How to stop your puppy biting - play biting is a natural canine habit puppies demonstrate as they learn what’s appropriate social behaviour. Puppies need to learn their jaws can inflict pain and how much is appropriate.
Removed from mum and the rough and tumble of life in the litter, your puppy needs you to take on the role of trainer.
Without trying their teeth they cannot learn how much bite is too much! Watch a litter of young pups leaping and rolling on each other, mouths open, nipping without aggression. When play gets too rough, and there’s one nip too many, the injured party yelps loudly and instinctively the assailant lets go and backs away. There’s usually a few seconds delay before play restarts but this time significantly more gently.
The puppies have learnt an important social skill — they can’t just nip all the time, uncontrollably, as it causes pain. The hard guy has also learned the power of his bite and that he can control it. What he’s actually learned is bite inhibition.
Some breeds have more of a tendency to nip and can take longer to train. Terriers, for example, use their mouth to find out about their environment and will grab and scrag a variety of items, but remember that adult dogs don’t want to injure one another.
Dogs naturally live in tight social and supportive groups, so play biting must be dealt with by the puppy owner as it can degenerate into becoming a far more serious problem — and no one wants an adult dog, complete with adult teeth, gnawing away painfully on their arm.
How to stop your puppy play biting
Play biting can also occur in the heat of the moment during a particularly exciting game. If it happens don’t shout at him, shake or smack him, or tap his nose — these are likely to make matters worse as he may just follow your hands and nip them more.
Simply yelp, or say ‘Ow!’ as a fellow litter puppy would do. Try to make it sound as if you’re really hurt, even if you’re not (you may want to perfect your yelp out of puppy’s ear shot first!) and turn away and ignore him for a couple of minutes, after which if he is no longer trying to nip you can resume the game, albeit this time on a calmer scale. You need to cry out as soon as his teeth touch your skin.
Over-exaggerating your reactions will make him realise humans are much more sensitive than dogs. Puppies should also be dissuaded from mouthing hair and clothes. Both may not be sensitive, but an over-exuberant bite of the hair could inadvertently catch an ear or face. Puppies will also nip in an attempt to get us to play. In this case, ignore their efforts, turn away, or shut them in another room.
Maintain play biting training
Each time play biting happens repeat your training and your puppy should learn both to limit the strength of his bite and that nipping and mouthing is counter-productive as an attention-seeking device. Play biting is just one of the reasons why you need to supervise children playing and handling the puppy as they may not be aware of what to do when he nips. It’s all too easy for a young puppy to misinterpret a child’s rapid movement away as further play and the invitation to nip some more.
Never initiate play fighting and wrestling games. These are for other puppies and one of the reasons why you should socialise your puppy with other dogs (as much as vaccination programmes permit). Ask your vet for details of puppy parties.
As bored puppies play bite for attention you may need to reconsider your puppy’s routine and find more time for regular play and exercise sessions to keep him occupied. Most puppies grow out of play biting in weeks. If problems persist speak to a behaviourist and consider using chew deterrent on your hands while your puppy learns it’s unacceptable to gnaw fingers.
Touch your puppy's mouth
Get your puppy used to having his gums handled and teeth touched to encourage him to accept you and others feeling his mouth without the urge to chew. He should also learn not to grab treats from your hands. Start when he is young, and after meals when he’s not hungry, so that with regular practise he becomes gentler in his mouth when taking treats. This can also be the ideal time to start to introduce the leave command.