Dear AKC: I have a puppy (Shih Tzu) who is just over 4-months-old and is really bad about biting me. He doesn't bite anyone else in the house quite like he does me. I have told him no and hit him on the nose with a fly swatter and my hand but that just makes it worse. Any ideas? – Biting The Hand That Feeds in Florida
Dear Biting: Biting or "mouthing" is normal behavior for puppies and because they don't have hands to explore with they use their mouths. While you can't stop this behavior you can teach the puppy "bite inhibition" which lets him know when he is being too rough. It is best to teach this before the pup is four months old, so you better hurry up!
A Big Game
You must step in and take the role of "pack leader" to teach the pup that his boisterous playing and nipping is now unacceptable behavior.
Since biting is a game you must learn the rules of the game. Puppies learn from experience. We cannot train them to understand when biting is too much. This natural learning comes from seeing what the "reaction" is to the object they are biting. A startling yelp from mother says "too hard, knock it off."
Leader of the Pack
If your puppy nips at your ankle and it hurts, let out a loud "ouch" directed at him. If he comes back for another nip, yell "ouch" even louder. Make an impression that you are unhappy. If he comes back for a third nip, simply walk away and ignore him. If he is nipping at your fingers try folding your arms. This will signal him that "If you can't play nice, we won't play at all."
If your pup is persistent and comes back again for a nip, this time grab him by the scruff of his neck and give him a little shake and a firm "No". If he returns again, grab that scruff and give him a firmer shake. If he still doesn't get a clue and comes back once more (remember this a game to him) grab him and hold him until he shows a sign of submission, such as ears back, a relaxed body or just being still for a few moments. The pup may squirm and shriek at the prospect of being held, but you must not give in to his objections. Just wait it out and he will settle. When all is calm, release him and tell him he is a good boy. He will test your limits so be prepared.
Also, it's a good idea to keep a stash of suitable chew toys and bones handy that can replace your hand or ankle as an object to gnaw on. This proven "substitution training method" of immediately replacing off limit objects with approved items, followed by praise, teaches the puppy right from wrong when it comes to chewing.