Puppy Nipping and Mouthing

by DFS-Pet-Blog on January 13, 2010

By guest author, Victoria Schade, Professional Pet Trainer.

Your puppy keeps mistaking you for a chew toy, right?  Many new puppy owners worry that the force and frequency of their puppy’s mouthing signals a “dominant” dog with a problem.  But that’s not usually the case.

PuppiesWatch two puppies playing for a few minutes and you’ll notice that mouthing plays a major role.  When one puppy gets overexcited and bites too hard, the other pup squeals his displeasure.  Play resumes, and the rough biter is more aware of just how hard he can – or can’t – bite his playmate.  If the rough biter doesn’t get the idea and once more bites too hard,  his playmate might decide to end the game by walking or running away.   You can mimic this efficient puppy feedback by employing the “ouch!” technique, a gentle way to help puppies learn to inhibit their bites.

Puppy1I happen to enjoy when a pup mindlessly mouths my finger. I’ll allow the mouthing to continue as long as it doesn’t hurt.

You must determine how much pressure is too much, and be consistent about it.  This means that you can’t allow a knuckle-cruncher in the morning but forbid a soft pinkie-grab in the afternoon.   Any mouthing that doesn’t exceed your threshold is okay to continue, but the second your pup chomps painfully, shriek “OUCH!” as if he just ripped off your fingernail.

If you’ve tried this technique and it doesn’t seem to be working, perhaps your  “ouch” isn’t very convincing.    Acting skills come in handy for this lesson – you really can’t overdo it.  And  be sure to take a moment after you say “ouch” to nurture your bloody stump and, ignore your pup. Then, after a minute or so,  go right back to interacting with him.

If your puppy doesn’t get your message and chomps too hard once more, you should employ the most potent puppy punisher available:  social isolation.  Mark the bite with a dramatic “ouch!” and this time get up and leave the room. You want your puppy to understand that a rough mouth makes the fun and games end.  I use the two –strikes- and you’re- out”- rule:   the second time the pup bears down too hard, I leave the room.  If turning your back to your pup when leaving the room offers him a new target to chomp, consider playing with him while he’s on a tether.   Using a leash to keep him secured in one area allows you to make your escape without getting a tush  full of puppy teeth!

Puppy DogSome puppies get over-excited by the squeakiness or volume of the “ouch” technique and come back nipping even harder.  If that’s the case with your pup, mark the behavior with a word or phrase like “I quit” or “bummer”, and move on to the social isolation phase quicker.

I don’t recommend outdated training techniques like clamping your pup’s mouth shut.  I’ve found that this technique frustrates many puppies, and makes them want to bite you even harder!

At about month four, when your pup is able to gently mouth you without exceeding comfortable pressure, it’s time to start weaning him off of mouth-to-skin contact completely.  From this point on, any time his mouth hits your skin, say “ouch”, keeping in mind that you probably won’t have to be as dramatic because he understands what it means.

Puppy2If you’re playing with your dog and his mouth “accidentally” hits your skin drop the toy and walk away from the game.  Trust me, your pup knows the difference between his ratty old tug toy and your silken skin, so don’t cut him any breaks if he has a wandering mouth!  Beginning at approximately month five, canine teeth on human skin is a no-no.

Victoria-SchadeAbout the author: Victoria Schade is an APDT Certified Pet Dog Trainer and an honors graduate from the San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers with a Counseling Certificate. She has worked with thousands of dogs – and dog owners – and has honed her unique dog handling and “coaching” technique. She earns rave reviews from her customers for her ability to help every dog be a good dog. Check out Victoria’s DVD: New Puppy! Now What? and her blog, Life On the Leash.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason January 15, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Thanks for the article..here is another on the same subject with just a slightly different approach. I think both would work: http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/stop-puppy-nipping-urgecontrol/

Donna Morgan October 31, 2010 at 10:28 pm

My questions ishow long should we allow two puppies,
(5 weeks apart in age) to romp and play and chasing each other and biting and chewing on each other. They are too rough for other small dogs. They are pugs and are 17 and 19 pounds and just turning 1 year old. I would appreciate any advise.

Dr. Scott A. McKay November 9, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Dear Donna,
First and foremost I would make sure that these dogs receive lots of interaction with you and are exercised regularly. As far as the biting issue: you have a few options. You can closely supervise their play and distract the dogs when the play biting begins. The dogs can be distracted with a familiar command (no-bite!) and then given a favorite toy to play with.

Another technique is to use a head halter with an attached lead and a familiar command to interrupt play when it becomes too rough. When you gain their attention you can use the halter to divert the dog’s head. You could also allow your two dogs to “work-it-out” among themselves as they play (while closely monitoring the situation!). If one of the dogs is playing “too rough” the other will typically let him know; either by leaving the play area or retaliating. In either case play will stop.

In extreme cases or if your dogs can’t be supervised for extended periods of time, you might consider using a basket muzzle. Dogs explore and interact with their world using their mouths. They can be very gentle and/or very harsh during periods of play. The goal while training your dogs is to reinforce positive behavior and distract your dog away from negative behaviors. This takes patience and consistency.

Below is a link to an article from our Peteducation website that may help.
Best of luck!

Catherine March 13, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Do you think this technique will work on my 10 month old puppy. We only got him a month ago. He will be fixed next week and his baby canines removed as they are still there next to the adult teeth. He nips a little and is very mouthy. He doesn’t bite hard much but I can’t stand the nipping.

Ellen B. March 14, 2012 at 2:56 pm


Dr. Kathy, one of our staff veterinarians suggests:

I would definitely suggest using the techniques Victoria describes here on your new 10-month old dog. Start as soon as possible, and be consistent. As she notes at the end of the article, by month 5 canine teeth on human skin is not acceptable at all. Since he’s past that age marker already, you can start with saying ‘ouch’ but you may find it more effective to use the ‘social isolation’ technique. He may require a lot of repetition with this, at first since it’s new to him, but be consistent and he should respond very well.

Good luck!

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