It helps to understand just why puppies like to use their teeth. Like human babies, puppies explore their world by mouthing items they encounter. This means everything goes into their mouth, whether it’s appropriate or not – like human hands, feet, fingers, and toes! That is a normal and essential part of their development like it is for babies. There is no aggression involved, and not intended to cause any harm, just play and exploration.
Puppies spend an enormous amount of time playing, chewing and investigating objects. When puppies play with people, they often bite, chew and mouth on people’s hands, limbs and clothing. Puppies also like to play tough. With their littermates, this involves rough-and-tumble play with lots of mouthing and biting. At first, the young pups have no teeth and mouthing doesn’t hurt. As their milk teeth come in, biting hurts but the pups can often tolerate this rough play, as they have thick skins and give as good as they get. As they gain in strength, the biting starts to hurt and the pups may start to squeal as they get bitten. This often has the effect of making the biting pup back off. They also do the same with their mother. She is generally not as tolerant as other puppies and will walk away, (ignore), growl or bite back. This is an essential part of puppy development, and they learn a lot from Mum in those early weeks.
Although often thought to be a teething behavior; nipping, mouthing and biting in puppies is generally a form of social play and exploration. Teething is more likely to involve gnawing or chewing on household objects. If you are experiencing problems with teething, make sure your puppy has ample opportunity for play. Social play with people could involve chase and retrieve games, as well as walks and exercise relevant to your puppy’s health requirements.
Re-directing this behavior
Even though they a small, puppy bites can sometimes hurt especially when they have their needle-sharp baby teeth. In order to teach them how to properly play and to draw a line between fun and too much, you’ll need to inhibit their biting. In order to do this, you will need to redirect their biting on to something else (such as a chew toy) or show them that their biting can actually hurt.
To do this, you will have to be consistent when they bite your hands too hard. As soon as they go overboard on the biting, make a yelping noise and allow the bitten hand to go limp as you ignore your pup for 10-20 seconds and then continue to play with them. This lets the pup know that biting too hard can hurt and that the fun will stop if they do it too hard.
It is important to remember that your pup will bite you as it is normal behavior, and your job to teach your puppy what is expected. It is up to you to control this behavior and teach them wrong from right through positive reinforcement when they do the right thing and stop playtime for a brief time when they do the wrong thing. Eventually, they will be able to associate the desired behavior when it comes to playtime and will be able to exhibit the correct behavior around both humans and other dogs.
How to play with your pup without being bitten
Here are a few tried-and-tested methods to teach your pup bite inhibition – the ability to use their teeth without causing distress to others.
Toys, toys and more toys
It’s fine to play energetically with your dog and for your puppy to use their teeth, but this type of play should be directed on to appropriate play objects. It’s best to play with your puppy in a manner that’s less likely to hurt, right from the beginning. Have a variety of strong and sturdy toys on hand, when you start a play session. When your pup goes to use their teeth, offer a toy.
All puppies require toys and things to chew as they are teething and exploring the world. Make sure you supply your puppy with plenty of toys to chew in order to prevent them from chewing inappropriate items. Items such as pig’s ears, kangaroo tendons, sheep’s ears,, Kongs and raw bones are ideal for young puppies’ mouths. To get more wear out of the toys, use them on a rotational basis every day so that the puppy has something new to chew. At the end of the day, each item is taken away and replaced with a new or different toy. This way, your puppy is only getting the same toy once every few days, rather than having the same ones all the time.
If the problem is to do with teething, your puppy will more than likely begin to gnaw and chew on you and anything they can get their mouth on. You will need to provide them with an abundance of social play that can include fetching, chasing, or light tug of war. A rough game of tug-of-war can result in the puppy becoming unruly and may hurt their gums even more. The pup will eventually learn to control their biting ways and ease up – especially when playing.
Another effective method can be to react as another dog/puppy might and let out a high-pitched yelp “Yeowww!” when your pup uses their teeth. This replicates siblings squeal when they were roughhousing as littermates and they understand to back off. You can do this even when the bite doesn’t hurt and your pup has merely made contact with your skin. This squeal generally makes the pup back off for a few seconds, allowing you to withdraw your input in the game. It’s important you don’t react further to your pup and that the game ends, at least for a short time. When you resume, have toys handy to place in your puppy’s mouth.
Remember that play biting is a component of play behavior in puppies. Play is a form of social interaction. Realize that your puppy is trying to play with you even though the behaviour may be rough. Remember that when the play gets too rough immediately end the play session and leave. Social withdrawal can be a very powerful tool. Leave the puppy alone for around a minute before returning. If upon your return the wild playing begins, leave again. Although it is tempting to pick the puppy up and take it out of the room, this interaction may be interpreted by your puppy as additional play and the biting may continue as you carry the puppy to a confinement location.
Teaching your pup a command like “leave it” can be useful and prevents them mouthing or eating items that are inappropriate. It often helps to do this away from the heat of the game; however, once your pup has mastered the command, you can use this during a play session. Reward your pup when they obey.
When your pup plays well with you, remember to praise them. This will ensure they’re encouraged to play in a manner where everyone has fun.
Puppy Play Dates
Provide plenty of opportunities for your puppy to play with other vaccinated puppies and with friendly, vaccinated adult dogs. Playing and socializing with dog buddies is important for your puppy’s development—and if he expends a lot of his energy playing with other puppies, he’ll feel less motivated to play roughly with you. Consider enrolling your puppy in a good puppy class, where he can have supervised playtime with other puppies and learn some important new skills!
What if my pup still bites?
It’s almost inevitable your pup will use their teeth on you. This is just their way of exploring their world, having fun or getting your attention. You need to be persistent, consistent, and patient. After all your puppy is only a baby and does need lots of opportunities to learn what you expect of him. It is not something he can understand in a day. Remember he is not being naughty but behaving normally.
- Avoid waving your fingers or toes in your puppy’s face or slapping the sides of his face to entice him to play. Doing these things can actually encourage your puppy to bite your hands and feet.
- Do not discourage your puppy from playing with you in general. Play builds a strong bond between a dog and his human family. You want to teach your puppy to play gently, rather than not at all.
- Avoid jerking your hands or feet away from your puppy when he mouths. This will encourage him to jump forward and grab at you. It’s much more effective to let your hands or feet go limp so that they aren’t much fun to play with.
- Slapping or hitting puppies for playful mouthing can cause them to bite harder. They usually react by playing more aggressively. Physical punishment can also make your puppy afraid of you—and it can even cause real aggression. Avoid scruff shaking, whacking your puppy on the nose, sticking your fingers down his throat and all other punishments that might hurt or scare him.
- ASPCA biting and nipping puppies
- The Kennel Club biting and nipping puppies
- RSPCA Biting and Nipping Puppies