By Dr. Laura van Dalen
Managing and controlling puppy biting or nipping problems can be a major challenge for most owners. Sometimes, puppy biting starts out as a fun game, and because the puppy is so cute, he goes away with crime. As time passes, the nipping can become a serious problem and this “innocent” game can end up in a really bad experience for a child that has a puppy that bites him and draws blood every time they play. By then, the parents are frustrated and the child doesn't want to play with the puppy anymore.
When puppies start playing at 2-3 weeks of age, they use their mouths with each other all the time. At the beginning, there is no harm done, but as puppy teeth erupt the bite play becomes a painful experience. Puppies need to go thru this stage to learn bite inhibition. Singletons have a hard time learning bite inhibition, because they didn’t have other siblings to teach them that biting hurts. Singletons are usually a challenge for the inexperienced owner.
It is normal for puppies between 4 and 16 weeks to become obsess with play fighting. This is not aggressive behavior meant to do harm. At 16 weeks your puppy will start teething. This is a rather long process that ends around the 7th month. Ice will help calm those inflamed gums.
Little puppies love to sink their little sharp teeth into just about anything during their first few months, including the hands and feet of their family. It is a difficult habit to break unless you teach your puppy that his behavior is not acceptable and it will result in unpleasant consequences.
Make your puppy think he is hurting you each time he has a nip at you. This method replicates the way puppies sort out this biting among themselves. When puppies are biting and nipping each other it only stops when the victim puppy yelps, bites back, or walks away. This is exactly what you need to do to correct this unwanted behavior.
As soon as a nip occurs, pinch your puppy in the side of his body at the rib cage level while you yell "NO". Once he stops, ignore him. Teach your puppy that nipping "turns off" the game. If he doesn’t try to do it again, after a few moments, you can praise him and let him know how good he is. Usually, this praising is interpreted by the puppy as a green light to nip again. Repeat as necessary. He will understand fast enough.
Never slap or hit your puppy in the face. Do not grab your puppy by the mouth and never shot his mouth close. He can bite his own tongue and get badly hurt. This does not work! You only are going to make things worse and your puppy is going to be afraid of you.
While you are trying to stop your puppy from biting, never play tug of war, wrestling or chase type games with him. This only encourages the biting and nipping.
The golden rule is to be consistent. This means that you and anyone else who comes into contact with your puppy must enforce the same technique every time your pup takes a nip.
Make sure your puppy has plenty of toys. Offer toys of different textures and sizes. Your puppy needs to use his teeth on something. Interactive toys, chews, and hard toys make excellent options to keep your puppy's mouth busy.
If you're worried that you may have an overly aggressive puppy on your hands, please seek the advice of an experienced animal behaviorist, your vet, or your breeder.
Always praise and reward good behavior!