MOUTHING AND BITING
A large proportion of a puppy’s day is taken up with playing. Mouthing and biting his littermates are a puppy’s way of learning about the strength of his bite and its effect on others. When he bites too hard his playmate yelps and withdraws, so he bites softer next time so that he can keep the game going for longer. After all, having fun is what life is all about when you’re a pup.
When he leaves the litter and joins a human household he often gets a totally different reaction to his biting. Instead of letting puppies know they hurt us when they bite our skin, people often encourage puppies to do it by rough contact games and by rewarding them with attention rather than withdrawing from them. We also often manage to punish them when they have actually stopped biting!
In order to get the correct message across to your puppy
- When you play with him, always make sure you have a toy he can bite and chew on. If he bites you instead, YELL “OUCH!” in a tone which sounds like the yelp another puppy would make if it were bitten. It must be a short, sharp sound that makes the pup stop and think. Long, drawn out high pitched noises are similar to the sounds that prey animals make when they’re grabbed so squealing or whining noises may encourage the biting.
- At the same time as you yell, keep the toy still, look away and don’t touch your puppy.
- Your puppy should stop biting and look at you. He may then try to lick your face. Praise him immediately he stops biting and continue the game with the toy.
- Repeat the procedure every time you feel a painful bite.
- If this response does not stop him then walk out of the room and shut the door. Wait for 10 seconds and return. If he gets the correct feedback, he will learn that biting and hurting make his playmate stop playing and even makes them disappear.
- DO NOT WAVE your arms and hands about in front of the dog. This is often seen as an invitation to play and will cause him to leap up and grab at you.
- DO NOT RUN. This encourages the puppy to chase, which is highly rewarding for him.
- DO NOT TALK TO YOUR PUPPY when he bites you. Reprimanding your puppy by lecturing him about why he should not bite may be seen as part of the game. He doesn’t know what you are saying, he just knows he is getting a response from you.
- DO NOT USE PHYSICAL PUNISHMENT. If your puppy is tough, he may even see punishment as a reward and a good game. If he is nervous, he may become frightened of you and this may lead to defensive aggression.
- DO PLAY OFTEN with your puppy. Puppies are more likely to jump up and nip people if they are bored or frustrated. This is just an attempt to get you to play. You should offer a toy or game to your puppy BEFORE he gets to this point.
- DO NOT play ‘rough and tumble’ games with your puppy. This will only teach him to bite your skin. ALWAYS have a toy when you play with him.
- DO give your puppy plenty of items he CAN bite and chew. Puppies NEED to chew things. It is a natural way of exploring the world and helps teething, but they have to learn that, in the human pack, they cannot chew anything living! Make sure he has safe, chewable toys. Self rewarding ones are good, e.g. Kongs stuffed with treats such as raw carrots.