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Puppy Biting is Normal, Natural & Necessary...

puppy biting, natural and necessary

... Puppy play-fighting and play-biting - essential learning experiences

Puppy teeth are needle sharp, although their jaws are weak, and when playing together puppies quickly and effectively let each other know when someone has been a little too rough. 

Playing with other dogs is a hugely rewarding and enjoyable experience for your pup. While essential for developing effective bite inhibition, play sessions with other puppies should be carefully controlled and incorporated into training as a life reward rather than being allowed to run out of control. Young puppies also benefit from mixing with adolescent and adult dogs, however rough and tumble with larger more agile dogs can result in injury to immature joints. Puppy play always needs to be managed and supervised.

Puppy biting rarely causes any real harm, however many bites are painful enough to elicit an appropriate reaction—a yelp and a pause in an otherwise fun and enjoyable play session. When play resumes it is at a slower and more gentle. In this way puppies quickly teach one another that bite pressure needs to be controlled if play is to continue and they learn to play-bite gently before they acquires the stronger jaws and more formidable teeth of an adolescent dog.

If your puppy is forbidden from, or denied the opportunity of play biting he will not learn that his jaws can inflict pain. Consequently, if he is ever provoked or frightened as an adult, his bite is more likely to be painful and cause serious injury.

Obviously as your puppy grows up his play-biting must become controlled, but this needs to be done in a progressive and systematic manner. 

Your puppy must be taught to inhibit the force of his bites, before he learns to stop biting altogether. First he learns to control the pressure of his bite then he learns to reduce the frequency of his now gentler mouthing.

Teaching your puppy to inhibit the force of his bites is a two-step process: first, teach the pup not to hurt you when he bites and then teach him not to exert any pressure at all when biting. Once he understands that mouthing must be gentle for the play to continue you can teach him to control the frequency of mouthing. 

This again is a two-step process: first, teach him that gentle mouthing is OK, but he must stop when requested; and finally teach him never to initiate mouthing play unless he is asked to do so.

It is certainly not necessary to hurt, frighten or physically punish your pup to teach him that biting hurts. A simple "Ouch!" and a temporary withdrawal from play is often sufficient. If your puppy acknowledges your "ouch" and  plays more gently, praise him, reaffirm that you are in control of the game by luring him to sit and rewarding him for complying, then resume playing. 

If your pup ignores the initial "ouch" and continues biting, yelp "Owwwch!" and leave the room thereby depriving your puppy of his playmate. This gives your puppy the time he needs to make the connection between biting and having a playmate. Return to the room after a couple of minutes and make up by lure-rewarding your puppy to come, sit, lie down, and calm down, before resuming play. 

When your puppy is playing too rough or biting too hard, it is much better to take yourself away from the pup than to attempt to take restrain him or to carry him to his confinement area. Make a habit of playing with your puppy in his long term confinement area or in a room where it is safe to leave him if he gets over excited. If he continues to play rough, you can safely walk away from the game, refuse to play and leave him to settle down by himself. 

Once your puppy’s bites no longer hurt, still pretend that they do. Respond to his less gentle nips with a yelp of pretend-pain. Your puppy will soon get the idea that his bites need to be gentler still and he will progressively decrease bite pressure until his play-biting becomes play-mouthing.

Ideally by the time your pup is three months old he should not be hurting when he bites, and by four and a half months he should be mouthing gently.

Mouthing of human hair or clothing should not be allowed. It is impossible to give your puppy feedback on the pressure of his biting if his teeth cannot be felt. Allowing him to mouth hair, scarves, shoelaces, trouser legs, sleeves or gloved hands, inadvertently trains him to bite harder before he gets feedback.

Once your puppy exerts no pressure whatsoever when mouthing, then —and only then—teach him to reduce the frequency of his mouthing. 

First teach an  "Off" command using food as both a distraction and a reward.

The process for teaching “Off” progresses in tiny steps.

Take a treat in your hand, let your puppy know its there but keep the treat inside a closed fist and say "Off," just once. Initially your puppy will snuffle at your hand trying to get the treat, but eventually he will pull his nose away from your hand. When your puppy takes his nose away from your hand for just one second, say, "Take it" and open up your closed fist so that he can have it the treat. 

Once your pup has mastered the first step increase the time to two and then three seconds of no nose contact before you say ‘Take It’ and offer him the treat then gradually increase the no-contact time to five, seven, ten, fifteen seconds, and so on. 

Count out the seconds out loud and praise the dog with each second: "Good pup one, good pup two, good pup three," If your pup touches the treat before you are ready to give it, simply start the count from zero again. 

Your puppy will quickly learn that once you say "Off," he can not have the treat until you say “Take It’. In addition to teaching ‘Off’ and ‘Take It’ the regular hand feeding practiced by this technique encourages your pup's soft mouth.

Once your pup understands the ‘Off’ command you can practice with the treat in plain sight, either in an open palm, on the floor, or between his paws. However, you should not allow the pup to ‘Take It’ from the floor, always pick up the treat at the end of your counted ‘Off’ and allow him to ‘Take It’ from your hand.

You can also use the "Off" request, using food as a lure and a reward, to teach him to let go of toys such as a ball or tug toy. Say ‘Off’ and waggle some food as a lure to entice your pup to let go of the toy and sit. Then praise the pup and give the food as a reward when he does so. This same technique can then be extended to and used to call and end to mouthing.

The main point of this routine is to practice stopping your pup from mouthing, and so each time your he obediently stops when asked to do so, praise him and then resume playing once more. Practice stopping and re-starting the mouthing play session over and over again. When you decide it’s time to stop playing altogether, say, "Off" and then offer your puppy a stuffed chew toy rather than a reward treat.

If your pup ever refuses to release your hand when requested, quickly remove your hand from his mouth, and storm out of the room mumbling, "Ow ! Bully ! - Right…that’s it, finished, I’m not playing!" and shut the door in his face. Give him a couple of minutes on his own then go back in to him. Ask him to come, sit and make up before continuing the mouthing game and trying the ‘Off’ command again.

By the time your pup is five months old he should never initiate mouthing playing unless invited to do so; he should never exert any pressure when mouthing; and he should stop mouthing and calm down immediately when asked to do so by any family member.

Whether or not you allow your adult dog to play mouth is up to you. 

Many owners prefer their dog not to mouth people at all, which can be achieved by six to eight months of age. However, it is essential to continue hand feeding exercises regularly so ensure that your puppy maintains a soft and gentle mouth.

Other owners with good control over their dog continue to enjoy regular play-fighting and mouthing games. To prevent your puppy from getting out of control during such games, you must always play by the rules and teach your dog to play by the rules. Practice stopping and restarting the game repeatedly. Play-fighting, with a reliable and consistent ‘Off’ or ‘Enough’ command gives you the opportunity to practice controlling your puppy when he is excited before a real-life situation occur which may require such control.