spend a great deal of time playing, chewing and investigating objects. All of
these normal activities involve puppies using their mouths and their
needle-sharp teeth. When puppies play with
people, they often bite, chew and mouth on people’s hands, limbs and clothing.
This kind of behavior may seem cute when your puppy is seven weeks old, but it’s not nearly so
endearing when he’s three or four months old-and getting bigger by the day!
It’s important to help your puppy learn to curb his mouthy behavior. There
are various ways, some better than others, to teach this lesson. The ultimate
goal is to train your puppy to stop mouthing and biting people altogether.
However, the first and most important objective is to teach him that people
have very sensitive skin, so he must be very gentle
when using his mouth.
Bite Inhibition: Teach Your Puppy to Be Gentle
Bite inhibition refers to a dog’s ability to control the
force of his mouthing. A puppy or dog who hasn’t learned bite inhibition with
people doesn’t recognize the sensitivity of human skin, and so he bites too
hard, even in play. Some behaviorists and trainers believe that a dog who has
learned to use his mouth gently when interacting with people will be less
likely to bite hard and break skin if he ever bites someone in a situation
apart from play-like when he’s afraid or in pain.
Puppies usually learn bite inhibition during play with other puppies. If you
watch a group of puppies playing, you’ll see plenty of chasing, pouncing and
wrestling. Puppies also bite each other all over. Every now and then, a pup
will bite his playmate too hard. The victim of the painful bite yelps and
usually stops playing. The offender is often taken aback by the yelp and also
stops playing for a moment. However, pretty soon, both playmates are back in
the game. Through this kind of interaction, puppies learn to control the
intensity of their bites so that no one gets hurt and the play can continue
without interruption. If puppies can learn how to be gentle from each other,
they can also learn the same lesson from people.
When you play with your puppy, let him mouth on your hands. Continue play
until he bites especially hard. When he does, immediately give a high-pitched
yelp, as if you’re hurt, and let your hand go limp. This should startle your
puppy and cause him to stop mouthing you, at least momentarily. (If yelping
seems to have no effect, you can say “Too bad!” or “You blew it!” in a stern
voice instead.) Praise your puppy for stopping or for licking you. Resume
whatever you were doing before. If your puppy bites you hard again, yelp again.
Repeat these steps no more than three times within a 15-minute period. If you
find that yelping alone doesn’t work, you can switch to a time-out procedure.
Time-outs are often very effective for curbing mouthing in puppies. When your
puppy delivers a hard bite, yelp loudly. Then, when he startles and turns to
look at you or looks around, remove your hand. Either ignore him for 10 to 20
seconds or, if he starts mouthing on you again, get up and move away for 10 to
20 seconds. After the short time-out, return to your puppy and encourage him to
play with you again. It’s important to teach him that gentle play continues,
but painful play stops. Play with your puppy until he bites hard again. When he
does, repeat the sequence above. When your puppy isn’t delivering really hard
bites anymore, you can tighten up your rules a little. Require your puppy to be
even gentler. Yelp and stop play in response to moderately hard bites.
Persist with this process of yelping and then ignoring your puppy or giving him
a time-out for his hardest bites. As those disappear, do the same for his
next-hardest bites, and so on, until your puppy can play with your hands very
gently, controlling the force of his mouthing so that you feel little or no
pressure at all.