Whenever we watch a group of puppies, and indeed older dogs playing together, you will notice that whilst there is a lot of mouthing and growling, there is very little actual biting. This is because the dogs have learnt to inhibit their bites so they can play without hurting each other.
In the dog pack the puppies will play together and practice their fighting, biting and hunting skills. From time to time one puppy will bite a little too hard and the other puppy will yelp. Sometimes the game continues with the biting puppy ensuring that he is gentler next time. If he bites too hard again the second puppy will yelp again and usually end the game by walking away.
It is not normal for puppies not to bite. If your puppy doesn’t mouth or bite you when he’s playing then please speak to your instructor. Puppies who do not bite miss out on this very important lesson and if they should bite when they are older they are more likely to cause injury than dogs that have been taught to bite gently.
Next time your puppy becomes over-excited and bites you, say quietly ‘Ouch, that hurt me!’ - don’t pull your hand away as he may think that this is a game, just move it away slowly and examine it as you would if you really had been hurt. After a few seconds restart the game. If he bites again as hard or harder say ‘ouch’ again then immediately stop all contact with him for about thirty seconds. Then calm him down by asking him to sit, down and stand before continuing the game.
You are aiming at this stage to have a puppy that may hold your hand in his mouth during play, without applying any pressure.
Refer to your take it / leave it homework sheet and replace the words ‘leave it’ with the word ‘off’. Once your dog has learned to mouth you rather than bite you can interrupt your games by telling him ‘OFF’ and getting him to sit if he plays too rough.
There are times when we will need to handle and touch the insides of our puppy’s mouth, e.g. when giving a tablet or cleaning his teeth, so it is important that he doesn’t avoid us touching his mouth. During your daily handling sessions ensure that you touch his mouth and teeth.