Socialization and play time with other puppies is the absolute best way for a puppy to acquire bite inhibition, says LA SPCA dog trainer Courtney Bayer. (LA SPCA)
On Tuesday nights, I hold a Puppy Manners class, and I call it my weekly therapy session. There is nothing more delightful than being in a room full of tumbling puppies under 4 months old. There is also a lot of stress that comes with being a new puppy owner.
The “Big Three” puppy difficulties seem to be biting, chewing, and jumping up. House training comes in a close fourth, but that simply takes time and patience. I have addressed time outs for jumping and redirection for chewing in the past, so I will focus here on the biting.
Just because the dog is small doesn’t mean the teeth are dull. Baby teeth can be sharp! Puppies don’t have jaws strong enough to inflict major damage, but their teeth can cause bad scratches and bruises.
It is important that young puppies are allowed to bite to a certain degree: this is how they learn bite inhibition so that when they are older with stronger jaws, they do not hurt other dogs or people. Socialization and play time with other puppies is the absolute best way for a puppy to acquire bite inhibition.
With humans, they should be permitted to put their mouths on our hands and arms as long as it does not involve clamping or shaking. If we punish any and all biting, we are not teaching the dog how to bite softly, which is a very important skill for adult dogs. However, if the bite is too hard, you should say “Ouch!” or “Enough!” and remove yourself from the situation for a few moments.
When you come back, if the puppy continues to bite hard, issue a time out in a play pen, puppy-proofed room, or just end the play session abruptly. This needs to be repeated and practiced consistently. The puppy will learn that when he bites hard, fun time stops. When he is calm, trade your hands and arms for better things that a puppy can chew, such as teething rings and stuffed toys, and get in some object exchange practice while you work on the biting.
Ideally, puppies learn some bite inhibition when they are still nursing. When a nursing pup bites too hard, the mother dog will get up (just like with our time outs!) and take the source of food and comfort (herself) away from the puppy.
We can’t leave it all to the mother dogs, though, as some puppies are rougher than others, or perhaps they were singleton pups or separated from the litter too early. Again, allowing your puppy the chance to play with other puppies in a controlled environment is going to take care of most biting issues. Older adult dogs, as long as they are tolerant, can help show the puppy the ins and outs of polite play and biting as well. This should be accomplished before the puppy is 5 months old, when those adult teeth come in and strong jaws develop.