Puppies’ mouths are filled with about 28 teeny-tiny razors that seem to be attracted to your fingers or toes. Although an annoying behavior, this is something that’s completely normal for teething, playful puppies and something you can train away with these few steps.
Teach your puppy bite inhibition. Puppies naturally nip at each other while playing, and sometimes they don’t realize how hard they’re able to do this without hurting the other dog. If they bite too hard, another dog will likely make a loud yelp sound, warning the puppy, “Hey, that hurt!” You can teach your puppy this as well by making a loud, high-pitched “OW” sound if he bites you. Then, make sure to give your dog a treat or verbal praise for backing off.
Teach your puppy that biting means “game over.” If your puppy bites you while playing, that means playtime is over, with no exceptions. Yelling at or physically punishing your puppy, as strange as it sounds, is also a type of reward because it teaches him that biting gets some kind of response from you (this is called negative reinforcement). Instead, teach him that biting will get him nothing. Santo suggests turning around and tucking your hands into your armpits. “It’s actually a calming signal and a minor form of attention withdrawal,” she says.
Give your puppy an alternative item to chew. After teaching him that biting you is painful and will result in being ignored, let him know what is OK to bite or chew. If he starts nibbling at your fingers or toes while you’re playing with him, offer him a toy instead. Again, if he continues to nip you, stop the play session immediately.
Check out these toys you can offer your puppy as a chewing alternative.
Prevent the pounce. If your puppy is pouncing on your legs or feet as you walk, a common playful puppy behavior, Santo recommends holding a high-value treat next to your leg as you walk, helping the puppy learn to walk nicely alongside you. This same tactic is used when teaching a puppy to walk on a leash.
Never hit your dog or otherwise physically punish him. If your pet seems to be biting out of aggression (not during play), speak to a veterinarian about ways to manage that behavior.
For more tips on preventing puppy nipping and chewing, watch this Webinar, produced by the American Kennel Club. For one-on-one assistance with troubleshooting your training process, contact the AKC GoodDog! Helpline.