It was a typical question sent to an AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy instructor. “I need help, I just adopted a terrier puppy and he bites when he is playing. His teeth are like needles. How can I teach him not to bite?” It’s hard to believe how much those needle-like tiny teeth can hurt when a rambunctious puppy nips your hands while playing. One of the most important lessons a puppy learns while in the litter is bite inhibition. Bite inhibition is when a dog learns to control the intensity of a bite. In the litter, the dam (mother) teaches bite inhibition. If puppies bite while nursing, the dam will nip them or stand up and walk away, taking the breakfast buffet with her.
The dam isn’t the only one who teaches a puppy not to bite. When puppies are playing with their siblings, if a puppy gets wound up and bites too hard, the sibling will jump up and yelp. She may leave the game as if to say, “Don’t do that! That hurts!” The puppy soon learns if he wants the fun game to continue, he cannot bite too hard.
When your puppy bites, loudly say, “OUCH!” This lets him know that biting is not okay. Don’t jerk your hand away if he has his teeth on you because this could tear your skin. The idea is that you are going to retreat from the game if he bites. Behaviorally, this is a time-out from the reinforcing activity that is time and attention from you.
During your play sessions, work on teaching your pup to respond to the word, “Easy…” as you say it quietly and gently. You can give him some food rewards for gentle play. Keep in mind that while nipping a person is not acceptable, all puppies need to chew as a part of the teething process. Make sure your puppy has access to safe chew toys.
At this stage in your puppy’s development, an AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy class is a great idea. You’ll be able to get tips from the instructor and get your puppy on the road to being well socialized.