Puppies spend time playing, chewing, and investigating new things, using their mouths and needle-sharp teeth in all these activities. When puppies play with humans, they frequently bite, chew, and mouth on their hands, limbs, and clothing. This behavior may be endearing when your puppy is seven weeks old, but it’s not nearly as endearing when he’s three or four months old!
How to Handle Puppy Mouthing
It’s critical to teach your puppy to control his mouthy behavior. The ultimate goal is to train your puppy to stop biting and mouthing people. However, the first and most important goal is to teach him that people’s skin is susceptible, so he must be extremely gentle.
Teach Your Puppy to Be Gentle With Bite Inhibition
Bite inhibition is a dog’s ability to control the force with which he bites. When a puppy or dog hasn’t learned bite inhibition with people, he doesn’t recognize the sensitivity of human skin and bites too hard, even when playing. Some behaviorists and trainers believe that if a dog has learned to use his mouth gently when interacting with people, he will be less likely to bite hard and break skin if he ever bites someone in a non-play situation, such as when he is afraid or in pain.
Bite inhibition is typically learned by puppies while playing with other puppies. When you watch a group of puppies play, you will notice a lot of chasing, pouncing, and wrestling. Puppies bite each other all over the place. A pup will occasionally bite his playmate too hard. The victim of the painful bite usually yelps and stops playing. The offender is often taken aback by the yelp and temporarily stops playing. However, both teammates are soon back in the game. Puppies learn to control the intensity of their bites through this type of interaction so that no one gets hurt and the play can continue uninterrupted. If puppies can learn to be gentle with one another, they can also learn from people.
Allow your puppy to mouth on your hands when playing with him. Play with him until he bites hard. When he does, give a high-pitched yelp and let your hand go limp as if you’re hurt. This yelp should startle your puppy and cause him to stop mouthing you for a few seconds. If yelping appears to have no effect, say “Too bad!” or “You blew it!” sternly instead.
Praise your puppy for coming to a halt or for licking you. Do whatever you did before; yelp loudly if your puppy bites you again. Within 15 minutes, repeat these steps no more than three times.
You can try a time-out procedure if you discover that yelping alone is ineffective. A time-out is a firm but effective discipline practice to train to your puppy. This entails you sending your puppy to their crate as this is a safe and familiar environment to calm them down. This confined space will allow your puppy to deescalate hyperactivity and undesirable behaviors. This should not be seen as a punishment, but as a means to calm the situation. Time-outs should not be longer than a minute in most cases.
An effective time-out routine is effective in reducing puppy-mouthing. For example, yelp loudly when your puppy delivers a hard bite. Then, when he becomes startled and turns to look at you or around, take your hand away. If he starts mouthing at you again, either ignore him for 10 to 20 seconds or get up and move away for 10 to 20 seconds.
Return to your puppy after the brief time-out and encourage him to play with you again. It’s critical to teach him that gentle play continues while painful play ends. Play with your puppy until he starts biting again. When he does, repeat the preceding steps. You can relax your rules when your puppy no longer delivers really hard bites. Make your puppy even more gentle in response to moderately hard bites, yelp, and pause play. Continue yelping, ignoring your puppy, or giving him a time-out for his hardest bites. Repeat for his next-hardest bites, and so on, until your puppy can play with your hands very gently, controlling the force of his mouthing so that you feel little or no pressure at all.
Next, teach your puppy that teeth do not belong on human skin:
- When your puppy tries to gnaw on your fingers or toes, replace it with a toy or chew bone.
- When puppies are stroked, patted, or scratched, they frequently mouth on their owners’ hands (unless they are sleepy or distracted). If your puppy becomes agitated when you pet him, divert his attention by feeding him small treats with your other hand, and this will assist your puppy in becoming accustomed to being touched without mouthing.
- Encourage non contact games like fetch and tug-of-war over wrestling and rough play with your hands. Once your puppy can safely play tug, keep tug toys in your pocket or easily accessible. If he starts mouthing you, redirect him to the tug toy immediately. He should start anticipating and looking for a toy when he feels like mouthing.
- Carry his favorite tug toy in your pocket if your puppy bites at your feet and ankles. Stop moving your feet as soon as he ambushes you. Take out the tug toy and wave it around. Start moving again when your puppy grabs the toy. If you don’t have the toy, simply freeze and wait for your puppy to stop mouthing you. When he comes to a complete stop, praise him and get a toy to reward him. Repeat these steps until your puppy becomes accustomed to watching you move around without chasing your feet or ankles.
- Give your puppy new and exciting toys to play with, so he doesn’t gnaw on you or your clothing.
- Give your puppy plenty of opportunities to play with other puppies and friendly, vaccinated adult dogs. Playing and socializing with other puppies is vital for your puppy’s development, and if he spends a lot of his energy doing so, he’ll be less motivated to play rough with you.
- Use a time-out procedure similar to the one described above, but modify the rules slightly. Instead of giving your puppy time-outs for hard biting, start giving him time-outs whenever his teeth come into contact with your skin.
- Give a high-pitched yelp the moment your puppy’s teeth touch you. Then walk away from him immediately. For 30 to 60 seconds, ignore him. Leave the room for 30 to 60 seconds if your puppy follows you or continues to bite and nip at you. Make sure the room has been “puppy-proofed” before leaving your puppy alone. Don’t leave him in an area with items that he could destroy or harm him. Return to the room and calmly resume whatever you were doing with your puppy after the brief time-out.
- Alternatively, you can attach a leash to your puppy during time-out training and let it dangle on the floor while you supervise him. When your puppy mouths you, instead of leaving the room, you can take his leash and lead him to a quiet area, tether him, and turn your back on him for a brief time-out. Then untie him and go back to what you were doing.
- Consider using a taste deterrent if a time-out isn’t feasible or practical. Before you begin interacting with your puppy, spray areas of your body and clothing he likes to mouth. Stop moving and wait for him to react to the bad taste of the deterrent if he mouths you or your clothing. When he lets go of you, lavishly praise him. Apply the bad taste to your body and clothes for at least two weeks. Your puppy will most likely learn to inhibit his mouthy behavior after two weeks of being deterred by the bitter taste every time he mouths you.
- Be understanding and patient. Playful mouthing is a typical puppy or young dog behavior.
Precautions for Everyone
To entice your puppy to play, avoid waving your fingers or toes in his face or slapping the sides of his face. These actions may encourage your puppy to bite your hands and feet.
In general, do not discourage your puppy from playing with you. Play strengthens the bond between a dog and his human family. Teach your puppy it’s better to play gently than not at all.
When your puppy mouths, avoid jerking your hands or feet away from him, as this will entice him to charge forward and grab you. Letting your hands or feet go limp is far more effective, making them uninteresting targets for your puppy.
Slapping or hitting puppies for playing with their mouths can make them bite harder, and they usually respond by becoming more aggressive. Physical punishment can also make your puppy fearful of you, leading to actual aggression. Avoid whacking your puppy on the nose, sticking your fingers down his throat, and other punishments that could hurt or scare him.
When Does Mouthing Turn Into Aggression? The majority of puppy-mouthing is normal behavior. Some puppies, however, bite out of fear or frustration, and this type of biting can indicate future aggression issues.
“Temper Tantrums” in a Puppy
Puppy temper tantrums are common. Tantrums usually occur when you force a puppy to do something he dislikes. Something as simple as holding your puppy still or handling his body may irritate him. Tantrums can also occur when play becomes too intense.
A puppy temper tantrum is more severe than playful mouthing, but distinguishing between the two can be difficult. A playful puppy will usually have a relaxed body and face. His muzzle may be wrinkled, but you won’t notice much tension in his facial muscles. If your puppy has a temper tantrum, his body may appear stiff or frozen. He might growl or pull his lips back to expose his teeth. In these cases, his bites are almost always much more painful than usual mouthing during play.
Avoid yelping like you’re hurt if you’re holding or handling your puppy and he starts throwing a temper tantrum. Yelping may cause your puppy’s aggressive behavior to continue or worsen. Instead, remain calm and emotionless. Don’t hurt your puppy, but keep him firmly held without constriction, if possible, until he stops struggling. Allow him to go after he has calmed down for a second or two. Biting in frustration is not something a puppy will grow out of, so your puppy’s behavior should be evaluated and resolved as soon as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
When does a puppy stop biting?
The most important thing to remember is that for the vast majority of puppies, mouthing or play biting is a phase that they will typically outgrow between three and five months.
What should you say to your puppy to get him to stop biting?
If your puppy begins to bite you, say “no” quickly and replace yourself with the tug toy/chew toy. When your dog engages with the toy, say “yes” and lavish him with praise. Teaching your dog to tug is an excellent way to prevent puppy biting.
What’s the deal with your puppy biting so much?
Puppies use their teeth during play and exploration. It’s how they learn about the world, just like human babies, and it’s crucial to their socialization. Puppies will chew on anything and everything while teething.
When you pet your puppy, why does he bite you?
Puppies use their mouths to play with one another. As a result, puppies frequently bite or “mouth” hands while playing or being petted, which is rarely aggressive behavior with the intent to harm.