Use these easy techniques to prevent or inhibit biting or mouthing in puppies or any age without having to get professional help.
New puppies have the charm of a stuffed bear, the wondrous smell of cuteness, and the razor sharp teeth of a shark! Your adorable little monster is a delight in your home yet you have to keep band-aids near after playtime. Your hands look like you walked into a briar patch and started gardening. Clothing is ripped and forget trying to hand feed him treats. What do you do? Not to worry, there are several simple steps to preventing your new puppy from biting or mouthing. In addition, if you have an older puppy or have adopted a dog of unknown age, these tips and tricks will work. I caution that faint of heart, for you have to be stern and very brave with your little fur ball.
Another important note, do not assume because you have a small dog that you do not want to forbid this behavior on the account that they may not do as much damage. Puppies are puppies, and they all need discipline. They are pack animals and appreciate when their role is established or determined for them. You must be Alpha male/female. Dogs find a happier path when they know what the hierarchy is. Establishing yourself as Alpha is easy. In a firm but deep voice, you issue warnings, and commands. Then you immediately praise them in the highest voice you can achieve. Be assertive in your body language. That is the first pattern you want to establish. Then you want to figure out what commands you want to use and stick with them. I suggest sit, stay, down, up, off, come, go, and either wrong, or no. Never associate a command with the dog’s name. The name should be an attention-focusing tool only. Once you realize that part of training a dog is training yourself to be observant to their behavior, you will become more symbiotic with them.
Puppies use their mouths as a form of communication. When they are young, it is their way of honing future skills that they would need in the wild such as catching prey, marking their place in the pack, and communicating a need. Until they are inducted into the world of humans, these are their survival skills. When a new puppy bites and mouths your hand, it is usually because it wants to play. It also is teething so it sees your hand as a toy when you fling it around before them. To keep those teeth marks off your body, employ these techniques.
First, remove your hand as the item of play and administer a firm “No! Or Wrong!” quickly. Then give a chew toy to your puppy and praise him extravagantly when he takes it. Repeat this every time they go for your arm or hand. The second trick to utilize is holding the muzzle shut with your hands, be careful only to hold it closed but do not hurt the puppy, and tell him “no!” loudly. This lets them know that it is not acceptable to place their mouths around your body parts. Immediately after you have done this place your hand or arm near their mouths again, when they attempt to grab it with their mouth, grab them gently by the muzzle, hold it closed and repeat “no!”.
Now if your dog still will not stop using you or others as their personal chew toy, another means to deter the behavior is to use a loud sound, like a quick clap of the hand near their face at the moment they try to bite or mouth. When they back away or shy away, praise them immediately. Positive reinforcement such as this is the key to preventing a hand shy dog. Some dogs use biting and mouthing as a dominance ploy. In this case, if the afore mentioned techniques evaded response, grab the scruff of the neck firmly and pin your dog to the ground, gently place a knee across their tummy. Be gentle but very firm. Hold them there until they submit. Submission occurs when the ears relax, the legs are not stiff, and they expose their belly to you. Repeat this every time they perform a negative behavior that you want to break. I also find that if they have a firm hold on you, it behooves you to push your hand or arm farther into their mouths where the jaw becomes too wide. They will then try to remove their mouths quickly because they no longer feel like they are in control. The final solution is one that is painless and is a quick deterrent but can be messy: the water filled spray bottle. You may not want to keep one lying around but one quick spray in the face usually deters most unwanted dog behavior.
There is another type of biting or mouthing behavior that must be kept from developing. That is food aggression. Your dog should not growl, show teeth, or snap at you or another dog when they are eating, there is food near, or you are handing out treats. Now some dogs that are malnourished develop this due to previous lack of food. Mostly all puppies act as if they have been starved. Do not be fooled. That is just a survival instinct that they are born with. The first time that I attempted to teach my adopted Akita not to be food aggressive was one of the most nervous moments of my life. I had no idea what his background had been. First, I placed a bowl of food in front of him. Then I focused his attention by calling his name and never breaking eye contact with him. Then I knelt down slowly and put my hand in his food. I picked up a piece of food and handed it to him firmly saying “gently, gently” and he took it from me without biting or nipping my fingers. Next, when he bent over to eat his food, I put my hand in it and knelt near him. As he ate, I continued to move my hand in and out of the bowl. I continued to praise him the whole time with “Good Boy” in a high-pitched voice. I repeated this for two weeks when I fed him. He became so ingressive that he would actually let another dog eat from his bowl with no reaction. I warn though to keep your face out of the way if you are not positive about the reaction. Most puppies however will not be that aggressive.
All the tips given here can be used singularly, in tandem, or you can employ them in your determination of the level of discipline that your puppy needs or responds to. I have used them all and continue to do so daily during my job as a dog daycare and kennel provider.