Mouthing, Nipping and Biting in Puppies
Puppies naturally spend a lot of time playing, chewing, and exploring their environment. During these activities, they use their mouths and sharp teeth. When playing with people, it is common for puppies to bite, chew, and mouth on hands, limbs, and clothing. While this behavior may be cute when they are young, it can become problematic as they grow older.
It is important to teach your puppy to control their mouthy behavior and develop bite inhibition, which refers to their ability to control the force of their biting.
To teach your puppy bite inhibition with humans, you can follow these steps:
Bite Inhibition: Teach Your Puppy to Be Gentle
During play, allow your puppy to mouth on your hands. If they bite down hard, yelp in a high-pitched voice as if in pain and let your hand go limp. This should startle your puppy and make them stop mouthing. You can also say a firm "Too bad!" or "You blew it!" if yelping doesn't have an effect. Praise your puppy for stopping or licking you, and then resume playing.
If your puppy bites hard again, repeat the yelping and stopping play sequence. Limit this process to a maximum of three times within a 15-minute period. If yelping alone doesn't work, you can introduce a time-out procedure. When your puppy bites hard, yelp and remove your hand. Ignore your puppy for 10 to 20 seconds, or if they continue to mouth on you, get up and move away for the same duration. After the time-out, return and encourage your puppy to play gently. This teaches them that gentle play continues, while painful play stops.
Gradually tighten the rules as your puppy learns to be gentler. Require them to be even more gentle and yelp for moderately hard bites. Continue this process, gradually reducing the force tolerated for biting until your puppy can play with your hands very gently, applying little to no pressure.
What to Do Next:
In addition to bite inhibition training, there are other steps you can take to discourage mouthing behavior:
Teach Your Puppy That Teeth Don’t Belong on Human Skin
Substitute a toy or chew bone whenever your puppy tries to gnaw on fingers or toes.
If your puppy gets riled up during petting, distract them by feeding small treats with your other hand to help them get used to being touched without mouthing.
Encourage non-contact forms of play, such as fetch and tug-of-war, rather than rough play that involves your hands. Have tug toys readily available to redirect their attention.
If your puppy bites at your feet and ankles, carry a tug toy and use it as a distraction. Stop moving your feet, present the toy, and resume movement once your puppy grabs it. If you don't have a toy, freeze until your puppy stops mouthing and then reward them with a toy.
Provide plenty of interesting toys for your puppy to play with, redirecting their focus from mouthing on you or your clothing.
It's important to be patient and understanding during the process, as playful mouthing is a normal behavior for puppies.