibition training – How do I stop my Bull Terrier puppy from nipping

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As I have already explained in my essay “The aggressive puppy – do I have an aggressive dog?” in puppies nipping and chasing are all normal.
No need to be alarmed or think that you’ve adopted the “devil” of the litter. They are all the same. And they all more or less go through the same issues.

You’ve probably heard that it is advised by trustful breeders that the dogs will not be separated from their litter before the age of eight weeks.


Not only is that the approximate end of the weaning process. These first eight weeks in the litter among their siblings are also a very important phase in the process of socializing.

The puppies are playing with each other and the mother. And they are learning “How far they can go” or the so-called bite inhibition during play with their own kind.

If one exceeds the limits too far and starts nipping too hard, the other puppy will yelp to express pain and probably walk away and ignore the aggressor for a while. It only takes a few times for many puppies to experience that situation and know exactly where the limits are.

Once in our household, a completely new learning curve begins

Especially Bull Terriers have a very high pain tolerance and their skin and fur is designed by nature to bear a lot more impact and manipulation before it scratches or breaks.

Therefore their skin and ours is not comparable. And the situation with us humans is completely different than it was before among their siblings.

It is not a rare situation that the intentions of dogs are misinterpreted, when they “grab” people with their mouth. People tend to perceive this as an act of aggression, because a dog’s mouth can potentially cause injury. Yet, injury is not necessarily intended. A dog “grabbing” a person with the mouth can as well only mean to alert the person or hold it back the same way a human would use his hand for.

During play this kind of grabbing happens a lot, among dogs, and of course also among dog and human, once we become the new parent and play pal for the puppy.

And just as they needed to learn it with their siblings, now that they are living in our household they need to learn how easily their teeth can break our human skin and that they need to be extra careful when grabbing us.

Sadly we can’t tell them. Therefore they need to learn this through experience and repetition.

It is our task as the owners to teach them

A great way to teach puppies not do nip too hard is using the same method their siblings did back in the litter:

Loud yelping to show pain. This will also startle the dog and likely cause it to stop.

Subsequently just interrupt ALL interaction and ignore the dog for a moment.

If the dog does not stop, try moving it into a calm room or gently shove int into its crate with no distractions for a short time-out.

“Cries” behind closed doors should now be ignored as hard as it feels. The puppy needs to learn that revolting does not resolve the situation.

If you feel like ignoring doesn’t work, give it a few more tries and a slightly longer while each time.

After things have calmed down, invite the puppy back in and try to engage in calmer interaction.

Avoid very inciting games that involve a lot of “grabbing” during very excessive nipping phases. These games can play a role again once your dog has learned to control its steam a little better.

Every dog has its own learning speed. But most dogs will get it eventually.
If you feel like you are getting nowhere even after months, seek the help of a professional dog trainer.

16 thoughts on “Dog bite inhibition training – How do I stop my Bull Terrier puppy from nipping

  1. My four year old mini but has started “love bites” on people’s hands when they reach down to greet her. They aren’t aggressive but do pinch! once she greets them she lets go and is her wonderful, passive self again. I need to find a way to stop this behaviour because I don’t want it to lead to greeting children this way to, as she LOVES being with and around toddlers. I’ve tried scolding, holding her nose, asking people to hold their hands closed and low when they greet her, etc.
    She also has a very bad habit of jumping and grabbing larger dogs neck ruff while playing with them, I worry that this might be an aggressive behaviour and not a playful one! She has always done it and otherwise is a very submissive dog.

  2. I have a 5 month old that I have to keep outside, 1 she is bitting my young Children trying to play and the landlord too saying not inside for now. Just wondering what tactics will work for stopping the nipping.

    • Hello Patricia,
      my suggestion to tackle the problem is described in the last paragraph of the very essay you have answered to. You basically use the behavior that dogs show among each other within their litter. Your puppy does not intend to hurt you. It just does not know better for now. So, very clear actions – loud yelping, interrupting play, ignoring – should be used to make it very clear to the dog that the behavior is not wanted.
      In my experience, starting obedience training at an early age – as early as possible – will also contribute to establishing good manners and will also enhance communication between owner and dog. Consider visiting a puppy class or just read about training and try it yourself, if you like. A very, very great book on training and English Bull Terriers is Jane Killon’s “When Pigs Fly”.
      Others may have different experience and suggestions on what they have been successful with. Some use spray bottles with water, for example. I have never tried that.
      Dorothea

  3. I have a 7 month old bull terrier and I have try treats and talking in a soft voices and also sounding loud and demanding and she is still biting.. every time she gets excited and wants to play she bites me she is friendly with everyone else but I can’t control her I don’t know what other method to use to stop her from biting.. any advice ?

    • Hi Nan,
      first of all, please keep in mind that Bull Terriers take up to THREE YEARS to really mature. That is much longer than most other dog breeds. And even when older Bull Terriers will still always remain those little clowns, craving human attention and always up for some mischief. That’s just how they are. The behavior of your pup is absolutely normal for the age. Don’t lose your patience. Your life with a young Bull Terrier can be wonderful, as long as you are willing to constantly guide your dog and enforce the rules. By “enforce” I am not talking about punishment, just to be clear. Consistency is your best bet.
      That being said, its important to stick to your methods. If you decide for one strategy you feel comfortable with, stick to it for a while and apply it EVERY SINGLE TIME. No exceptions. Your dog needs to understand that you will really not tolerate certain behaviors. Switching methods all the time will make things less clear for your dog. One “mistake” we humans often make when training our dogs is to expect the desired result way to soon. All too often we start seeing success AFTER we got to the point of thinking our efforts are not going to work. Bull Terriers are known for being stubborn. That’s another word for “pushing their limits”, they really are like little kids. But the good thing is, once they REALLY understand what you want from them they are almost as easy to direct as any other dog. Stick to your plan and don’t feel bad about being consequent and giving your dog a time out now and then when it pushes your limits too hard.
      If you are able to keep up the patience and consistency, you WILL see success. It’s a process.

      One more thought: If you have a feeling that your dog is constantly “over the top”, you may want to consider providing more exercise for your dog (walks are often not enough for Bull Terriers, a good game of fetch or running around with play pals or mental games are often more effective), if you suspect that not enough exercise could be the reason for the overexcitement. Yet on the other hand, another reason for overexcitement can be TOO MUCH exercise. If you feel like your dog is experiencing problems with calming after play, active calming sessions, some cuddling, stroking, putting it in a calm environment for a nap, can actively help the dog learn to calm down.

      Also, you can always actively REWARD GOOD and CALM behavior. Just give a treat or praise (in a low tone to avoid igniting the excitement accidentally) every now and then your dog shows calm and polite behavior. This is another measure to make clear to your dog, which behavior you favor.
      This way you are able to walk two routes at a time: Learning through negative but also through GOOD experience.

  4. Hi,
    This is so helpful—thank you! We just got a 9-week-old bull terrier puppy, and I have been worried we got the “devil” of the litter, like you mentioned. Like the comment above, our girl is obsessive about biting our feet and clothes, arms, hands, face—every part of me. She will not stop, even after constant redirection with toys. I can’t even pet or cuddle her, because all she wants to do is bite (“grab”?) me. She is spending 75% of her time in a crate because we simply don’t know what else to do to get her to calm down. Almost all of our interactions with her involve trying to get her teeth off of us. We are meeting w a trainer next week, but any additional ideas would be great. What “mental games” would you suggest? We are desperate to train and raise her well and give her the affection she wants, but it is proving so difficult.

    • Sarah, I am so sorry. I just found your comment. It must have slipped my attention.
      Mental games can be anything from searching to training. With a pup I would suggest very simple and short lessons. And why not let the pup take the biting out on a yummy chew and drain the energy by doing some fetch, if you have the time.
      Your puppy will probably still nip for quite some time. That’s just their nature.
      I don’t think that so much crate time is really helpful.
      Half of that time would probably be better invested in games that drain energy instead of accumulating it – such as the crating does. Choose games that allow for a distance between you and the dog. So you don’t get nipped all the time.
      Also training the bite inhibition – showing that biting hurts you and is unwanted – can start as early as possible.
      I did it by yelping and immediately interrupting the games each time my girl went too rough. It takes some time, but sooner or later they’ll get it, provided the owner is consistent.
      I hope you have already seen some progress with the help of the trainer. Good luck!

      • We just got an eight week old boy who also bites like a possum all the freaking time. We have Inc. chasing games, I have given him leather straps and chew toys and sometimes redirection does help a little bit. He does hate being separated from us so we have set up a time out and quiet time run in the livingroom as we dont want him associating his crate with punishment. For the most part we also spend 60 to 70% of our time trying to remove his teeth from our skin or our clothes or my hair- and as much as I hate to strike animals the only thing we have found Is flicking him between the eyes when his biting gets to an extreme level. If he has to be flicked he instantly goes to time out. We have discovered that all of these things combined with a very loud yelp by the person being injured has started to turn the biting into licking instead 🙂 Rough housing with these puppies is not recommended if trying to curb biting. Our playtime consists of lots of hugs and scratching and running fun loops up and down the hallway and playing tug of war. Routine is very helpful- very smart dogs. We keep him on as strict a time schedule as we can for eating and naps. Yes naps!!! Ours takes three to four full naps a day in his crate, since hes only 8 weeks- but we make sure to keep him up for three hours before bed and make sure to do alot of playing during that time for a puppy to sleep most of the night. Paint sticks and vinyl webbing straps are good for wearing down those teeth and they seem to prefer them to chew toys. Very proud dogs, so be sure to tell them often when they are good and give them lots of hugs and kisses. This will make their separation time more unbearable for them.

  5. I have found theses answers very help full I have a 10 week old boy and he’s a typical bull terrier puppy . If he gets to rough bitting . We put him in his crate only for a short while or try and distract him through play you do have to be very firm . There beautiful dogs but can be very stubborn we have got him some mental stimulation toys as well to distract him . Make sure all family members use the same methods to train him or he or she will get confused .

  6. Hi Everyone!

    We recently brought home an EBT. She was 8 weeks when we picked her up and is now coming into week 12. The first few days she was very passive, sweet and cuddly, but things quickly changed once she became more comfortable with her surroundings and new home. I was really really concerned about her biting until i read some of these comments which reassure me a bit that shes not overly aggressive. With that being said, she is very mouthy and plays extremely rough. She is constantly looking for something to bite and her bites continue to get harder which is concerning my GF and I. We’ve been trying to provide as much exercise as possible but the behavior seems to be intensifying instead of decreasing. I’ve also noticed shes not as “kissy” as other puppies that I’ve had in the past. Any insight is greatly appreciated.

    TIA

    • Hi Alex,
      over the years I have realized that there might be some truth about the often cited specialness of Bull Terriers. There are so many little things I could name, I don’t even know where to start.
      It is also true that they are pretty mouthy and VERY playful puppies. However, while that might distinct them from some other breeds the teething phase is a tricky phase for every puppy. It can involve discomfort and even pain. And some puppies try to compensate for it by excessive chewing and mouthing.
      That being said, I can assure you that you did not invite the devil into your home. You just own a regular Bull Terrier. 🙂
      Even if your pup seems very self centered at the moment and not very cuddly at this age, don’t worry. It will come! And if it is a real Bull Terrier it will come so massively that some day you will look back misty-eyed at those glory days when no Bull Terrier was sitting or lying on you or almost kicking you out of your own bed at night. 🙂
      As for the “aggressive” behavior, I would not call it aggression, it is testing and experiencing, learning who makes the rules and who is the leader.
      My advice is to start training the bite inhibition right away. It can seemingly take forever, but when being consistent you will be successful. The mouth is a dog’s “hand”. So it’s only natural for them to use it a lot, not only for real biting, but also for grabbing or holding objects or people. At first, they follow their instincts. They need to learn “our ways” and that our skin, for example, is much more fragile than theirs and that their “natural” behavior can hurt us.
      Dogs among each other also tell when one gets too rough – sometimes this sounds really loud and scary, even though the dog is basically just “scolding”. So, don’t be afraid to use a strong and loud voice when you disapprove. On the other hand use lots of enthusiasm when praising. Over time this will not fail to show effect.
      Ignore behaviors you don’t want – if necessary give doggy a real time-out alone for some minutes. And don’t forget to praise and reward every behavior you like and desire. Because this will make it so much easier for your dog to figure out quickly what you like and what not.

  7. Hi Dorothea and readers

    My wife and I are new parents of an English Bull Terrier, took her in at 9 weeks and she’s coming up to 14 weeks now. In some aspects these last few weeks have been hard, taking their toll on us and adapting to the new person in our lives and home but in others and at times when Milo shows her affection or demonstrates what she’s learned, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
    I’d read up on their behavioural traits and having had and been around dogs most of my life, thought “what’s all the fuss about?”. Let me tell you, and one thing we had to and are still learning ourselves, is that owning your first English Bull Terrier is NOT the same as “just a puppy” from another breed. Yes they are challenging and show signs of a rebellious / stubborn nature but when their true self shines through they are simply amazing dogs. Do stick with it and have faith in what the real experts say, not just the “armchair experts” who know it all! It’s pretty much a 50 / 50 learning experience for us and building that bond now at an early stage, picking up tips and appreciating help and advice along the way IS working.
    Granted not every “tip” will work and probably most won’t initially, but I have definitely understood a couple of actions that DO work, try them and see;

    The puppy MUST have the right amount of sleep (a lot more than we initially were offering her). Milo is now almost 14 weeks and sleeps, not necessarily always by choice but when we feel is “her” time (might be different time for others and the lifestyles they lead) and this totals around 17 or 18 hours a day. Since offering her this extra couple of hours we’ve noticed a massive positive difference in her behaviour.

    Your puppy, well ours certainly, MUST get enough to eat. Like most people we offer training treats while interacting with her but have been following a fairly strict 4 meals a day routine starting at 0630hrs and then every 4 hours. We use the more expensive puppy food for her and followed the advice for English Bull Terriers regarding portion control. This did not work and she was still hungry and following other advice, increased her portions slightly and boy what a difference it’s made, again to her behaviour. Poor little girl was hungry and trying to tell us in her own way.

    Finally, from my point of view only, when they are awake and it’s either training or playtime, you MUST focus your time and energy into your puppy. We tried otherwise to juggle work and our mealtimes at the same time and it does NOT work. Invest the time in “your” puppy and it will pay off. Milo seems to respect us more and responds faster and makes the right choices more regularly since we’ve done this. Not all day and yes we do both have jobs and work pays the bills and all that, but what I’m saying, though albeit a few weeks of experience, is that this time forms the bond with your puppy and all three of these bits of advice flow into one another; if she’s had enough food, she’ll sleep, if she’s had enough sleep, she’ll play / interact nicely.

    Don’t get me wrong here, she is still a little madam at times and does nip and mouth and make the wrong choice sometimes, but she’s a puppy and still learning, just like we are, but since we’ve followed these three traits Milo seems to be happier and I know we are too.

    Good luck and don’t give up.

    • Hello James, thank you for sharing your experience. The last 5 weeks have been a first taste of what you’re going to be dealing with and you seem to be aware and willing. That’s a perfect premise. These dogs need tons of attention but also consistency. Lots of truth in your words.
      I wish you the best!

  8. Good day,
    We have an 8month old Bull Terrier boy that keeps nipping our 6year old little girl (human, if this was not clear… LOL) my mother is pressuring me to rehome although I know in my heart that he (Rolo) is not aggressive. this happened now twice when I was not in the room / at home. we are having him spayed as well tomorrow as we do not want to breed with him.

    How will i get him to stop nipping my 6 year old, as I have 19month old twins as well. i am scared he will turn aggressive.

    • Hello Monique,
      the first thing you should do is NOT leave your kids alone with the dog AT ALL. If you have to leave the room, the dog comes with you.
      It is hard to tell if the Bull Terrier acted out of aggression or a different motive, because, obviously, I wasn’t there and did not see the situation. But judging by the age of the Bull Terrier and your descriptions it is very likely that this was normal playful Bull Terrier puppy behavior. Bull Terriers are rough players, that is definitely something to keep in mind with small kids and a Bull Terrier together in one household. These dogs are wild and do stupid things. They are like toddlers with superpowers and they act exactly like that. This is why they need training and proper handling. Once they understand how our human world works, that our skin breaks easier than theirs, that we feel pain more than they do, they can and will be incredibly gentle. And well-trained Bull Terriers are usually awesome with kids. Which still does not mean that it is safe to leave them alone with small kids, toddlers or babies. Because, after all, we never know for sure what can trigger animals’ instincts. Better safe than sorry, right? The movements and noises children make could trigger their hunting instincts, their urge to play roughly, or quite the other way their instinct to help and protect. Only a dog has no hands. So it uses its snout to grab someone or something as we would do with our hands in all kinds of situations. This, of course, can cause injury and is often flatly interpreted as aggression, without asking for the real intentions behind it.
      Also, nipping and biting aside, these dogs are strong and they do not really seem to be aware of what this could mean to other individuals. Knocking a small person over in an attempt to engage in some playful interaction alone can cause injury without ANY negative intentions on the horizon.

      It is a good thing to ask for training tips as spaying will do nothing to resolve this situation. All it will do is take away your dog’s ability to reproduce. If you’re lucky it may lead to your dog becoming a little lazier during the course of its life. But firstly there’s no guarantee that will happen and secondly even if it does, it will definitely be no immediate effect able to remedy the current circumstances. You are asking the right questions, looking for tips on how to train your Bull Terrier that nipping is unwanted. Such tips you will find in the exact article that you’ve commented on, for example.
      On the other hand, there need to be rules established in the house as well. Your dog is not the only individual, rules should be applied to. One rule should be that the kids don’t nag the dog, leave it alone when it takes a nap, and if possible don’t run and scream in front of the dog.
      If you feel safer, you could buy a light harness and a short loop to be able and better grab your dog in tricky situations. Just let your dog wear this until it knows more about what it is supposed to do and what not.

      Many people laugh about the tip to loudly yelp when the dog is nipping, just like a dog’s sibling would when game time gets too rough. But this is actually quite effective for different reasons. First of all, the loud noise often startles the dog and causes it to let go. It also tells the dog that something is not right. If this scenario is followed by a “silent treatment”, stopping all interaction immediately and ignoring the dog for a bit, the dog will eventually understand that nipping is not rewarding.
      And you can do more by actively praising and/or rewarding good and wanted behavior.
      The yelping is ONE of the different measures every person in your family can use to train the dog when things get too rough.

      But, don’t be fooled into thinking that seeing results will just be a matter of two weeks or so. Every dog has different learning speeds and needs the time to make some experience repeatedly in order to understand. This means that in the meantime you will have to manage the situation extra carefully as described above while consistently keep up your training efforts. There’s no way around that.
      If you feel like training your dog on your own is too much and you resort to finding a dog trainer, please make sure that this person is experienced with Bull Terriers or at least other Terrier breeds. The strength of the Bulldog combined with the whiz of the Terrier makes these dogs a very special combination, unlike many other dogs.
      These dogs need a lot of attention and a consistent, loving handler. They are bulldozers with the fragile soul of an elf. Keep that in mind … act accordingly … and things should go well.

      There is also a very great forum owned by a Bull Terrier breeder, where you can exchange questions and ideas with other Bull Terrier owners.
      I highly recommend taking a look. https://www.bulliesofnc.com/BTforum/discussions
      You will find out pretty fast that many of them do or have dealt with the same set of issues in very young Bull Terriers. It’s just how they are.
      Especially as your family seems to be contemplating rehoming, this forum might also be helpful. If it comes to this, at least the next home should be people who know the breed, know what they are getting into, and WANT that. So that the next home will also be the final home. In that forum, chances are good to find such people.

      Good luck! I hope I was able to help a little.

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