Chewing, biting, and mouthing are all perfectly natural and common puppy behaviours. Puppies explore the world with their mouths just like we would use our hands, so a curious puppy will be more inclined to put their chops around anything and everything.
However, you need to discourage biting and mouthing at people to prevent any mishaps in the future, as well as teaching them that they should only play with and chew their toys and not your possessions. A puppy mouthing at your hand might be cute and playful now, but as an adult, the behaviour could get your dog into trouble so it’s best to teach them more constructive ways to chew and play and exercise those natural behaviours.
There are many reasons a puppy may bite, and it’s your job to try and understand why your puppy is biting, but also be the adult in the situation and teach them what they should do instead.
For example, puppies might bite because they don’t like something. Puppies don’t usually growl, so a nip from a puppy could be their way of saying they don’t like what you’re doing and want you to stop. This is why a lot of people are nipped when cuddling a puppy, if the puppy doesn’t want to be made a fuss off, they will nip to try and tell you to stop.
To prevent this specific kind of nipping, you need to observe your puppy when petting them. Only pet them for a few seconds then stop and see if they want to continue. If they do, they’ll probably watch you or shuffle over to get under your hand again or be close to you. However, if your puppy is stiff, or their muzzle is furrowed or snarling, they are not happy. In this case, back away.
It’s all about you and your puppy learning to communicate.
However, most biting and mouthing behaviour comes from their desire to play and trying to get your attention. So here’s how to stop other kinds of puppy biting.
Like most puppy training, you need to be proactive. Puppy biting is a very predictable behaviour so if you keep an eye on your pup, you can either remove whatever they’re going to chomp or distract them and redirect their focus onto something they are allowed to chew. Always remember to praise your puppy as soon as they do something you want them to, such as when they stop mouthing your hand to instead tug on a rope toy.
You should also puppy-proof the areas of your home so there is nothing dangerous or valuable that they can chew on in the first place and prevent problems before they begin.
Never punish your dog for biting. Your puppy could be trying to communicate with you and you didn’t notice. Plus, punishing some puppies can make them more rambunctious and bitey, while others may become fearful of you.
Most puppies bite for attention or to instigate playtime, so not giving them the attention and redirecting them to focus on something else will teach them that there are better ways of directing their energy and jaws.
Puppies will play with their mother and littermates. If they bite too hard the other dog might yelp, but will more likely just stop playing and stand up or walk away. It’s a clear indication that playtime is over. Ending playtime when your puppy bites you is key to teaching them that biting you isn’t rewarding.
When your puppy mouths or nips you, remove your hand and say a monotone “no”. If they try again, remove their access to whatever they want to bite and say “no” again. You could tuck your hands into your armpits, turn away from them, or stand up, to restrict their access to you.
If your puppy chases you to try and bite your shoes, ankles, etc, just put them in their crate or pen, or go into another room. Give your puppy a few seconds to a few minutes to calm down before going back.
Because most biting is to instigate play or get your attention, the last thing you want to do is give attention to the behaviour and seemingly rewarding it.
If your puppy does bite you, don’t yelp or flap your hand away as this can seem like playing and movement triggers their instinct to pounce and chase. Let your hands go limp and still instead. Yelps and “ow”s can help indicate their bite was too hard, but some puppies can mistake it for play or simply enjoy ANY attention.
Scolding your puppy for biting won’t work because even though it isn’t positive attention, it is still your direct attention which was your puppy’s aim. A puppy craving your focus will figure out biting gets your undivided attention pretty quickly.
Even negative attention is still giving your dog want they want, which is why stopping play and ignoring your puppy is key because it teaches your puppy that biting you will put an end to playtime and your attention. It sets clear boundaries.
You should also work on distraction to teach your puppy that there are more rewarding and productive ways to use their mouths.
There are several ways you can shift your puppy’s focus and stop them from biting you using toys and play, training, or food. The key is to make “good” behaviour like biting their toys or ignoring temptation to be more rewarding than biting you, so your puppy chooses the correct behaviour.
Keep a chew toy on hand you can use to distract your puppy to bite onto the toy and not your hand, clothes, or furniture. Make the toy more exciting than whatever your puppy is trying to chew so they go for the toy instead. Move the toy around a lot, wiggle it around their mouths, and have a good game of tug of war or fetch. If the toy becomes more rewarding to bite, your dog will direct their attention to their toys instead.
If a puppy is preparing to bite you, it’s a great opportunity to get a treat and ask them to do something else, like sit. This distracts your puppy into doing something productive and keeps them occupied while still getting the attention they want from you, but for doing something you want them to.
Sometimes you needn’t ask them to do anything, just tell them “leave” if they look like they’re about to bite, and if they show any sign of restraint, reward them with lots of praise and treats.
Puppy’s can mouth when needing comfort, and it’s common for a puppy to gnaw gently on your hand while you groom them or handle them. Try to give them something to distract them and keep them busy, such as holding food in your hand while you handle them, or a Kong toy stuffed with Pure.
Teaching your puppy in these ways introduces bite inhibition and allows them to exercise natural behaviours like grasping and holding with their mouths, but in a more productive and postive way.
Bite inhibition is just when a dog learns to control their bite force, and understanding how hard or soft they need to be when interacting with things.
At first, puppies have no bite inhibition and don’t understand their bites can hurt people or damage things. Over time, they begin to understand their own strength as well as how delicate or tough things are, and the appropriate strength of bite for the task and toy.
For example, human skin is very soft and sensitive compared to a dog’s skin, and a puppy just doesn’t understand that their usual play-bite actually hurts humans. Puppies will learn just how delicate they need to be to prevent breaking skin and hurting people.