Time to talk about teething! By now, your puppy has either started or will soon start their second period of teething so it's important to teach them bite inhibition and to redirect their bites. We'll walk you through everything below!
There are two periods of teething:
3 weeks old: Your puppy’s baby teeth start to erupt and will be fully out by week 6 (all except baby molars, which puppies don’t have!).
12 weeks old: Your puppy’s baby teeth will start to fall out and by 6 months they should have all their permanent teeth!
You’ll be with your puppy for their second period of teething, when they lose their baby teeth and their permanent teeth start to come in. During this time, your puppy will want to bite absolutely everything and those baby teeth are nothing if not extremely sharp. This is the time to teach your dog bite inhibition and then direct his mouthing to appropriate things to bite. Just remember to be patient. Playful mouthing is normal for a puppy and like everything else, they need to be taught what the proper behavior is.
Bite inhibition refers to your dog’s ability to control how much force to use in their mouthing. Puppies don’t know how sensitive human skin is and that needs to be learned. This way, even when they are playing, they won’t bite down too hard and break your skin. Additionally, according to ASPCA, a dog that has been trained “to use his mouth gently when interacting with people will be less likely to bite hard and break skin if he ever bites someone in a situation apart from play—like when he’s afraid or in pain.”
Puppies learn bite inhibition when they bite down too hard and get feedback that they bit down too hard through a loud yelp indicating pain. This should have your puppy stop momentarily to assess the situation and then resume playing now knowing not to bite down as hard as they did before. Their first experience with this will be when they play with their littermates before they ever come home. While chasing and wrestling, you’ll hear a yelp from one of the puppies and it will indicate to the offender that they need to reduce the force of their bites.
You can easily replicate this with your puppy by being consistent with your pain feedback when they start mouthing your hands:
When you play with your puppy, they’ll likely mouth on your hands. This is the perfect opportunity to give them feedback to curb the behavior.
When they bite down hard, immediately give out a high pitched yelp and let your hand go limp.
The yelp will startle your puppy and prompt them to stop and assess the situation. If after 1-2 attempts they are not startled, switch to something other than a high pitched yelp, like “oh no!”.
When your puppy stops or begins licking you after the fact, praise them (pets or low value treats will work for this situation).
Resume playing like you were before and repeat the bite → yelp → treat. If this happens more than three times in a 15 minute period, switch to the time out method (below). Your puppy might be still biting down on you because they think it’s the bite that got them the treat, rather than the fact they stopped.
The time out method uses a very short time out in place of the yelp or “oh no”. Again this is how you’re giving your puppy feedback that they are biting down too hard. Time outs can be an effective way to deliver this feedback. When your dog bites down on you, remove your hand and look away or get up for about 20 seconds. Then come back and resume playing.
Continue to repeat this with your puppy and over time become more stringent on how hard they are allowed to bite down before you give them the feedback that you are hurt. This will show your puppy what your tolerance is and they’ll use that moving forward for all humans.
Alright so you’ve worked with your puppy on bite inhibition so they should be well on their way to controlling the intensity of their bites. Now it’s time to redirect their bites away from humans. The first thing you should do is always have a toy or chew bone around you. When they start to get mouthy, have them bite down on the toy instead. Over time, they should look forward to chewing on the toy instead.
You should take note of when your dog tries to play by biting you. Some examples:
Your dog is mouthing you when you pet them. Many dogs develop a habit of mouthing on the hands that are petting them. If that’s the case, while you’re petting them with one hand, give them treats with your other hand. This will distract them while you’re petting them and get them used to petting without reacting with playful biting.
Your dog bites your feet and ankles. You’re just walking around your home and your puppy comes up and starts mouthing your ankles? This one can be redirected to a tug toy since that’s the motion they are doing by nabbing your ankles as you’re moving. You can take the tug toy out and start waving it so they want to tug on that instead. When they take the toy, resume what you were doing before and let your puppy play with it.
Before their daily exercise. If your dog is only mouthy before visiting the dog park or going on a walk, it could simply be an indication that they have excess energy to burn off. If that’s the case, try updating their schedule to either add some exercise earlier in the day to tire them out.
It will take time to develop these habits, but it is well worth it. Mouthing doesn't always go away when they are done teething and you want to make sure your dog isn't used to playing by biting on humans!