If your puppy's needle-sharp teeth are starting to make you feel like the human version of a pin cushion, you know you have a problem. Don't walk around with a piranha pup hanging from your knee. Understanding the triggers for puppy biting is the first step to regaining some control.
Lack of Inhibition
No, your puppy is not engaging in any socially inappropriate, immoral behaviors. In this case, your puppy is biting hard and strong when he plays because he lacks proper bite inhibition. Bite inhibition is taught early in puppyhood when the puppy is still with his mom and littermates. For instance, when the puppy bites too hard while nursing, mama dog gets up and leaves. When he then bites his siblings too hard during play, they will squeal and withdraw from the game. This teaches the pup to use a softer mouth next time.
In the case of orphan, singleton pups or pups removed from the litter too early, these important life lessons are missed, and you're left with a puppy who bites and doesn't know how to control the pressure of his mouth. Not all is lost at this point tough; there is still time to train him to inhibit the force of his play-bites by using some puppy wisdom. Just as a pup, cry out “ouch” when he bites and immediately remove yourself from the situation for a brief time-out. If your puppy still pesters you, leave the room and return only when your puppy is calmer.
Lack of Trust
If your puppy is usually sweet and loving but turns into Cujo the moment you try to remove a bone or toy, your puppy is likely resource guarding. In this case, your pup is clearly telling you to back off so he can enjoy his prized possession alone. Usually, you'll notice your pup tense up and growl before biting, but if you suddenly reach out to remove something from your pup with little notice or you scold your puppy for growling, your puppy may then bite without much warning.
Your snarling demon-pup can be taught that there's no need to fear you will take his possession away. Instead, prove to him that not only will you not take his resource away, but you'll actually add something enticing to it. Make it a habit of walking by your puppy at a distance and casually tossing treats as you pass by. After several reps, you'll notice your puppy will eventually stop growling and will look at you in anticipation of the treat. If at any time you are concerned your pup may bite you, play it safe and consult with a professional.
Lack of Familiarity
In some cases, puppies may bite if they are subjected to something they don't like or are unfamiliar with. Often, these pups are accused of being dominant, when in reality they are just fearful and uncomfortable. Your puppy may bite when you try to trim his nails, give him a bath, lift him from the ground, grab his collar, corner him or try to grab him from under the bed. In these cases, the biting behavior is reinforced when you stop doing what you were doing and your puppy successfully removes himself from the unpleasant situation.
Scolding your puppy for growling or biting you when he was placed in a scary, unfamiliar situation will make things only worse. Evaluate what you can do to change his emotional response. If your pup bit you when you grabbed his collar, try making collar grabs pleasant by touching the collar lightly and immediately giving a treat. Desensitization and counterconditioning are powerful forms of behavior modification that work wonders in changing your pup's emotional response towards certain situations.
If you cannot find a plausible explanation for your puppy's biting, see your veterinarian. Feeling under the weather may lower your puppy's bite threshold and cause him to bite in hopes of being left alone. Just because your puppy doesn't have any visible wounds or appears free of any concerning symptoms, doesn't mean he is necessarily feeling well. Dogs can be stoic and may manifest their pain solely through growling and biting behaviors.
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.