At our Puppy Training Classes in Monterey, Gilroy, and Capitola, we often address mouthing, play biting and nipping.
Puppies have these natural tendencies to nip at your heels, shoes or hands. New dog owners accidentally confuse this behavior for aggression. Even though your puppy does not mean any harm, puppy teeth are quite sharp! It is important to address mouthing, play biting or nipping in your puppy immediately is so it is not an issue as your dog grows.
This is a question we answer daily at Central Coast: Off Leash K9 Training.
Understand what dogs and puppies do during play, then replicate the behavior. When littermates are playing in their early life (8-weeks and below), they learn “bite inhibition.” Bite inhibition means that your puppy learns how to control the force of his/her bite while playing with other littermates.
When one littermate bites another littermate too harshly, that littermate will let out a “yelp,” stopping play. The offending puppy learns the bite was too hard. “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt” is an appropriate quote for this scenario!
When your puppy bites, replicate this above behavior by letting out a little “yelp.” End the session after the yelp. Place the puppy in a different room or you can go to a different room. After 20-30 seconds, come back out and resume the play, then repeat as needed.
If this does not work, go to any dog store and get something called, “Bitter Apple Spray.” This was developed specifically for dogs and it has a very bitter flavor. It is not harmful, but very effective. When your dog starts play biting or mouthing, say “NO” and then spray this into their mouth. Your puppy quickly learns to associate mouthing with this bitter taste in their mouth.
Anytime your puppy begins tugging/biting on your shoes or article of clothing, try replacing the item with something that they CAN have (toy, bone, tug, etc). You are correcting and redirecting the behavior. Try not to wrestle or roughhouse with your puppy as this will only instigate him/her play biting, nipping, or mouthing.
If you are still having trouble with your puppy or adult dog play biting, mouthing, or nipping, you should find a qualified trainer in your area to help with these issues.