Looking closely at puppy parents on their first night of class, I often notice a plethora of small, tiny holes covering pant legs from ankle to calf and tiny, pinprick scabs from puppy teeth marks on their hands and forearms. I firmly believe that puppies are designed to be so cute specifically so we will overlook how perfectly awful they can be with their teeth.
1. Let your puppy stay with her litter until at least 8 weeks. Your puppy’s mother and littermates serve an invaluable function – it is they who begin laying the foundation in teaching your puppy how to use her teeth gently through play. Frequently, nipping problems are the worst in puppies who are taken from their litters too early. If you are getting your puppy from a responsible breeder who is doing the work of socialization with the litter, you can let your puppy stay with the litter until ten or even twelve weeks of age.
2. Give your puppy plenty of opportunities to socialize with other puppies and well-socialized adult dogs. Other well-socialized dogs are fantastic assistants in your puppy training and socialization plan. The more well-socialized dogs and puppies she interacts with in play, the more feedback she will get from a variety of dogs about her bite strength. If she bites another dog or puppy too hard in play, the other puppy will most likely yelp and then temporarily discontinue play, giving the offender a play “time out.” Aim for introducing your puppy to 50 friendly dogs within her first 100 days of life.
3. Always be prepared to redirect. Puppies, like human babies, need to teethe, so be prepared at all times with chew toys, frozen KONG toys, a frozen carrot or marrow bone, or a bully stick. If your puppy gets exceptionally nippy, redirect to something you do want your dog to chew on, thus giving her an acceptable and healthy outlet for her natural need to teethe and chew. Praise her lavishly for chewing on appropriate items.
4. Be a Tree. Be a Tree is a program developed to help dogs and kids live safely together. Be a Tree is a method of freezing in place when your puppy gets nippy. Puppies very rarely nip at trees, because trees are boring – they don’t move. Movement is often a trigger for nipping, so stopping movement when your puppy nips can be extremely effective in calming the puppy quickly and effectively. How and Why to Be a Tree from Doggone Safe
5. Click for a soft mouth. If you have already charged a clicker, we will be using a clicker to mark the appropriate mouthing behavior. If you would rather use a verbal marker, simply replace the click with your marker word.
- Hold a treat in your hand, make a fist.
- Present your fist to your dog.
- Your puppy will likely nose at, nip at, or paw at your hand. Ignore all of this.
- When your puppy licks your hand gently, click and immediately open your hand, feeding from a flat palm.
- Repeat until your dog is immediately licking your presented fist each time.
- Present fist, say “gentle” and click when your puppy licks your hand. Open hand and deliver from flat palm.
- Repeat with a variety of types of treats.
- Have other friends and family members play the game with your puppy.
Bite inhibition is one of the most important life skills your puppy will ever learn, so it is well worth the small investment of training time involved. Consistency will be key to your success, so make sure to spend the time teaching all family members these five, quick, simple tips and you will be well on your way to teaching your puppy how to use her mouth gently and appropriately.