Puppies spend their time playing, chewing, and investigating new things while using their mouths and needle-sharp teeth. Puppies frequently bite, chew, and mouth on humans’ hands, limbs, and clothing when they play. This behavior is cute when your puppy is seven weeks old, but it’s not so cute when he’s three or four months old!
How to Deal with Puppy Mouthing
Your puppy must learn to control his mouthy behavior. The ultimate goal is to teach your puppy not to bite or mouth people. However, the first and most important goal is to teach him that people’s skin is sensitive and that he must be extremely gentle.
With Bite Inhibition, Teach your Puppy to be Gentle
Bite inhibition refers to a dog’s ability to control how hard he bites. When a puppy or dog hasn’t learned to recognize the sensitivity of human skin, he bites too hard, even when playing. Some behaviorists and trainers believe that if a dog learns to interact with people by gently using his mouth, 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 while playing with other puppies. You’ll notice a lot of chasing, pouncing, and wrestling while watching puppies play. Puppies bite each other everywhere, and a puppy will occasionally bite his playmate too hard. When bitten, the victim usually yelps and stops playing. The offender is frequently surprised by the yelp and temporarily stops playing. Both teammates, however, are quickly back in the game. Through this interaction, puppies learn to control the intensity of their bites 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 to be gentle with people.
When playing with your puppy, let your puppy mouth you on your hands. Give a high-pitched yelp and let your hand go limp as if you’re hurt. This yelp should stop him from mouthing you. If yelping appears ineffective, sternly say, “Too bad!” or “You blew it!” instead.
Praise your puppy for slowing down or licking you. Do what you did before, and yelp loudly if your puppy bites you again. Repeat these steps no more than three times in 15 minutes. You can try a time-out procedure if you discover that yelping alone is ineffective. Puppy-mouthing is frequently reduced by using time-outs. When your puppy delivers a hard bite, yell aloud. Take your hand away from him when he becomes startled and turns to look at you or around. If he starts mouthing at you again, ignore him for 10 to 20 seconds before getting up and moving away.
After the brief time-out, return to your puppy and encourage him to play with you again. He must understand that gentle play continues while painful play ends. Play with your puppy until he begins to bite again. Repeat the preceding steps when he does. When your puppy’s bites are no longer as hard, you can relax your rules. Increase your puppy’s gentleness in response to moderately hard bites, yelps, and pauses in play. For his hardest bites, keep yelping, ignoring him, or putting him in time-out. Repeat for his next-hardest bites, and so on, until your puppy can play very gently with your hands, controlling the force of his mouthing so that you feel little or no pressure at all.
Next, teach your puppy that teeth should never be used on human skin:
- Replace your puppy’s gnawing on your fingers or toes with a toy or chew bone.
- Puppies frequently mouth on their owners’ hands when they are stroked, patted, or scratched (unless they are sleepy or distracted). If your puppy becomes agitated when you pet him, distract him by feeding him small treats with your other hand, which will help your puppy become accustomed to being touched without mouthing.
- Noncontact games like fetch and tug-of-war should be preferred over wrestling and rough play with your hands. Keep tug toys in your pocket or easily accessible once your puppy can safely play tug. If he starts mouthing you, immediately redirect him to the tug toy. He should start anticipating and looking for a toy when he feels like mouthing.
- If your puppy bites your feet and ankles, keep his favorite tug toy in your pocket. As soon as he ambushes you, stop moving your feet. Take out the tug toy and play with it. When your puppy grabs the toy, begin moving again. If you don’t have the toy, just stand there and wait for your puppy to stop biting you. When he comes to a complete stop, praise him and reward him with a toy. Repeat these steps until your puppy is used to watching you walk around without chasing your feet or ankles.
- To keep your puppy from gnawing on you or your clothing, provide him with new and exciting toys to play with.
- Allow your puppy to interact with other puppies and friendly, vaccinated adult dogs. Playing and socializing with other puppies is essential for your puppy’s development. If he expends a lot of energy on it, he’ll be less motivated to play rough with you.
- Use a time-out procedure similar to the one described above but with slightly different rules. Instead of punishing your puppy for hard biting, start punishing him whenever his teeth come into contact with your skin.
- When your puppy’s teeth come into contact with you, let out a high-pitched yelp. Then immediately walk away from him. Ignore him for 30 to 60 seconds. If your puppy follows you or continues to bite and nip at you, leave the room for 30 to 60 seconds. Make sure the room has been “puppy-proofed” before leaving your puppy alone. Don’t leave him alone with items he could destroy or harm himself. After the brief time-out, return to the room and calmly resume whatever you were doing with your puppy.
- Alternatively, during time-out training, you can attach a leash to your puppy and let it dangle on the floor while you supervise him. Instead of leaving the room when your puppy mouths you, 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 return to your previous task.
- Consider using a taste deterrent if a time-out isn’t possible or practical. Spray areas of your body and clothing that your puppy likes to mouth before you begin interacting with him. If he mouths you or your clothing, stop moving and wait for him to react to the bad taste of the deterrent. Praise him lavishly when he lets go of you. Apply the bad taste to your body and clothes for at least two weeks. After two weeks of being punished by the bitter taste every time he mouths you, your puppy will likely learn to inhibit his mouthy behavior.
- Be patient and understanding. Mouthing is an expected behavior for puppies and young dogs.
Everyone Should Take Precautions
Avoid slapping the sides of your puppy’s face or waving your fingers or toes in his face to entice him to play. These actions may lead to your puppy biting your hands and feet.
Do not, in general, discourage your puppy from playing with you. Play strengthens a dog’s bond with his human family. Teach your puppy that it is better to play gently than not at all.
If you jerk your hands or feet away from your puppy when he’s mouthing, he’ll charge forward and grab you. Allowing your hands and feet to become limp is far more effective in making them unappealing targets for your puppy.
When puppies are slapped or hit for playing with their mouths, they bite harder and usually respond by becoming more aggressive. Physical punishment can also instill fear in your puppy, leading to aggression. Avoid whacking your puppy on the nose, sticking your fingers down his throat, and other potentially painful or frightening punishments.
When Does Mouthing Become Aggression?
The majority of puppy-mouthing is natural. On the other hand, some puppies bite out of fear or frustration, which can foreshadow future aggression problems.
Puppy Temper Tantrums
Puppy temper tantrums are common. Tantrums usually occur when a puppy is forced to do something he dislikes. Simple things like holding your puppy still or touching his body may irritate him. Tantrums can also happen when games become too intense.
A puppy temper tantrum is more serious than playful mouthing, but telling the difference can be difficult. A relaxed body and face are typical of a playful puppy. Although his muzzle is wrinkled, you won’t notice much tension in his facial muscles. When your puppy has a temper tantrum, his body may become stiff or frozen. He might growl or pull back his lips to reveal his teeth. In these situations, his bites are almost always much more painful than normal play-mouthing.
If you’re holding or handling your puppy and he starts throwing a temper tantrum, don’t yell like you’re hurt. Yelping may encourage or worsen your puppy’s aggressive behavior. Instead, remain emotionless and calm. Keep your puppy firmly held without constriction, if possible, until he stops struggling. Allow him to leave after he has calmed down for a few seconds. 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’s biting stop?
The most important thing to remember is that most puppies will outgrow mouthing or play biting between three and five months.
What should you tell your puppy to make him stop biting?
If your puppy starts biting you, quickly say “no” and replace yourself with the tug toy/chew toy. Say “yes” and lavish your dog with praise when he engages with the toy. Puppy biting can be avoided by teaching your dog to tug.
What’s the deal with your puppy’s excessive biting?
Puppies use their teeth while playing and exploring. It’s how they learn about the world, just like human babies, and it’s critical to their social development. While teething, puppies will chew on anything and everything.
Why does your puppy bite you when you pet him?
Puppies play with one another by using their mouths. Puppies frequently bite or “mouth” hands while playing or being petted, which is rarely aggressive behavior with the intent to harm.