Feel like you are your puppy’s pin cushion? Kids afraid of the new puppy? You are not alone.
Puppy play biting is very common. It’s what puppies do. It’s actually a good thing to do – believe it or not. Puppy play biting actually gives us the opportunity to teach them “bite inhibition”.
Inhibiting their bite is an important lesson all puppies need to learn. Learning that humans are very delicate and they can never put their teeth on us, could prevent a dangerous situation in the future.
STEP #1: EXERCISE
But the very first of 3 steps to stop puppy play biting is EXERCISE.
The number one reason puppies play bite is because they are bored. They have too much energy and don’t know what to do with it. So your first step is to keep your puppy exercised – physically AND mentally.
Since your puppy has probably not completed their vaccine series, you can’t take them for a walk. But there are some easy and safe games to play to get him tired from the comfort of your own home or yard. Fetch is a great one. It doesn’t matter at this point if your puppy brings the toy back, just throw another one. He will learn to bring it back and drop it, but right now let’s just get him tired.
Bonus, you can sit on the couch to play fetch and make your puppy do all the work. Full disclosure, I am the laziest trainer you will ever meet. The more training I can do sitting on the couch, the better.
Command sequences are another great way to exercise your puppy, plus it reinforces basic obedience consistency and attention. Simply doing half a dozen “come”, “sit”, “downs” etc repeated, will take the edge off of all that puppy energy. Remember 5 minutes of mental exercise is worth about 20 minutes of physical. Make him think.
STEP #2: ENRICHMENT
The second step to stopping play biting is ENRICHMENT.
Keep your puppy busy. He does not know what to do to occupy himself – you must teach him. Instead of constantly looking at his humans to entertain him, your puppy needs to learn how to entertain himself. This is where the KONG toy is invaluable. Make the KONG do all the training work.
By stuffing the KONG full of your puppy’s meal and maybe a couple of yummy treats to make it interesting, your puppy will automatically play with it. Again, the less work I have to do, the better. Make the KONG do it for you.
Every day the KONG is a different toy depending on the food you put in it. It’s like a video game for your dog. Keeps him busy, slows down his eating and keeps him out of trouble. Bonus, freeze the whole KONG Classic with food stuffed inside for a special treat, that will keep your puppy busy even longer.
If your puppy is working a KONG, he’s not working your last nerve!
STEP #3: INSTRUCTION
The third step to stopping the puppy play biting is INSTRUCTION.
Teaching your puppy not to do it. It’s actually a good thing your puppy is biting (keep reminding yourself that when he comes at you with those sharp needle teeth). If he didn’t play bite, we couldn’t teach him not to do it.
Take advantage of this time in your puppy’s life to teach him he can never ever put his teeth on humans. Teaching him that bite inhibition is a valuable life lesson.
Have a zero tolerance policy for teeth. Do not allow your puppy to even touch you with their teeth. No playing rough or wrestling with him. That only encourages the biting. Give your puppy the same rules now that he will have as an adult. It’s cute when he is 10 pounds, but downright dangerous when he is 60 pounds – or more.
If your puppy touches you with his teeth, hold your hand still and say, “ow” in a fairly high pitched tone. You want to hold your hand still because as predators dogs are hard wired to chase movement. Moving your hand around just excites your puppy and makes him want to bite it more.
Say, “ow” because it mimics how another puppy would tell him he is playing too rough. It’s communication your puppy understands. If he stops when you do this, he understands. If he comes back and does it again, repeat your “ow” but louder. If he continues to to come back biting, walk away and redirect his energy into more exercise and enrichment. Those first 2 steps are the most important.
Don’t rely simply on what to do when he is doing it wrong. Rather, focus on letting your puppy know when he is doing it right. If you just tell him “NO, don’t do that!” it doesn’t get to the root of the problem, which is – he’s bored. Always replace a bad habit with a good one.
Finally – be prepared. Have several KONGs stuffed and ready to go in the freezer so you can easily grab them when you need them. Get in the habit of exercising your puppy several times a day. After a potty outing, spend another 5 minutes on training sequences and fetch. You’re out there anyway, why not? Now go play with your puppy!
By Cindy Scott, Master Certified Trainer, thedogsetc.com