Biting is a normal part of puppy play. Even adult dogs will softly bite each other when they play. But how did the adult dogs learn to bite softly instead of as hard as possible? It’s because they have learned bite inhibition from other dogs and good dog owners. The goal of teaching puppies not to bite hard, or even put their mouths on human skin, is to teach bite inhibition in the way that puppies would teach other puppies.
Make Some Noise
When puppies are hurt, they yelp. The younger the puppy, the more piercing the yelp will sound. This yelp is not only designed to alert the mother dog that the pup needs help, but also other dogs and puppies, too. A puppy owner needs to mimic this yelp in order to let the biting puppy know that bites can hurt.
Whenever a puppy puts his mouth on your skin or clothing, yelp. This yelp should be loud enough to get the puppy’s attention. Everyone who interacts with the puppy needs to make some sort of loud noise whenever the puppy bites or even places his mouth around shoelaces, shirt sleeves or fingers. If every human reacts in the same way, then it’s easier for the puppy to learn to keep his mouth to himself.
One reason why puppies bite is because chewing helps to eliminate any teething pain. It’s also thought that the act of chewing releases endorphins into a canine brain. After making a yelp, the puppy will often let go of whatever she was biting. She may even back up or jump in surprise. But she will need to chew soon after the shock wears off.
Get a chew toy ready and offer it to the puppy. The puppy’s need to chew is deterred to something more appropriate than fingers or shoes. Praise the puppy for chewing on the right object whenever you see the puppy do so. Get other people who interact with the puppy to do the same thing.
What About Spray Deterrents?
Puppies that were the only pups in the litter and didn’t have any other puppies to play with may have a more difficult time learning not to bite. The puppy will have played with the mother and the mother may growl or hold the puppy gently with her mouth whenever the pup bit too hard.
The puppy owner may have to spray their hands, shoes or clothing with a spray deterrent usually marketed as bitter apple or training spray. It tastes horrible (even by human standards) but is not harmful. Never spray the puppy in the face or body. Also, be sure to wash your hands before eating or giving the puppy a treat.
ASPCA Complete Guide to Dogs. Sheldon L. Gerstenfeld, VMD. Chronicle Books; 1999.
KISS Guide to Raising a Puppy. Liz Palika. Dorling-Kindersley Ltd; 2002.
Humane Society of the United States. “Chewing: The Why’s and How’s to Stop a Gnawing Problem.”