If you watch a litter of puppies playing, you will notice that they spend much of their time biting and grabbing each other with their mouths. This is normal puppy behavior. When you take home a new puppy, the puppy will attempt to play with you the same way, by biting and mouthing. You need to teach your new puppy that human skin is more sensitive than a puppy’s and that it hurts when they bite us. Even if your puppy’s mouthing does not hurt now, remember that when they grow, those small, sharp teeth will be replaced by larger, duller teeth and a much stronger jaw – so they can cause a lot of damage if they don’t learn to inhibit their bite as young puppies.
- Every time the puppy touches you with his/her teeth, yell “Ouch!” in a harsh tone of voice, or give a high pitched yelp, as another puppy would when play gets too rough. This will stop play for a few seconds, as the puppy is usually startled for a moment. After a few seconds, resume play, and repeat EVERY time your puppy mouths you.
- Over time, some puppies are no longer put off by the yelping or “Ouch!”, or they get too stimulated by play and the yelling causes the behavior to escalate. In this case, try the yelp or “Ouch!” followed by immediately standing up and leaving the play area for a minute or two. Since what the puppy really wants is to play, showing them that biting ends play and removes your attention is often effective.
- For very persistent mouthers, you may need to remove the puppy for a time- out. If you are crate training your puppy, remember to NEVER use the crate as a place for punishment. Immediately after the puppy mouths you, remove him/her to a safe time-out area, like a bathroom, or behind a baby gate in the kitchen for example. Do so calmly and without yelling or rough handling. Ignore the puppy until he/she is calm, then you can go back to play, repeating as necessary. You may want to try playing with a short leash on to get the puppy into time-out, as they usually mouth while being removed, which becomes rewarding. This also prevents a game of “Catch Me!” which is very rewarding as well!
- If your puppy tends to get over excited by prolonged play, try to stop play or take a break before that threshold is reached. If you find your pup gets too crazy after 5 minutes of play, stop play at 3-4 minutes and take a break or practice some basic obedience skills like sit or down.
- Never encourage games that invite biting, like slap-wresting or rough handling. Use toys to play that can act as a barrier to protect your hands, and encourage games like fetch.
- Products like Bitter Apple Spray can be applied to your hands and arms to help discourage biting and mouthing as well.