Teach Your Puppy Not to Be a Pain: Play Biting By the Rules

Tuesday nights I hold Puppy Manners class, and I call it my weekly therapy session. There is nothing more delightful than being in a room full of tumbling puppies under 4 months old.  There is also a lot of stress that comes with being a new puppy owner.

The Big Three puppy difficulties seem to be biting, chewing, and jumping up. House training comes in a close fourth, but that simply takes time and patience. I have addressed time outs for jumping and redirection for chewing in the past, so I will focus here on the biting.

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Puppies learn appropriate bite inhibition from other puppies

Those sharp baby teeth! Puppies don’t have jaws strong enough to inflict major damage, but their teeth can cause bad scratches and bruises. It is important that young puppies are allowed to bite to a certain degree: this is how they learn bite inhibition so that when they are older with stronger jaws, they do not hurt other dogs or people. Socialization and play time with other puppies is the absolute best way for a puppy to acquire bite inhibition.

With humans, they should be permitted to put their mouths on our hands and arms as long as it does not involve clamping or shaking. If we punish any and all biting, we are not teaching the dog how to bite softly, which is a very important skill for adult dogs. However, if the bite is too hard, you should say “Ouch!” or “Enough!” and remove yourself from the situation for a few moments. When you come back, if Puppy continues to bite hard, issue a time out in a play pen, puppy-proofed room, or just end the play session abruptly. This needs to be repeated and practiced consistently. Puppy will learn that when he bites hard, fun time stops. When he is calm, trade your hands and arms for better things Puppy can chew, such as teething rings and stuffed toys, and get in some object exchange practice while you work on the biting.

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Kylo gets a brief time out with a “consent test” during a Puppy Social. If the other puppy comes back to play, the biting was okay and they should be allowed to continue interacting.

Ideally, puppies learn some bite inhibition when they are still nursing. When a nursing pup bites too hard, the mother dog will get up (just like with our time outs!) and take the source of food and comfort (herself) away from the puppy. We can’t leave it all to the mother dogs, though, as some puppies are rougher than others, or perhaps they were singleton pups or separated from the litter too early.

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Play biting is part of healthy play, and usually looks more intense than it really is

Again, allowing your puppy the chance to play with other puppies in a controlled environment is going to take care of most biting issues.  Older adult dogs, as long as they are tolerant, can help show Puppy the ins and outs of polite play and biting as well. This should be accomplished before Puppy is 5 months old, when those adult teeth come in and strong jaws develop.

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These adolescent dogs have excellent bite inhibition, and therefore are good playmates