How can I get my puppy to stop biting?

TeethIf you have a new puppy, your hands and arms are likely covered in bite and scratch marks, and at least a few of your favorite sweaters have holes designed by sharp puppy teeth.

What can you do to keep your little shark from mouthing and biting all day long?

Here are a couple of effective strategies to get you started:

Let ’em bite. “What? I thought this article was about getting my puppy to stop biting!” It is, but bear with me: Your 2- to 5-month-old puppy is at an optimum age to learn bite inhibition, an all-important process that starts when a puppy is still with his or her mother and littermates. Those sharp teeth that we find so painful — well, they annoy mom and the pup’s brothers and sisters, too! Mom and littermates teach the puppy not to bite so hard. As the pups grow into adults with teeth that could do real damage, they learn  to use their mouths gently to avoid life-threatening injuries to one another. Humans can use this learning process to our advantage.

To teach bite inhibition, start with a biting puppy on a leash and a soft toy. Allow the puppy to mouth and play with the toy while you pet her. Then, if her teeth scratch your skin or she grabs your clothing, simply stop playing, step on the leash and cross your arms. Say nothing. Wait five seconds before offering to play with your puppy again. If she intentionally bites you, or bites hard, say “Ouch!” in an offended tone and walk away (tethering your pup first if necessary so she doesn’t follow you and bite your pants). Return and attempt to play again in 10 seconds. This teaches your puppy that calm, gentle mouthing does not end play, but hard bites or bites to clothing does. Do not encourage young children to teach puppies bite inhibition; see time-outs, below.

Time out! If you’ve laid a foundation by teaching bite inhibition (see above), time-outs can be an effective tool for teaching the puppy not to put his mouth on people. Around age five months, as the puppy’s adult teeth settle in, we can start to request that our puppies not mouth us during play. Time-outs can also be effective for those wild-child times when your pup is super-stimulated and can’t calm himself down.

The timeout area can be his crate, exercise pen, a small puppy-proofed room with a door, his leash or other tether, or outdoors if you have a fenced yard. Give time-outs when your polite requests to stop biting (by stopping play) aren’t working.

To use time-outs effectively, pick a word or phrase to use every single time you put your puppy in time out. Popular picks include “Uh-oh,” Oh no!” or “Too bad.” Use this word or phrase only when you’re about to give a time out, not at any other time. This prevents the puppy from running away from you any other time you reach for him, and helps him understand why he is being separated from you.

The time-out should last no longer than a minute, unless he is barking to leave the crate (wait for a bit of silence before opening the door), you are finished playing with him or need to leave the house. In the latter cases, he can rest in his crate with a Kong or other toy.