Dogs explore the world around them through their mouths. They learn to do so at an early age. For owners of puppies, this can be frustrating, especially when a pup’s sharp teeth begin to scratch or break skin. Even more problematic, many puppies are never taught to avoid mouthing and biting. So they continue to do so into adulthood, making a nuisance of themselves in the process.
If your puppy currently mouths or bites, it’s important to take steps while he’s young to “shape” (i.e. change) the behavior. This takes a methodical, consistent approach that requires patience. In this article, we’ll go through the key steps involved in discouraging your pup from mouthing or biting you and your family.
Minimize The “Bite” Of His Bite
Many owners react to their puppy’s biting by saying, “Don’t bite!” The reason this has very little influence is because the behavior comes naturally to the pup. It’s what he has done since birth. He doesn’t realize his teeth can cause people pain. Hence, he’s unlikely to immediately understand that he is doing something wrong or undesired.
The first step is to teach your dog that his biting causes pain when his teeth make contact with your skin. Essentially, he’ll need to be trained to minimize the force of his bite. In most cases, he’ll be receptive to the message. As a pup, he and his littermates played together and bit each other. If he bit one of them too harshly, his littermate would let him know. This is how puppies learn. Getting him to understand his teeth have a similar effect on you and your family involves the same process.
When you’re playing with your puppy, allow him to “mouth” your fingers and hands. However, if he bites too harshly, let out a sharp cry and immediately stop playing. This is exactly what his littermate would have done. Your cry will surprise him, and cause him to pause. Praise him and continue playing. If he bites too harshly again, let out another cry and stop playing. On the third time, end the play session.
Your puppy will gradually understand that his biting causes you to stop playing with him (a bad outcome). He will thus learn to inhibit his bites to prevent this from happening in the future.
Train Your Pup To Keep His Teeth To Himself
The next step involves teaching your puppy to avoid placing his teeth on your person or clothes. There are several methods for accomplishing this. First, have his chew toy within reach. While playing with him, immediately substitute your hand (or finger, wrist, toe, etc.) for his chew toy when he places his teeth on you. This teaches your puppy that his teeth belong on his toy, and not on a person.
Second, have dog treats available. When your pup bites you, even mildly, let out a cry to startle him. When he removes his mouth and stop playing, give him a treat. Doing this creates a connection in his mind between curbing a behavior (i.e. biting) and receiving something he enjoys (i.e. a treat).
Another strategy is to provide your puppy with opportunities to play with other dogs (make sure they’re vaccinated, of course). This yields a few benefits. It gives him a chance to socialize with other pets; it provides a mechanism for feedback from his own kind; and it gives him a chance to work off energy, making him less rambunctious when playing with you. Over time, you’ll notice he bites – and even mouths – less.
Actions To Avoid
A lot of owners make simple mistakes that inadvertently encourage their puppies to bite. For example, they’ll wave their hands in front of the pup’s face; they’ll quickly take their hand away when the puppy begins to mouth or bite; they might softly slap the pup’s face to discourage the behavior. Avoid these mistakes since they urge puppies to bite more aggressively.
Remember, all puppies use their mouths when relating to their surroundings. It’s natural for them to do so. Be patient and use the suggestions above to teach your puppy to keep his mouth and teeth to himself.