Biting is a natural instinct for a puppy that is using his mouth to touch, taste and learn about everything in his world. While mothers teach their pups acceptable levels of biting, many are weaned and rehomed before this instruction is complete, leaving it to the pup’s owner to finish. If you don't curb your pup’s biting and mouthing habits, it can turn into a dangerous situation as he gets older, particularly if he uses biting as a way to exert his will.
Why Puppies Bite
Puppies gently mouth or bite at their mothers when they're young as a way to get food and attention, and as a way to interact and establish dominance with litter mates. A mother dog and siblings will indicate that a bite is too hard with a loud yip, something you may have to replicate in your training efforts. When your pup nips, let out a high-pitched, “ouch!” to let him know he’s gone too far. Scale back your volume if he cowers.
Provide Chew Toys
Get suitable chew toys for your puppy to have on hand when it’s play time and biting, clothes-pulling or chewing urges strike your dog. Not only can toys be used to occupy your puppy, you can use the toys to redirect his biting behavior when he gets out of hand. When your pup starts to bite, firmly say, “no” and put the chew toy into his mouth instead. Don’t play aggressive games like tug-of-war or keep-away, as it will only encourage the mouthy behaviors.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Once your puppy starts to get the hang of listening to your “no bite” commands, reward his positive behavior with love, attention and treats. For example, if your puppy likes to bite when you're playing or petting him, yet follows your commands to stop, reward him for his good behavior. Ignore biting behavior as well by simply breaking eye contact or walking away when he doesn’t listen.
Teething can be painful for a puppy, and he may exhibit excessive biting, mouthing and chewing habits during this growth stage. Don’t allow your pup to use your fingers and toes as soothing pacifiers. Instead, give him plenty of appropriate chewing options that will help relieve sore gums. Commercial puppy teething toys are available in pet supply stores.
General obedience training can help curb unwanted biting and help your dog learn to follow commands and become better socialized. Train your pup at home or join a group training class at a community center or pet store. If you still find it difficult to curb biting habits, or if behavior turns aggressive, consult your vet or a pet behavioral therapist to find out if there’s an underlying reason for the problem that goes beyond typical puppy behavior.