“Help! My puppy is biting, hard! What should I do?”
Puppy biting, while normal, can also be uncomfortable, frustrating, and possibly dangerous in the future, if it’s not addressed appropriately.
All puppies have a limited window of opportunity in which to learn bite inhibition. This is a vital skill for your puppy to develop, as it means your puppy has a better chance of becoming an adult dog with a “soft mouth,” meaning that if she should find the need to bite, she will not bite hard enough to break skin. Even the gentlest dog can be suddenly startled, frightened, or in enough pain that she may bite. Developing this soft mouth, or bite inhibition, is one of our most important tasks during puppyhood.
So, how do we accomplish this? As odd as it may seem, we are actually going to encourage our puppy to bite us – but with some parameters.
First, the ground rules:
- Puppy may not bite hard enough to leave a red mark.
- Puppy may not bite clothing or fabric.
- Puppy may not bite children (young children aren’t capable of determining what is an “okay” bite and what isn’t — and a sharp nip may provoke a child to scare or hurt a puppy).
If your puppy breaks one of these rules while playing, give a short “Ouch!” and stop playing immediately. Offer to play with the puppy again once he or she settles. If puppy is having a hard time settling and continues to bite or mouth you or your clothing, put the puppy in his crate or behind a baby gate for a minute or two, then let him out to try again, encouraging your puppy to bite a toy rather than your hands.
Second, encourage your puppy to play-bite your hands and arms on a regular basis, but gently! Don’t swipe at your puppy’s face or grab his jaws or muzzle in your hands — think of the calm, mouth-wrestling play you see in older dogs. As long as your puppy isn’t breaking the rules, you may play short games this way, breaking frequently to feed treats for obedience behaviors and hand targeting.
Once your puppy starts losing puppy teeth, it’s time to start cutting back on the play biting by substituting toys for your hands and feeding treats when your puppy directs his mouth onto toys or chooses to offer a sit or down rather than bite.