Puppies’ mouths are filled with about 28 teeny-tiny razors that seem to be attracted to your fingers or toes. Dog trainers call it “play biting,” but it’s irksome and often painful when your cuddly pup seems to be all teeth. However, this is completely normal for teething and necessary for development, and something you can train away with a few simple steps.
Teach your puppy bite inhibition.
Learning how to moderate the force of a bite is very important for all dogs. There may come a time when they’re in pain or fearful, and they put their mouth on you or someone else. But if they’ve learned bite inhibition, they understand that they shouldn’t bite down hard. Puppies naturally nip at each other while playing. If they bite too hard on their mother or littermate, the other dog will likely make a loud yelp sound, warning the puppy, “Hey, that hurt!”
Depending on the dog, you can teach this, as well, by making a high-pitched “ow!” sound if they bite you. Beware though, because, for some puppies, this actually gets them even more worked up and likely to bite. In this case, it is better to turn quietly around, walk away, or gently put the pup into their crate for a few minutes to calm down. If they do back off, be sure to reward your dog with a treat and some verbal praise.
Teach your puppy that biting means “game over.”
If your puppy bites you while playing, that means playtime is over, with no exceptions. Yelling at or physically punishing your puppy, as strange as it sounds, is also a type of reward. It teaches them that biting gets some kind of response from you, which is known as negative reinforcement. This can also make them fearful of being handled. Instead, teach them that biting will get them nothing. Kathy Santo, dog trainer and columnist for AKC Family Dog, suggests turning around and tucking your hands into your armpits.
“It’s actually a calming signal and a minor form of attention withdrawal,” she says. “And be careful not to roughhouse with your young pup in ways that only encourage them to lose control and bite you.”
Give your puppy an alternative item to chew.
It’s a good idea to keep a puppy chew toy at hand at all times, so you can anticipate biting behavior and substitute the toy for your hand or furniture. Doing so will let pups know what is OK to bite or chew. If they start nibbling at your fingers or toes while you’re playing, offer a toy instead.
Again, if they continue to nip, stop the play session immediately. If you’ve been training your puppy to sit, you might also redirect them by asking them to sit and rewarding with a toy.