Puppy Play Biting and How To Stop It
If you’re here, you’re probably already at your wit’s end, and your hands are scratched up into next year. Puppies instinctually play bite when playing with their littermates, which can quickly bleed over into how they play with their owners. With some patience and know-how, it is possible to stop puppy play biting and redirect their mouths onto something much less vulnerable.
To stop puppy play biting, you need to make a distracting sound such as loudly yelling “ouch!” or “uh-uh!” the moment they bite your hand. Let your hand go limp until they release, and then ignore your puppy for about twenty seconds. You may then resume playing with them by adding in a toy or other appropriate chew item.
Puppies inherently have the desire to mouth objects and any living thing they can find. It is important to know how to curb this behavior early on, especially while they are smaller. The larger and older a puppy gets, the worse the biting can be. Structuring playtime, having the right tools and understanding why puppies play bite will help you nip this problem behavior before it gets worse.
What To Do When Your Puppy Bites You
As someone who teaches their dogs a lot of mouth-related tricks such as “take” or “kisses,” I want to be comfortable with the pressure my dog uses with their mouth. Therefore, I believe it’s important to establish a distinction between a hard bite and general mouthing. With a puppy, it’s easy to teach them the difference between mouthing and biting. To do so, you must show them that play sessions continue with light mouthing but are abruptly stopped when they are biting too hard.
If you’re interacting with your puppy and they go straight for your hand, it may be more appropriate to redirect them to a nearby toy or chew. Mouthing or biting to get your attention should not be rewarded as this can lead to continued biting when they are much bigger and stronger. If you’re playing with them with your hands, this could lead to confusion as they may start to assume your hand is something to play with.
By saying “ouch!” when your puppy bites, you are giving your dog the signal that their behavior is hurtful. When puppies are with their littermates, they will yelp when one of them bites down too hard. Using a loud “ouch!” simulates this behavior and gets your point across to your dog in a way that they fundamentally understand. Using the “limp hand” technique also shows your pup that playtime ends when playing too rough.
My rule of thumb is if we’re playing and the biting continues after a few “ouch!” corrections, I will put the puppy either in their crate or playpen to give them a chance to calm down. It’s not uncommon for puppies to get overstimulated while playing, and sometimes allowing them to rest is the best option to take. When your dog is riled up and biting like crazy, this can give them the notion that this behavior is okay if they are not corrected or separated from the stimulating situation.
Using Toys & Teaching “Leave It”
When your puppy has its mouth around your hand, it can be difficult to think about anything other than how sharp those darn teeth are. Reaching for a toy to redirect their attention after saying “ouch!” is a great way to give them something appropriate to gnaw on instead. Especially during teething, puppies need something to chew on to relieve the pains associated with their teeth loss. This is a natural behavior, so redirecting with a toy will allow them to keep chewing and for you to keep your hand safe.
Play biting is another opportunity for you to practice “leave it” and “take it” with your dog. I’ll use a rope toy and have them grab on to pull a good game of tug. Then, have them leave the toy for a moment. You can do this by making the toy seem “dead” by keeping it still. The moment your dog leaves the toy, reward them by making it seem “alive” again and telling them “take it.” For a more in-depth guide on teaching leave it, check out my article that outlines how to teach leave it and how to use the command in everyday situations.
Puppy Ankle Biting
If you have a herding breed, chances are you are at your wits end with ankle biting. These guys just LOVE to go for anything that is moving. In my experience, redirecting is the number one way to solve this. How do you redirect while walking with your laundry hamper in your hands you ask? The solution is a long rope toy that you can stick in your back pocket.
These rope toys saved my sanity and my ankles when we had both of our Aussie pups. Even our Sheltie still plays with it today. The best part about these ropes is that they done flake apart like traditional rope toys and are four feet long. They are the perfect object for your pup to follow around and latch onto, leaving your feet free from harm. And, if they get dirty, you can toss them in the washer with no problems.
Play biting is an instinctive reaction from your puppy but can be detrimental to your hands, legs, clothing, and anything else they can sink their teeth into. Knowing how to give them the proper correction by saying “ouch!” redirecting their attention and giving them appropriate toys are all ways to circumvent troublesome puppy biting.
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