By Victoria Schade
Nipping may be a painful rite of passage in puppyhood, but it is a normal behavior for growing dogs. Puppies explore the world with their mouths, and they need guidance to learn where they can and can’t use their teeth. Although it might feel like your little canine will never stop biting you, rest assured that the following tips can help curb the puppy biting behavior.
While you might think that puppy biting is a bad behavior, it is extremely important to allow puppies to explore human skin with gentle nibbles during their early developmental stages. This step allows puppies to learn to gauge the strength of their jaws, and also discover just how delicate human skin is.
Puppies that don’t have the opportunity to learn “bite inhibition” are less able to adjust the force of a bite as an adult dog. If the dog ends up in a situation where he feels that he has no other choice but to react with teeth (like if injured or frightened), he might deliver a punishing bite instead of an air snap.
Stop Puppy Biting: Teaching the “Ouch” Technique
Puppies start learning about the force of their bites when interacting with their littermates. If a puppy nips a sibling too hard, the other puppy will react with a squeal and move away from the play. The rough puppy soon learns that painful nips make the game stop, and adjusts bite pressure accordingly. We can employ the same concept in training with the “ouch” technique.
It’s vital to let your puppy gently mouth your hand, but when mouthing shifts from exploratory to uncomfortable, mark the painful bite with a dramatic “ouch!” and then withdraw your attention from your puppy. Resume contact after about ten seconds. If your puppy comes back at you with a piranha mouth again, say “ouch” to mark the bite, and this time, get up and walk away from your dog. (The “ouch” should be loud and dramatic – be a good actor!) This type of social isolation is a powerful punisher, because puppies want nothing more than to be close to their new families. Return to your puppy after about thirty seconds and continue playing. It will take many consistent, well-timed repetitions in various scenarios before your puppy starts to realize that the biting is the reason that you’re leaving.
Some puppies like to jump and bite as their person retreats, which means that the reason for the punishment might be lost in the chase. If your pup is a “bum biter” try interacting with her while she’s on a tether. Put your puppy’s leash on him then attach it to a heavy piece of furniture. That way you can quickly move out of your puppy’s strike zone when he decides to use his chompers.
Once your puppy has stopped biting with hard pressure begin “ouching” even the gentle nibbles. This will help your puppy eventually understand that dog teeth don’t belong on human skin.
Outdated Suggestions to Stop Puppy Biting
Old-school advice suggested that you should clamp your puppy’s mouth shut, flick his nose or bop him under the chin to stop puppy biting. These pain-based techniques are combative and unkind. Your puppy doesn’t understand that his bites are uncomfortable—he’s just doing what comes naturally. Many puppies bite back even harder after being slapped or clamped, thus creating a cycle of pain and frustration for both parties. As always, gentle dog-friendly techniques are the best way to teach the “no nipping” lesson.
Help for the Biting Puppy
Have Toys Handy
Make sure to have a variety of goodies available that your puppy can chew on instead of you. Your puppy has an intense desire to exercise those jaws, so stock up on several different types of hard treat-stuffable rubber toys and bones. Plush toys are great for team play, but they don’t have the tasty payoff that comes from a toy stuffed with peanut butter or a durable bone.
Take a Break
If your puppy goes into a wild nipping spell (the “puppy crazy” phase), redirect him to a new bone or toy that she can gnaw. If the object doesn’t entice your pup and he continues to come at you, consider taking him outside for a quick potty trip and then give him a break in his crate with a chew toy. Puppies don’t know how to handle their mouths when they get punchy and overtired, so sometimes the best option is to encourage a nap.
No Hand-to-Hand Combat
Games with your puppy should only happen with toys. Engaging in slap fights or encouraging your puppy to nip at your hands during play time will lead to confusion when you try to inhibit the biting in other contexts. Tug, fetch and “find it” are wonderful games that help grow the bond with your puppy, but also provide ample opportunity to hone your dog’s mouth skills. It’s normal for puppies to slip up during playtime and accidentally grab a finger instead of the toy. When that happens, mark the nip with an “ouch,” drop the toy and ignore your puppy. Wait ten seconds, then go back to playing. Your puppy will soon make the connection that her teeth belong on the toy, not you.
Take Treats Gently
Many puppies get over-excited when taking treats. Rather than sacrificing your fingertips, offer a treat to your puppy at her level in your closed fist (he’ll be able to smell it). Keep your fist closed as he chomps and nibbles your hand and then open it the moment he licks your hand or backs away. If possible, mark the licking or backing away by saying “good” or “yes” right as your puppy does it. In time your puppy will understand that brute force makes the treat stay hidden away, but a gentle mouth—or better yet, no mouth at all—makes it magically appear.
An End to Puppy Biting
It’s important to remember that your puppy doesn’t have a vendetta against you—he’s just going through a very normal and important phase. Addressing puppy biting with friendly, effective techniques will teach your puppy how to safely handle his mouth and teeth into adulthood.