Puppies come with a few caveats. They are pretty much always cute. The cuteness is there to offset some of their less desirable attributes. One of those less desirable attributes is biting. Don’t misunderstand, all puppies bite. It is natural for them to explore the world with their mouths and they are typically teething at this age. Mouthing like this should be expected, biting with too much force needs to be corrected. If your puppy is beyond eight weeks of age and still biting aggressively, it’s time to curb his biting habit.
When puppies are between 6 and 8 weeks of age, biting and nipping at their siblings is actually a good thing. They are both learning from their siblings, and teaching their siblings. The playful biting that occurs during this time is actually beneficial, it teaches them ‘bite inhibition’ helping to teach young canines when enough is enough. If your puppy was removed from its siblings prior to, or before this age, they may never have learned a valuable life lesson: sometimes biting hurts!
Studies show that this type of interaction between puppies and their siblings is essential to their understanding of play vs. aggression. It is important for us, as parents of puppies to understand this process. Bite inhibition refers to a dog’s ability to control the force of his bite. When puppies play bite with their siblings they will sometimes bite too hard, causing the sibling to cry out in pain. This unexpected reaction will often make the aggressor stop playing (i.e. stop biting) temporarily. When this process is repeated over and over again, puppies learn not to bite aggressively.
If your puppy seems to have failed the bite inhibition class you can continue the lessons in much the same way its siblings did. When playing with your puppy allow him to mouth your hands. When he bites too hard, cry out in pain and let your hand go limp. This reaction should make your puppy temporarily stop biting you. If crying out does not stop him from biting, try saying “Too hard!” in a stern voice.
When your puppy does react appropriately (i.e. stops biting or reverts to licking instead), praise him for being gentle and resume playing. If he bites too hard again, repeat the process. For some puppies learning bite inhibition can take time. If your puppy continues to mouth too aggressively after repeating this process three or four times, it may be time to try a different method.
If your pup does not seem to be catching on, the next time he mouths you too aggressively cry out and then completely remove your hand and stop the playtime. Ignore him for 10 or 20 seconds and then engage in play once more. If he continues to bite too hard, get up and move away for 10 or 20 seconds. After this short time out, encourage your puppy to play again. If he again bites too hard cry out, and move away again. Repeat this process until he learns that playtime ends when he bites too hard.
If your puppy still resorts to biting after repeated time-outs, try extending the time-out period to 30-60 seconds and repeat the same process (cry out, walk away, and end the playtime for 30-60 seconds.
It is important to remember that this behavior was part of your pup’s playtime with its siblings. You should never hit your puppy as it may cause them to bite harder and more aggressively. Don’t jerk your hands or feet away from your pup when they bite a this often encourages them to lunge at you and bite again. You do not want to discourage your puppy from playing with you. You just want them to understand that they should not bite.
Finally, if all else fails try distracting your puppy with a favorite toy or chew in an effort to discourage him from biting you. You might also try no contact forms of play like fetch or tug of war rather than rough play with your hands. If distraction does not work try putting a leash on him during playtime. When he bites too hard, take the leash and tether him to a doorknob or other stationary object and temporarily halt the play session. Never leave your puppy unattended when tethered. After a brief time out while tethered, resume your playtime with your pup.
Generally, with some guidance from you, your puppy will begin to mouth more gently and eventually stop mouthing you altogether. Just keep in mind that it’s a puppy. Be patient and bond with him and in the long-run you will both benefit from the experience.