A mouth with paws: That’s a good description of a lot of our puppies when they first come to us. Even the best of dogs have to learn to be polite with their mouths, just as children have to learn not to slap with their hands. Pups come to us having weeks or months of play that included biting on their litter-mates, so from their perspective, why shouldn’t they chomp on our fingers? Your job now, while your dog is still young and has relatively weak jaws 1, is to teach your puppy two things simultaneously: 1) bite inhibition, meaning how to modulate the power of his jaws to avoid hurting a person or another dog and 2) that play biting is best done on toys and other dogs, not on people.
At the risk of sounding like the play police, we strongly advise against playing with your pup in ways that encourage him to mouth or bite you. It will only confuse your pup about the appropriate use of his teeth. If you allow him to bite you, even playfully, you are teaching him that human hands are for play biting. You yourself might not mind that, but it will confuse him when he gets in trouble for biting grandma or the little toddler down the street. He won’t realize it’s not okay to do the same thing to them. So don’t confuse him and get him into trouble. Don’t roughhouse with your pup, and don’t let others do so either. We talk about this in detail in Chapter 4, but it’s important enough to merit a comment here.
Begin your training by teaching bite inhibition, while your pup is young and mouth and is obsessed with wrapping his mouth around your hands (legs, ankles, arms, face, hair…). You have a head start in a way, because your pup has probably learned a bit about bite inhibition already. As pups play with each other, one pup or another is bound to bite a littermate too hard. The recipient will let out a sharp yelp in response to the discomfort. The game ends suddenly and all play stops. With repetition puppies eventually learn to play in a gentler fashion with one another so that they don’t lose their playmates.
However, even little puppies have tougher skin than we do—all that fur is a great insulator, and our lack of it makes our skin especially sensitive. That means we need to teach our pups that even the slightest pressure ends the game.
WHY BOTHER? Even though you are wise to discourage your dog from using you as a toy at all, it is still worthwhile to teach him to modulate his jaw power around people. Adult dogs who never learned finesse with their mouths as youngsters might be more likely to cause serious injury, either while playing or intentionally biting. No one wants to think of their little fuzz ball as a potential biter, but if your dog can open and shut his mouth, he can bite. Even the sweetest dog can strike out if injured or frightened. It could either be a warning snap, or a serious injury to the child next door. That’s why it is worthwhile to teach bite inhibition now, as a preventative measure, just as you use vaccinations to prevent serious health problems.
HERE’S HOW To teach your dog to be careful with his mouth, first try yelping like another puppy whenever you feel your pup’s mouth putting pressure on any part of your body. We use the word “AWRP!” (sounding something like a startled seal), but you can say OUCH! or EEPS! or whatever comes out of your mouth naturally.
How you say it is more important than what you say—the sound should be sudden, abrupt, and relatively loud.
It should start and stop almost instantly, going from silence to full volume in a microsecond. Avoid long, drawn out “No-o-o-o-o-o-o-‘s.” That kind of sound will have little or no effect. The point is to startle your pup just as he bites down. (It’s a good idea to practice this when your pup is not around, so you’ll be good at it when you need it. Try it, honest, it’ll help!) Begin by yelping only on the hardest bites, ignoring the softer bites. As you progress, yelp at gradually softer and softer pressure from your pup until he eventually mouths you with no pressure at all.
REPLACE YOUR HAND WITH A TOY (always have one near they like) After you yelp, (and we mean immediately afterward), offer your pup an appropriate toy. Move it around about a foot in front of his face (if the toy is too close it often discourages play) and encourage him to bite onto it. This won’t work unless you present the toy instantly after you yelp, because playful puppies just HAVE to put something in their mouths. If you don’t give them something appropriate, they’ll go right back to biting on you.
That means you need to have a toy ready at all times—carry one around in your pocket and each time you use one, be sure to pick up another so that you always have one at the ready. After a day or two this will become second nature (and encourage pants with large pockets).
Have a toy ready at all times—carry one around in your pocket & encourage your pup to bite on it instead of you. Yelping and redirecting can teach your pup two things: 1) humans are absurdly sensitive, so he needs to modulate the power of his jaws them and 2) it’s much more fun to play with a dog toy than someone’s hand or ankle. NOT WORKING?
Some puppies haven’t read the chapter on canine development (that was a joke ya know), and don’t respond to a yelp or an “Ouch!” as we’d hope. A small percentage of pups become more excited if you yelp. Give it a try, but if your pup becomes more excited, then switch to the method outlined below.
In all training, guard against doing the same thing over and over again, if it’s not working. A good method should result in at least some improvement within three to five repetitions. Yelping doesn’t seem to work as well if young children do it. If you have young children, you will need to make the noise for them.
Children’s voices are often too high and too weak to impress the message on a puppy, and sometimes yelping from little ones seems to excite the puppy rather than inhibit him. However, it often works well for a nearby adult to watch the child and dog (which should always be the case anyway) and yelp “OUCH” just as the puppy’s mouth is closing around the child’s skin (or hair, or clothes, etc.).
The adult or child should then immediately redirect the puppy onto an appropriate toy. Eventually, when the puppy is excited around a child he will look for the nearest toy to mouth on, instead of the child.
Another method to try, especially if your pup is being very persistent or if children are involved, is to dramatically jump up and leave the room in a big huff when he bites too hard. Don’t talk, don’t explain, just march out quickly, without looking back, and shut the door behind you. If your timing is good, your pup will associate his behavior with losing his playmate. Pups do the equivalent of this with one another, and in some cases it can be very effective.
If your pup goes after your ankles as you leave the room, then simply stop moving and stand still. If he is still biting when you ignore him, try spraying your pant legs and shoestrings with something like Bitter Apple® to make the nipping taste bad. After giving him a ‘cold shoulder’ for several seconds, try re-engaging, but lead in with a toy so you can direct his biting to an appropriate object.
If you need to do this more than 4-5 times within a few minutes of play, then it might not a good time to be interacting with your pup. Perhaps he needs to burn off a little energy first by doing a few laps around the living room or yard before you try to interact closely with him. Or, perhaps he is hungry, thirsty, needs to potty, or is overly tired and needs a nap.
HAVE PATIENCE! Be prepared for your pup to try to play with you as a toy again and again. Puppies will tend to forget themselves during the next play session and come back and bite again. Some will be very persistent about it, others will switch to a different mode more quickly.
They are all individuals, but eventually they will all learn to modulate their own behavior. It doesn’t mean your puppy is mean or vicious if it takes him more time and many repetitions to stop nipping you, it just means you’ll need to be persistent until he gets the idea. However, if play biting isn’t decreasing, or hasn’t been eliminated from your dog’s play repertoire by the time he is six months old, you’d be wise to re contact your trainers Ingo and Aimee for some customized coaching.
PS.. NEVER Pull your hand away! This can cause a whole new set of issues. Wait for their heads to move back or look at you and IMMEDIATLEY redirect to the TOY that is ALWAYS with you.
ALSO… we have taught you to Add some structure – rules, boundaries, limitations – and that will make you the authority figure in the puppy’s life. Once you become pack leader, you will no longer have the puppy chewing problem.
Stay calm and assertive…