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Keeping Mouthing and Biting Under Control

It’s normal for a puppy to use his mouth during play and social interactions, but it’s certainly no fun having those sharp teeth embedded in your ankle or arm. It’s important to teach your puppy how to use his mouth in an acceptable manner. Strategies for controlling the little piranha include giving him basic training, providing sufficient stimulation to meet his needs, encouraging acceptable behaviour, and interrupting undesirable biting behaviour.

Play biting is much less common in adult dogs than in puppies.
Don’t make things worse

Make sure you are not encouraging your puppy’s behaviour.  Don’t get the pup all fired up with rough play, teasing, or tug of war. Avoid games that encourage him to attack your hands or feet, and don’t wear gloves during play that allow or encourage the puppy to bite. You should also be careful not to reward “mouthy” behaviour. If your puppy gets your attention when he places his mouth on you, the behaviour will continue. Petting him, picking him up, gently talking to him, or even giving him a mild shove or a light scolding can reinforce the behaviour.
Channel that energy

If your puppy is constantly demanding attention by mouthing or biting excessively or is playing too rough, then he may not be receiving enough exercise and mental stimulation. If that’s the case, you’ll need to make sure he gets additional periods of vigorous play and exercise and more appropriate outlets for using his mouth. Give your pup plenty of exercise by walking (ask your puppy trainer for advice on what distance you should be walking). Playing fetch, romping in the yard, or chasing a ball.  You, not the puppy, should be the one to initiate these play sessions.

See that your puppy has frequent opportunities for playing with other friendly, young dogs. Provide plenty of interesting, interactive toys, like the ones that are designed to be manipulated to release a treat or those that promote prolonged chewing (a Kong is one of the best toys on the market, the Buster Cube is also a wonderful tool, ask one of the friendly staff at Twisted Whiskers for advice).  The more energy the pup uses for appropriate activities, the less he will use for mouthy biting behaviour. Remember generally “a tired puppy is a good puppy.”

You can take advantage of the pup’s breakfast/dinnertime as an extra opportunity for training and exercise. Take a small handful of kibble between you and another family member, and then stand some distance apart in the garden (the garden is best as the pup may slip on the tiles inside the house which is not good particularly for large breed pups (25kgs or more at adult weight). Take turns calling the puppy to come and sit for a piece of food. Give one kibble for the “come” to you and a second kibble when the pup sits. In addition o exercising the pet, this game provides social interaction and teaches the puppy to come to people and sit during greetings rather than jump up on them.
Take control early

Enrol your pet in puppy socialisation and training classes as soon as possible. Then, teach him that you are in control by using obedience commands. Ask him to sit before giving him things he wants or needs, and occasionally command him to stay for a second or two before following you around the home or stairs or going through a doorway. Ignore all pushy behaviours, such as nudging, pawing, or whining for attention.
Stop the biting – The process

You may want to permit soft mouthing and inhibited bites during play. Initially it is better not to allow any type of biting with you being part of the toy collection. Otherwise you confuse the puppy, especially as different members of the family have different tolerance levels. Only once the puppy has stopped biting you altogether could you consider teaching the pup soft contact by placing your hand in the pet’s mouth when he is very calm and praising him when he mouths softly.  

1) Whenever the puppy bites with enough pressure that it is uncomfortable for you, immediately stop playing, don’t say anything and walk away from him. Remember what your puppy wants most of all from you is attention. When you walk away and don’t interact at all, you remove the one thing the pup wants most of all.  Wait about ten seconds, and then lead him into another activity (e.g. Chewing on toys, fetch, obedience training).
2) Some pups want to keep you in the game and will grab hold of your clothing as you walk away to end the game. In this instance the use of a water pistol is a good idea. A water pistol can be a spray bottle (carefully washed if it contained detergent before). When the pup takes hold of your clothing or shoe laces then the “leave” command in a firm tone (see instructions of how to teach this below) should be given. In the beginning the pup will not know the leave command and so is unlikely to let go. In this instance a water spray bottle can be used to squirt the pup in the face – remember this is just water so will not harm the puppy but rather surprises him/her, causing the pup to let go. At this point you can reward the pup with your voice for letting go ie “good boy/girl” and continue walking away. You may need to repeat the exercise several times, although your pup will learn quickly, you will still need to persist – your puppy will test you. It is important not to make squirting the pup a game i.e. don’t giggle or smile as you are doing it – if the pup thinks it is a fun game they will obviously want to continue doing it.
3) If you find that your puppy loves the water spray you may need to up the stakes a little. This would mean a “time out”. Please contact Amanda 0833064599 for help with this.

Enough is enough – using a “Leave” command

While some mouthing during play is acceptable, it is important that the pet learns to leave on command. This can be done by giving an “Leave” command when he is biting. Begin your training when the pet is very calm. Hand the puppy a small piece of food as you say Take it” in a relaxed tone. Next, hold another piece of food in front of him, and firmly say “Leave” only raise your voice if the puppy does not respond and gradually return to a normal voice tone as the puppy becomes better at it. If the puppy does not attempt to make contact with your hand or the food, looks away from your hand or looks up at you for guidance, say “Take it” and give him the food. Be dramatic, lean toward the pup, and make eye contact when you give the instruction to “Leave”. Gradually increase the time the puppy has to wait. Once he learns to leave the food alone on command, practice the exercise without food by using only your hand. Later, repeat the exercise when the puppy is more keyed up.

The goal is to get to the point where the puppy will not take food or touch your hand once you have said “Leave”, no matter how tasty the treat or how interesting your hand. For this technique to work, the whole family must be very consistent, have precise timing, and practice every day. Eventually, the puppy will stop biting when you give the command the first time but this takes time and patience.

Take time to settle down

There will likely be times when your pet is out of control and you have no time to effectively deal with the problem.  In those situations, the best solution is to confine him to a safe area until he settles down. Once he has relaxed, release him and encourage him to play in an appropriate manner.  Occasionally, providing toys stuffed with food such as the Kong (you can download recipes off the Internet to stuff the Kong) can provide a distraction to keep your pet’s mouth off of you when you don’t have the time or energy to concentrate on controlling his behaviour.

What not to do

Avoid harsh corrections and physical punishment. Never hit or slap your pet, thump his nose, squeeze his lips against his teeth, shake him by the scuff of the neck, roll him on his back, or force your fingers into his mouth. This kind of correction is likely to make the biting problem worse, ruin the bond with your pet, and lead to more serious problems, such as fear and aggression, use the positive training methods described above, and soon your puppy’s “piranha” behaviour will disappear.