Coping with Puppy Mouthing, Biting, Nipping, and Ouching

Puppies explore the world with their mouths. For a puppy, no object exists for any reason other than to bite down on. Socks, bras, underwear, furniture, cabinets, cables, remote controls, arms, legs, fingers, noses – nothing is safe.

If you are following the Puppy 911 method, you should not be having too many problems with your puppy chewing on inanimate objects. But what to do about the puppy chewing on people?

The good news is that it’s a phase – like potty training, it’s probably not something you’ll be concerned with a year from now.

The bad news is that you’re just going to need to get through it. No different than how a human parent can’t completely avoid changing diapers and dealing with temper tantrums.

Ugggghhhhh. How do I cope with my puppy’s biting phase?

There are a few techniques I recommend when the puppy bites “too hard”. I use all of them at different times. A video demonstration of the first two techniques is below the descriptions.

Technique 1:
Give a gentle “buzzer” sound or “ouch!” and quickly stand up and turn away from the puppy with no eye contact. After about 5 seconds, begin playing again. If the puppy bites too hard again, great! Disengage again – repetition is great for learning!

Technique 2:
Similar to the first technique but sometimes easier. Give a gentle “buzzer” sound or “ouch!” and quickly disengage from play for two seconds by turning your back and eyes from the puppy. Turn back around and put a toy in the puppy’s face and encourage to mouth the toy instead of you.

Technique 3:
Engage with the puppy in a different way – hand targeting, self-control exercises, sit, down, stay.

* It can be difficult to define what “too hard” means. If you are inconsistent with that threshold, the puppy doesn’t really learn what amount of pressure is “too hard”. If you make the threshold “any teeth on skin” then you’re going to spend a lot of time turning around and potentially miss out on teaching some useful bite inhibition towards people.

These techniques aren’t one size fits all and none are perfect. None will stop the biting outright. Properly implemented, they will simply make it easier for you to cope with this very necessary puppy phase. Try them for at least three days. Practice is not only important for the puppy, but it’s important for you.

Why do puppies bite so much?

The short answer is that mouthing is crucial to their learning and development.

You’ve probably noticed that your puppy’s teeth are razor sharp. This is by design – sharp teeth help the puppy gain precision control over the force of their bite. When a puppy plays with a littermate, the littermate lets them know when their bite is too hard – often by yelping and then disengaging from play for a few seconds. No significant injuries can occur because while their teeth are sharp, their jaws are very weak.

Sharp puppy teeth are replaced by duller adult teeth and the puppy’s jaws become much stronger during adolescence (around 4 or 5 months old!) They are now capable of causing serious injury but the precise jaw control they learned during puppyhood allows them to diffuse conflict without necessarily hurting anyone – a skill that is very beneficial from an evolutionary standpoint if you think about it!

Children and puppies!

Kids are especially fun objects to chew on. They move quickly and wave their hands around and make squeaky sounds. Most young children are unable to perform the first two techniques. But you can teach them productive ways to engage with the puppy. Kids over 5 years can use treats to get the dog to do things like hand target, sit, and down. Older children can also play fetch and “find it” games. (Hint: Reward your kids with for practicing training with the puppy!). Another way to help the child is to teach them to “stand like a tree” when the puppy chases after them – stop, stand still, hold hands straight down to the side, looking straight ahead (not at puppy).

If the child is unwilling or unable to cope with the biting themselves, then adults must step in. If you are following Puppy 911, you are by definition not leaving the puppy with the children free and unattended. Distract the puppy yourself using toys or training, or put in a Self Amusement appointment.