Puppy Biting: How can it be controlled?
Puppy play is great fun not only for you, but is also very beneficial to the puppy’s growth and development. However, there is something about a sharp bite that can quickly put a damper on play. Early in life, puppies have sharp teeth and have not yet developed “bite inhibition” (the ability to control the pressure of their bite). It is important to teach bite inhibition in puppies at an early age to avoid a nasty habit of having a hard mouth later in life.
Puppies explore the word with their mouths. They also use their mouths while engaging in play with littermates. While in their litters, puppies learn bite inhibition from each other. As puppies play together, they wrestle and bite each other. As soon as the bite of a puppy becomes too hard, the other playmate yelps and play stops. After a short break puppies usually engage in play once again. This process of play stopping and starting among littermates is very common, and is also a good start to learning bite inhibition. Essentially, puppies eventually learn that when they bite too hard, their playmates stop the play. To a puppy, stopping playtime sends a pretty strong message.
Although most puppies learn a bit about bite inhibition with littermates, the training should not stop there. If owners disregard the play biting, it can develop into a serious problem that can quickly become dangerous. I have seen many instances when owners engage in play with puppies and puppy bites, the owners result to pushing the puppy away, pulling their hand away slowly or even hitting the puppy. Pushing the puppy away or dragging your hand away is simply engaging the puppies prey drive; in essence, it is encouraging the puppy to continue playing and biting. You never want to hit your puppy because it will damage your bond, and will also discourage play, which is essential to a puppy’s development.
The most positive and effective way to correct this behavior is to mimic the actions of puppies in a litter. If you are playing with a puppy and their bite gets too hard, or if he goes from biting a toy to your hand, you need to make a high pitch “ouch!” or yelp. Most importantly, after a yelp from you, immediately get up and turn your back to the puppy and play stops. This sends a very strong message because puppies want to play, but if they play too rough, play stops.
After a few minutes of the puppy being calm, you may resume play. If biting results again, repeat the process. Puppies will quickly learn that the value of play is important to them and will be able to better control their bite.
I would also like to voice the importance of keeping a puppy with its litter for an appropriate amount of time so that they can begin to learn bite inhibition with littermates. After 8 weeks, you can continue to teach what the puppy has already learned from littermates. I have found this to be the most positive and effective form of training this natural tendency into a positive experience for both pet and owner.