Puppy Play Biting – Facts and Fiction

One dog training method myth I’d like to bust is the idea of stopping puppy play biting by holding your dog’s nose and saying “NO BITE!”

I feel strongly about this topic because it so obviously contradicts what we know about dogs – one of their primary methods of communication is body language. To quote Carina Norris on Beantown Dogs.net, “…dogs use a large proportion of this constant motion for communication, as their emotions and intentions are reflected in their movements and posture.”

Here’s why it’s so ridiculous. The second a person touches strokes, caresses, or even “grab’s violently” as a way to teach their dog a lesson, their dog is most likely expecting some kind of love and attention. Even more worrisome, is that grabbing a dog while is he play biting (more highly stimulated/aroused) the dog is even less likely to understand what a person is trying to tell them. Your dog may be thinking — “I’m revved up and you what to play the Hold My Mouth Game? Great! I love that game, let me at em’?!”

According to the SF SPCA, dogs, are prey animals with extremely strong jaws, who often use so-called ‘ritualized aggression’ – body postures, inhibited bites, and threats, to communicate. Being able to bite without maiming is rehearsed during puppyhood – with play biting! Dogs learn to inhibit their bite in the pack. In the wild, if one puppy is biting another puppy too hard, play grinds to a temporary halt, which teaches the biter to become gentler to keep the playing going. This may become pretty important when you’re traveling with your dog.

What to do?

While your puppy is young, some 6 to 18 weeks, some minor play biting should be allowed as long as it doesn’t get too hard. If your dog bites too hard, you should say “Ouch” to let your dog know they hurt you, and immediately withhold ALL attention! (Touch, eye contact, voice) As with almost all dog training, timing is of the utmost importance. It’s almost the same as training your German Shepherd puppy.

Ideally, if your dog bites you hard, you should say “Ouch” then quickly get up and leave the playpen. Your dog will soon learn that hard bites makes the play stop AND even worse, you to go away. After withholding attention for 5-20 seconds, go back and try to pet your dog again, focusing on the mouth and head, are they still trying to bite? Go back to “Ouch!” and start from the beginning. Again, it’s irrelevant whether you raise a Shih Tzu or a German Shepherd pup.

Once your puppy is old enough to have acquired bite inhibition (ABI) which should be around week 18, should you phase play biting out altogether? Teach alternative behaviors by using the golden rule: Interrupt / Redirect / Provide an alternative. Check also this post on how to raise a Shih Tzu puppy.

Remember not all dogs are created the same, some dogs may just get more excited when you say “Ouch!” so you have to make less noise (deep intake of breath, almost a whimper) and in some cases there maybe early stages of aggression or resource guarding. Aggressive behaviors that do not get better over time, if you suspect you have an aggressive dog, get yourself into competent professional hands.