Our dog has started to 'play' bite. What can we do to discourage it?

Asked by Steffanie

1 Answer

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Play biting and mouth behaviour is common in puppies and it is important to train them out of it. If an older dog is mouthing you, it is likely they have never learned that this is not acceptable behaviour.

If you watch a litter of puppies playing, they will be constantly biting at each others ears, legs and bodies. This is a normal behaviour and how they learn about the world and each other. However, if one puppy nips another and hurts them, the injured pup will yelp and stop play. This will only last a second or two before they are back into the rough and tumble but it is enough to make the biter realise their mistake and will discourage them from doing it again as they don’t want to stop the fun!

This is called ‘Bite Inhibition’ and is an extremely important lesson to learn. It is one of the reasons why it is vital that pups stay together and with the bitch until they are at least eight weeks old.

That said, accidental nipping when playing with a young puppy is very common and not an indication of issues but you do need to deal with it correctly. If your puppy hurts you; you should make a high pitched noise (like a yelp!) and move away from them for a few seconds. It does not need to be a long withdrawal, just enough to make them stop what they have been doing. If this doesn’t work and they continue to try to mouth you, or they get excited, I find a puppy version of the ‘naughty step’ helpful. Simply pick them up, do not talk or look at them, and place them outside of the room and close the door. Only for a couple of seconds but enough for them to get the message, “If you play like that, you don’t get to play at all”.

I also think it is helpful to have some training on board, even at a very young age. If your puppy is getting over excited and nipping, a high pitched noise to distract them and then a quickly given ‘sit’ command, often leads to their bottom hitting the floor before they really realise what is going on. This gives you then the double advantage of stopping the behaviour and of turning it into something positive by them successfully listening to you. It might not happen perfectly every time, but do try it!

For older dogs the challenge can be greater but use the same principles. When they try to mouth you, move away and say ‘no’. Be sure to reward them if they do as they are told. Often in adults it is attention seeking, so be sure to ignore them until they are calm and not mouthing. Once they have stopped turn their attention to something else; a couple of minutes of commands (sit, give a paw etc) or offer a toy to play with. This way you don’t reward the behaviour with attention and give them options for other ways to interact with you positively. | 05.07.16 @ 15:40
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$commenter.renderDisplayableName() — {comment} | 08.22.17 @ 10:51
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