Puppies learn about the world using their mouths. They often bite, chew, and mouth their pet parents’ hands, limbs, and clothing. This behavior is part of puppy play and exploration. Puppies learn not to bite from their littermates and mothers. If your adult dog mouths and nips during play, he may not have learned how to play appropriately while he was young.
The first step in teaching your dog not to bite is to work on bite inhibition, or your dog’s ability to control the force of his mouth. During puppy play, if one puppy bites too hard the other one yelps and stops playing. In this way, puppies learn from one another when they’ve become too rough. To teach your dog not to bite, you must first teach him to inhibit his bite. Start by allowing your dog to mouth you until the pressure becomes too hard. Then, yelp in a high-pitched voice and stop playing. Praise your dog for stopping or licking you. If yelping does not work, say “too bad” in a stern voice. Once again, praise your dog when he stops biting. Gradually expect your dog to decrease the force of his bites until he is no longer biting at all. Start yelping for bites that are moderate, rather than hard; progress to yelping for soft bites. Finally, do not engage with your dog if he mouths you with even a small amount of pressure. In this way, you are teaching him that teeth do not belong on human skin.
In addition to yelping, you can use a time-out to tell your dog that you will not play with him when he bites. During the time-out, ignore your dog for ten to twenty seconds or walk away. Then return to your dog and resume playing. You should also practice substituting a toy or bone when your dog starts to grab your hands.
Avoid playing rough games or games that involve waving your fingers in your dog’s face. Also, avoid jerky movements, as these tend to excite dogs. Teach your dog impulse control through training exercises such as sit, wait, and leave it. It is also important to make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise every day.
There is no need to shake your dog by the scruff or hit him on the nose for biting. These punishments can make your dog afraid of you or result in aggression.