Disciplining a German Shepherd for Biting: The Do’s and Don’ts


A German Shepherd Puppy Biting the finger of a man. How to Discipline a German Shepherd for Biting

It’s no secret that German Shepherd puppies have razor-sharp teeth and it’s only natural that they want to bite during teething. But, it’s important to teach your dog that biting is not acceptable behavior and this should be done from a young age. So, how do you discipline a German Shepherd for biting?

To discipline a German Shepherd for biting, make sure to discipline at the moment; let out a high-pitched yelp such as “Ouch!” then redirect the biting by offering a chew toy. Use reward-based training and teach the “Leave It!” command. Never use physical punishment or yell at your dog.

Discipline is not a negative thing and many people wrongly assume that the word means punishment alone, however, this is incorrect. Discipline comes from “discipulus,” which is the Latin word for “pupil.”

So, when disciplining a dog we are referring to teaching him rules and learning the correct behavior, in our case, we are teaching our German Shepherd not to bite. Here’s a rundown of what the article will cover:

Why do German Shepherds Bite?

To learn how to discipline a German Shepherd for biting, it’s important to understand why they bite in the first place. There are three reasons that German Shepherds bite, and this does not include being trained to do so during law enforcement training!

German Shepherds bite whilst learning acceptable social behavior from their mother and littermates which helps them learn proper bite inhibition. They also bite and nip during the natural teething phase, and due to their innate herding instinct and strong prey drive.

1. Learning Acceptable Social Behavior and Bite Inhibition

Two German Shepherd Puppies

All puppies learn about their bite inhibition,Opens in a new tab. (also known as “soft mouth”) during playtime with their littermates. It’s an important part of socialization where they discover how to control the intensity of their biting so that their siblings don’t get hurt. They also quickly learn that if they bite their littermates too hard, the fun and play stops.

Sometimes when puppies are removed too soon from the litter, they haven’t learned their bite inhibition properly. German Shepherd pups shouldn’t be removed before they are 8-weeks old as the dam is still teaching them good canine manners and disciplining them when they bite too hard or step out of line.

Pups are also still learning from their siblings at this young age. Removing a puppy too early from its mother can affect the dog’s future behavior as detailed in this study.

German Shepherd mouthing a man's hand. German Shepherd Bite Inhibition
No biting – only mouthing!

Your German Shepherd needs to continue to learn his bite inhibition when you first bring him home so that he is always gentle, even when playing. When you first notice your puppy licking your hand instead of biting, you are definitely on the right track.

The adult German Shepherd in the photo clearly knows how to “soft mouth” You can see there is no pressure on the forearm and the dog is gently using his mouth in a controlled manner.

2. The Puppy Biting Phase – Teething

Puppies naturally want to explore the world with their mouths and it’s how they want to interact with their human! But all pups will go through a phase of having an overwhelming desire to bite and nip and this occurs during teething.

German Shepherds can get their needle-sharp baby teeth from as early as 2- weeks old and usually have them all by weeks 6 to 7. So when you first bring your pup home at 8-weeks old, he will usually have all of his 28 razors that are ready to sink into your hand!

When the pup is between 3 to 4 months old, his teeth will start to loosen and fall out and you may find them on the floor, however, most will probably be swallowed. There’s no need to worry about this as no harm will be caused.

German Shepherds need to intermittently chew to get some relief from their sore and irritated gums. They want to bite, nibble, and chew everything in sight and that could be your hand, ankles, or even your wooden furniture.

So, when do German Shepherd puppies stop biting? Puppy teething is harsh but usually ends between 6 to 8 months old when the pup should have all their 42 adult teeth.

3. German Shepherd Herding Instinct

German Shepherd Herding a Lamb

German Shepherds were originally bred to herd sheep – the clue is in their name! They were selectively bred as a working dog in the late 1800s, having outstanding traits such as strength, loyalty, bravery, dedication, and intelligence. These are the traits that still make German Shepherds great pets today.

If you already own a German Shepherd you will have no doubt experienced nibbling or biting especially at the expense of your ankles! GSD bite and nip ankles due to their natural herding instinct and strong prey drive. It’s in their genes and occasionally they cannot help their strong desire to herd sheep, and that may mean you!

My German Shepherd puppy loved to nip at my ankles during playtimes. I used to think it was kind of cute until her teeth got bigger and sharper! That’s when I realized I should be disciplining her for this behavior and training her not to do it, not laughing and encouraging it.

Even now as an adult, her strong herding instinct still surfaces. Here’s an example. After running around and playing with her, if I go to walk back inside the house but she wants to carry on playing, she will come up behind me and gently nibble at the back of my ankles. It’s her way of saying, “Hey! Stay and play!”

How to Discipline a German Shepherd for Biting

Young German Shepherds need to learn that biting and nipping is not acceptable behavior. Start off by using lots of communication including voice commands (in a cheerful tone), hand signals, and body language, and let your dog know from the outset that biting hurts.

Below is a helpful table of what to do and what not to do when disciplining your German Shepherd for biting:

Do’sDon’ts
Do discipline at the moment the biting occurs Don’t use physical punishment
Do let out a high-pitched yelp such as “Ouch!” or “Ahh Ahh!” Don’t yell at your dog
Do redirect the biting with a chew toyDon’t “Alpha roll” your dog
Do use positive reinforcementDon’t hold your pup’s mouth closed
Do train your dog the “Leave It!” commandDon’t put your thumb under your pup’s tongue
Do use a time-outDon’t pinch your dog’s neck
Do use effective clicker trainingDon’t rub your dog’s nose in his poop or pee
Do consider any health issuesDon’t use the crate as a means of punishment
Do have realistic expectations
Don’t encourage bad behavior
Do be consistent and patientDon’t reward bad behavior in guilt

What to Do When Discipling a Dog for Biting

Let’s now explore in more detail from the above do’s and don’ts exactly how to discipline your German Shepherd for biting.

But first, here’s a really helpful short video from celebrity dog trainer Zak George on how to teach your puppy to stop biting. I love Zak’s ethical training methods using positive reinforcement, lots of communication, and energy:

How to Train Your Puppy to Stop Biting

Discipline at the Moment the Biting Occurs

You must discipline your German Shepherd at the very moment the biting or nipping occurs so that he will quickly learn and remember that his biting behavior is inappropriate.

Have you ever left your GSD alone for an hour or two and upon returning find that he’s had a good chew on your possessions or on your wooden table leg, and then tried to discipline him without success?

Well, this is because your German Shepherd won’t understand what he is being reprimanded for as the disciplinary moment has been missed! This is because dogs only have a very short term memoryOpens in a new tab. and will typically forget an experience in about two minutes.

However, if you train them well, they will remember your commands through associative memory.Opens in a new tab. This means they can remember experiences, people, and places based on different associations.

Here’s an example of associative memory; when I pick up my car keys my German Shepherd will go straight to her bed as she has learned to associate the sound of the keys with me going out. She goes directly to her bed to relax as she knows there’s no playtime for a while.

Let out a High Pitched Yelp!

When your German Shepherd bites with those razor teeth, immediately let out a high-pitched cry such as “Ouch!” or Ahh Ahh!” to let your dog know it’s not acceptable. At the same time pull your hand away slowly and move away from your dog. Don’t jerk your hand away as your pup will see this as a game, like a game of tug-of-war.

The idea here is that you are mimicking a littermate, as a pup would yelp if they were bitten too hard during play and then all the fun would stop. It’s exactly the same thing, only YOU stop the play.

Redirect the Biting with a Chew Toy

It’s important to quickly redirect your German Shepherd’s biting by giving him an alternative, such as offering a chew toy or a teething ring. Make sure you have a range of chew toys everywhere and keep them in your pocket at all times so you always have quick access to them when the biting starts.

Be one step ahead of your dog. As soon as you anticipate your German Shepherd is going to bite or even if you slightly miss the moment of the nip or chew, quickly distract him and redirect his behavior towards the chew toy.

The KONG range of puppy chew toysOpens in a new tab. from Amazon are my favorite and you can also learn more about why I like these and see pictures of my German Shepherd using them at my recommended gear page.

Other alternatives are rope toys such as this handy puppy selectionOpens in a new tab. from Amazon. You can also soak these in water and pop them in the freezer for a while as the cold rope will help to soothe your pups’ gums. You can also try frozen vegetables such as carrots but remember to supervise your young pup when feeding treats.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement means giving something pleasant to your German Shepherd when they perform what you want them to do so that they learn to associate the correct behavior with the reward. The more this is repeated they will remember and do it more often. The reward is a reinforcing motivation. 

In the above example of redirecting your GSDs biting to a chew toy, once he accepts the toy and starts to chew or play with it, you then offer lots of enthusiastic verbal praise and reward with a treat. Again, timing is important, and this must be done instantly so that your German Shepherd will recognize or associate his behavior with the correct action.

Training treats are the most effective reward when training your young pup and it’s helpful to always have these to hand or in your pocket. Zuke’s Mini Naturals from Amazon are ideal as they are really small and less than 3 calories per treat so you won’t feed guilty!

Other rewards can be given but these may be more suited to older pups, adolescent dogs, or adults. Alternatives could be giving them a special toy, playing their favorite game, such as fetch, or taking them on their favorite walk. Always use lots of verbal praise in parallel to the reward you choose.

Cuddling and petting can also be used in reward-based training, however. don’t pat your dog’s head as most dogs dislike this. You will no doubt, soon get to learn where your dog prefers to be petted but you can go here for more guidance on where to pet your German Shepherd.

Train your German Shepherd to “Leave It!”

Train your dog the “Leave It”! command. This is also useful when your German Shepherd starts to put his mouth around your possessions or furniture, ready to have a good gnaw!

Furthermore, it’s a great command to use when your GSD picks up something in his mouth that he shouldn’t such as harmful foods, for example, grapes or chocolate.

Here’s a helpful 2-minute video from the American Kennel Club that shows you how to teach your dog the “Leave It!” command:

Teach Your Dog How to Leave It

Use a Time-Out

When I refer to using a “time-out” as a way of teaching your German Shepherd consequences, I’m referring to ignoring your dog for a few seconds, as opposed to putting him in isolation.

German Shepherds are very social and affectionate creatures and placing your dog in this type of time-out will not work as it not only causes fear but your dog won’t understand what he has done wrong.

Using a time-out can be an effective way to discipline a German Shepherd for biting and other undesirable behaviors. A great way to do this is to grab their collar, push their bum down, and simply make them sit.

The idea is that your German Shepherd will quickly learn to associate that the fun stops when his nipping starts! As always, timing is extremely important so your pup learns at the precise moment what he has done wrong.

For very young puppies you should only put them in time-out for a few seconds, between 7 and 10 and no longer than 30 seconds. At the end of the time-out redirect your pup back to play and use lots of verbal praise or offer a training treat for onward good behavior.

Learn Effective Clicker Training

Clicker training can be used to teach your German Shepherd not to bite. In some dogs, the sound of the clicker is more effective rather than a verbal “good dog!”

The most important part of clicker training is timing. You must time the click at the exact moment your dog is doing what you want to reinforce. If you quickly reward with a positive experience such as a treat, he will soon learn to associate the noise of the click with great things.

The idea is that you condition your German Shepherd so that when he hears the sound of the clicker, he knows he has done something to please you.

In the case of puppy biting, we are simply rewarding the puppy for choosing not to bite. This can be achieved by using the distraction technique described above. When the puppy makes the right choice and starts to bite on his chew toy, he hears the click and gets his treat.

If you’re new to clicker training check out the below short 6-minute video which shows how to introduce your dog to a clicker and explains the importance of the timing:

Clicker Training Explained

Consider any Health Issues

When training your German Shepherd not to bite using the above methods and you aren’t really progressing, it may be time to consider your dog’s health, especially if your GSD only chews on one side of his mouth.

This may indicate that your dog is suffering from a broken tooth or an infected or swollen gum as he is only chewing on the side that isn’t painful. Look out for other symptoms such as drooling more than usual, bad breath, loss of appetite, or sneezing.

Have Realistic Expectations

When teaching your German Shepherd not to bite, it’s important to have realistic expectations as training can take anything from a couple of weeks in quick learners to two months in cases of extreme biters!

If you are consistent and patient with your methods you will achieve great results. Be firm but fair which also helps to strengthen the loving bond between you and your dog.

What Not to Do When Discipling a Dog for Biting

Punishing your German Shepherd is never fun – for both of you! It leads to fear, avoidance, hurt feelings, guilt, stress, anxiety, and lack of trust. So, let’s now look at what not to do when disciplining your dog.

Never use Physical Punishment or Yell

Using physical punishment or yelling only teaches your German Shepherd to fear you or act aggressively towards you.

This study showed that using aversive training methods such as punishment and negative reinforcementOpens in a new tab. can affect both the physical and mental health of dogs. It was also concluded that positive reinforcement methods should be used as much as possible.

In another year-long studyOpens in a new tab. by the University of Pennsylvania, it was found that using confrontational or aversive methods to teach aggressive dogs did not work as the dogs continued to be aggressive until the training methods were changed.

The same study found that punishing techniques and dominance-based training, such as hitting or kicking, growling, or yelling at your dog can cause aggression as stated by Meghan E. Herron, lead author of the study:

“These techniques are fear-eliciting and may lead to owner-directed aggression.”

Meghan E. Herron, Veterinarian 

43% of dogs from the study that were either physically hit or kicked became aggressive as did 41% of dogs that were growled at.

An even more recent study in companion dogsOpens in a new tab. suggests techniques that use even mild punishments like yelling and leash-jerking can stress dogs out more than dogs that are taught using reward-based training. This stress causes negative consequences and poorer welfare.

Don’t “Alpha Roll” your GSD or use Techniques that Aggravate Aggression

Similar to using physical punishment “Alpha rolling” your German Shepherd and other techniques such as holding your pup’s mouth closed, putting your thumb under his tongue, pinching his neck, or grabbing the jowls and shaking, only aggravates aggression.

Alpha rolling is a controversial and outdated technique which means to physically put your dog on his back or side in a submissive position to show that you are dominant or the Alpha.

This is certainly no way to discipline your GSD for biting and other poor behavior as it can cause more harm than good. It was one of the confrontational methods used in the same study referred to above whereby an aggressive response was caused in 31% of the dogs that took part.

The study showed that 26% of dogs that were grabbed by the jowls and shaken also became aggressive.

Never Rub your Dog’s Nose in his Poop or Pee!

You should never rub your German Shepherd’s nose in his poop or urine as a means of teaching him not to bite. This old fashioned technique is a form of positive punishment and was often used to house-train pups. Not only is it gross but it’s also similar to the above aversive methods and will only cause your dog to fear you, or worse, cause aggression.

Many people will have used this method decades ago without success but at the time, they believed it was the right thing to do. I can even remember my Grandma rubbing her chihuahua’s nose in his pee after discovering he had had an “accident” on the kitchen floor after coming down in the morning.

The problem being, for a positive punishment to work, it has to be administered during or immediately after the act (within 2 -3 seconds) otherwise, the connection will not be made. Unfortunately, dogs were punished too long after the accident, as in the chihuahua’s case, and would not have understood why they were being punished.

Don’t Use the Crate as a Punishment

When disciplining your German Shepherd for biting never use his crate as a punishment tool as you may inadvertently cause him to fear his crate and refuse to go in it, whereas a crate is supposed to be your dog’s special place or “den,” somewhere he can go to rest or play with his favorite toys.

Sometimes puppies naturally get over-excited and overtired. When this happens, instead of using the crate as a punishment, lure him into the crate with a treat offering lots of praise, and let him go down for a nap. 

Never Encourage Bad Behavior or Reward in Guilt

Sometimes it can be tempting to laugh at your new puppies’ behavior as he sinks his teeth into the back of your visitor’s ankles, especially if they also find it amusing or cute! But bad behavior must never be encouraged as you will only confuse your pup and he will never learn what’s right and wrong.

If you feel sorry for your German Shepherd after disciplining him, you must never reward him out of guilt. Again, this only confuses your dog. Remember to be firm but fair.

Final Thoughts

Puppy biting is natural in all dogs. However, you now know the importance of disciplining your German Shepherd as soon as he starts to exhibit biting, nipping, and chewing behavior, and how to do it.

This is especially important with the German Shepherd breed as they quickly grow into big strong dogs. You certainly don’t want him to take his biting behavior into adulthood, especially if the unexpected should happen, such as a young child grabbing at his tail. That could end in disaster for all concerned.

No matter what you are teaching your German Shepherd, try to train him when young, 8-weeks old is a great time to start. Make sure you properly socialize him and give him lots of exercise and training will be much easier.

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Sharon Waddington

I am the owner of World of Dogz. I have a 5-year-old female German Shepherd named "Willow" and I've worked with dogs for almost 30 years. I love spending time with my dog and I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise of all things dogs on this site!

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