They may look cute and harmless, but small puppies can indeed bite hard when they play -- even going so far as to break the skin in some cases. This doesn't mean that your puppy is being aggressive, however. Biting and mouthing is natural for puppies at play with each other (especially while teething). He just needs to be taught proper etiquette when playing with you and other people, and he needs to learn as soon as possible before he gets older, stronger, and capable of inflicting more damage. Understanding why your puppy bites can help you develop a plan to redirect the behavior to safer types of play.
Why Puppies Bite
Puppies use their mouths to explore the world around them. They chew and gnaw on objects to find out more about them. Unfortunately your hands and clothing also suffer when a puppy enters the mouthing phase. When a puppy is with his littermates and mother, the other dogs let the puppy know when he's being too rough by yelping and ignoring the puppy if he doesn't stop. If people fail to behave the same way as other dogs, your puppy assumes it's fine to continue biting and nipping. As he grows stronger, his bite grows stronger and the biting continues, unless you let him know that his behavior is unacceptable.
Bite inhibition helps the puppy understand how to control his jaw to avoid biting too hard. You can help your puppy practice bite inhibition by using the same system his mother did when he bit her too hard. If your puppy starts biting you hard, immediately yelp and allow your hand or fingers to rest limply in the puppy's mouth. If you try to yank your hand from the puppy's mouth, he may think you are playing and might use more force to keep your hand in his mouth. Praise the puppy if he stops biting. Repeat the yelping every time he bites hard. After the puppy understands that hard bites are not acceptable, start yelping during moderately painful bites. Continue this method until the puppy understands that biting of any kind is not permitted.
It might take longer for some puppies to understand that biting is not allowed, particularly if you've allowed the behavior in the past. If the puppy doesn't respond to your yelps, ignore him for a few minutes, even if he attempts to play with you. If the puppy chases you or tries to bite you again, leave the room for a few minutes to teach your pet that he won't get attention if he bites or nips. Ask everyone in your family to behave the same way if the puppy bites. If some family members continue to allow the biting, the puppy will become confused and will continue to bite, despite your efforts at teaching him bite inhibition.
Help your puppy learn not to chew on you by offering him a distraction. Provide plenty of safe toys for chewing and teach your puppy fun games, such as fetch, that don't involve direct contact with your hands. If your puppy doesn't grasp the concept that biting isn't allowed despite frequent practice sessions, don't become frustrated and strike him. This might only make him become aggressive and he won't stop the biting. Instead ask your veterinarian to recommend an animal behaviorist or dog trainer who can help your puppy learn better ways to play.
By Jill Leviticus
About the Author
Working at a humane society allowed Jill Leviticus to combine her business management experience with her love of animals. Leviticus has a journalism degree from Lock Haven University, has written for Nonprofit Management Report, Volunteer Management Report and Healthy Pet, and has worked in the healthcare field.