Today we have a question I here often. I get it from people who have owned dogs before and from first time dog owners.
I have a young puppy, and she's really sweet, but she bites a lot. She's not trying to be mean, but it really hurts and I can't get her to stop. What should I do?
When puppies play, they're actually learning valuable life skills. They're learning how to fight and hunt. They're learning how much force to use when they bite. They're learning how to interact with others. Since dogs do not have hands with opposable thumbs, they have to use their mouths instead. So, when puppies play, biting and growling and jumping, think of it as being similar to two young boys wrestling. They don't mean any harm, but occasionally someone could get hurt. This is why yelping helps.
When a puppy or other dog yelps, he's signifying pain. He's telling the other puppy, "Hey!!! You hurt me!!" Over time, the biting puppy will learn how hard is too hard. He'll learn bite inhibition. Most trainers say to yelp as soon as your dog lays his teeth on you, but personally I like rough play, so my rule is a little different. I yelp as soon as it hurts...just like a normal puppy would. I also end the play at this point by standing up, crossing my arms, and turning my attention away. This teaches my dogs that they can play with me as they naturally would, but if they get too rough I'll quit. It keeps things fun for both of us.
I also teach my dogs basic obedience, so if they want to play when I don't want to I can simply give a command, like sit or down, to keep them a little calmer. By the same token, though, I make sure they get enough exercise throughout the day, so the chances of them wanting to play when I don't are slim.
The other thing you can do to help with biting is redirecting. When Cody was a pup, I almost always had a rope tug toy handy (it was my favorite toy for him at the time, but choose what works for you). If Cody started playing rough, and I didn't want to play just like that at that moment, I would pull out the tug toy. I would encourage Cody to tug on, chew on, and play with the tug toy, thus keeping my hands safe.
Notice, though, that I did not say I gave him the tug and hoped he'd leave me alone. It is still important that you interact with your puppy. Play a game of fetch. Make that tug game really fun. Stay connected with your pup, but let him know that the toy is way more fun than your hand.
By using a combination of yelping, obedience, and redirecting, you are certain to have a well-behaved, playful puppy. Have fun!!
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