A big part of every puppy's early education should involve learning how to use his teeth. Mouthing and biting are natural puppy behaviors, but it's important that dogs learn to use their mouth gently.
Allow Puppy to Bite (a Little)
For most of us, when we get a feel of those needle-sharp puppy teeth digging into us, our first instinct is to stop the behavior. Don't! Before you teach your puppy not to bite, you must first teach him that when he does bite, he should bite down gently without much pressure. This is called bite inhibition, and it should be part of your socialization program for your puppy.
Why Teach Bite Inhibition
All dogs have the potential to bite. It's important that we do our best to train dogs so we can prevent dog bites. However, you need to plan for the worst. If your puppy grows into an adult and ends up biting someone, you don't want him to exert a great deal of pressure. Teaching a puppy bite inhibition can mean the difference between a little nip from your dog and a bite that sends the victim to the hospital.
Select for Softer Bites
The first step of teaching bite inhibition is teaching your puppy to use his mouth softly. If your pup was allowed to stay with his litter until he was 8-weeks-old or older, his siblings will have already started this lesson. If a puppy nips a littermate too hard, the other puppy usually yelps or stops playing. This lets the pup know that his bite was too hard.
When you're playing with your puppy you can follow the example of the littermates. Allow him to nip a little as long as it doesn't really hurt you. When your puppy bites a little too hard, say "ouch" in a firm voice. If he continues to bite hard, you can say "ouch" and then get up and step away from playing for a few minutes. Your puppy will quickly learn that he has to use his mouth gently if he wants games with you to continue.
Begin Cutting Back on Biting
Once your puppy is using his mouth gently, it's time to start cutting back on how often he is allowed to nip and bite during play. Remember, the cute little bundle of fur in front of you is going to be an adult before you know it, and you, your friends, and family members aren't going to want him using you as a chew toy!
Start by teaching your puppy the "leave it" command. You can hold some treats in your hand, give your dog the command, and wait until he backs off a little. Praise him and give him a treat. Practice this through several training sessions until your puppy responds to the command every time. Now you can start giving your puppy the "leave it" command any time he starts to mouth your hands. In this way, you can slowly phase out mouthing behaviors entirely, or at least confine it to only those times when you initiate the behavior during playtime.
You should now have a dog who never uses his mouth without being invited to play, and when he does use his mouth it is done very softly.
Edited by Jenna Stregowski, RVT