Puppies learn biting inhibition from their mothers and siblings. Now you are the teacher, so HOW? When a puppy is playing to hard with another puppy and they get over excited and bite too hard the playmate will yelp and that usually is enough to stop the puppy in their tracks releasing their bite and taking a step back from play for a moment. After a pause the two will usually start the game again but the puppy will more often than not be more gentle. Should the puppy reoffend the victim of the bite may choose to walk off and end the game.
Through this type of play and interaction puppies learn to control their bite, how hard and the intensity, they don't intentionally want to cause harm and they really don't want play to end. So we can transfer that theory from puppies to humans.
Human skin is more sensitive than the skin of puppies and dogs so we will feel it at a higher intensity which is difficult for a puppy to gage at first. Pups teeth are like little needles and so the process is a challenge for us to get right, mostly because we want to get our hand away from those little weapons quickly.
That is why me telling you that we need to encourage mouthing in the beginning will probably fill you with dread!
When you play with you puppy they will want to start nibbling on your hand, in the first instances I would ask you to allow it. I'm not asking you to encourage or use your hand as a toy, only to allow the nibbling at this first stage (first stage its to allow pup to nibble/mouth and faze the intensity down to nothing at all).
Once pup has bit just that little bit too hard on your hand try giving off a high pitched yelp and hold your hand still, let it go limp. This should be enough to surprise your puppy and they will release the bite. Slowly move your hand away and tell them "NO" ouch. Do try to not pull your hand away in a fast motion, turning your hand into a prey toy to chase, make it limp and boring so pup is uninterested and knows it's not part of the game.
Praise your puppy for stopping and possibly licking your hand, take a toy and start playing again.
If you find that your pup gets over excited and that yelping and your hand going limp isn't working then we suggest you take a time out. Also we suggest that any bite, no matter how intense or light, should be eradicated now.
Time outs are often very effective for curbing mouthing. When pup bites you yelp and remove your hand, and say "NO" stopping play and ignoring them for around 10 seconds. If that works great you can start play again. Should pup stay hyped up and start attacking your hand again you need to put yourself into a time out. Make an X shape infront of your pups face with the index finger on both hands and say "NO, no biting, OUCH", get up and move away for 10-20 seconds, if pup follows you in an over excited way then you will have to leave the room for around 30 seconds so that pup can calm down.
After the time out return calmly and start a gentle game with pup, we don't suggest tuggy as this may be over exciting your puppy. Try throwing a toy or do some training of "Sit' etc to mentally stimulate them but not over excite them. If your puppy repeats their over excited play repeat the time out until pup learns that play only continues when they are calm. Try to always end on a positive training move where pup gets a treat or a fuss.
What we are teaching our puppy is that gentle play is great but play ends if they cause any pain. Practice gentle play and repeat the process with the next hardest bite until you finally stop biting all together and you control the force of their mouthing until you feel little or no pressure at all.
If your puppy bites you even when you are stroking them then get them used to you touching them slowly with one hand and drip feeding treats with the other.
I suggest in the early days you carry some toys around with you or have them within reach so that should pup start to bite your fingers you can substitute with a toy, chew toy or even a frozen carrot to help their teething. With any luck pup will start to anticipate a toy and so when they want to mouth they will look for the toy.
A lot of puppies like to ambush your leg, pull on your pj's or trouser leg and play tuggy as you are walking. When this happens instantly stop walking, if you have a toy start waving the toy around enticingly and either throw it for them to chase or start playing a bit of tuggy, then start walking again. If you don't have a toy stay still until they stop pulling your trousers and praise them and say "lets go look for a toy" and find them a toy to play with. If they are going crazy and you feel they will damage your clothes take the material in your hand close to their mouth and hold it tight and still and repeat "Drop it", the trouser will be boring now as they can't do anything with it and will release, again don't pull it or they will see it as a game. Once they have let go praise and say "Drop it, Good" and fuss and say "lets go get you a toy" and play or treat them.
Try and provide some puppy play and good socialisation, which you can do in puppy class and the park itself once your pup is fully vaccinated, until then check with your vet to see if they have any puppy parties. Also let them interact with friendly adult dogs so that they can also learn how to interact gently with them.
Mix your puppy with humans and, where possible, children in a controlled environment. Never leave children alone with your puppy until they have both learnt how to interact safely for both the puppy and the child's safety. I will write a blog on that soon.
Your puppy will soon learn boundaries but you must be patient and understanding.
Playful mouthing is normal for a young puppy.
Play bonds us with our puppies and so we don't want to discourage play or go about it badly.
You want to teach your puppy gentle play rather than no play at all.
Avoid jerking your hand or feet away from your puppy they will only see this as play and chase more.
Let your hand go limp/stop walking or hold the material so that it is not fun any more, this includes sock stealing etc.
Slapping, hitting or just shouting at your puppy may only encourage them to bite harder and become reactive, and play aggressively.
Physical punishment will also make your puppy afraid of you and could create more problems futher down the line.