Puppies mouth everything, but learn when play nipping is too hard from their littermates. When a puppy bites another painfully, the bitee responds with a cry of pain. Your role, preferably, is to be a cross between his mother and another puppy; not a handy rubber ball.
Give your puppy a selection of chew toys of varying textures. These provide a much better outlet for mouthing than your hands. Change the toys regularly to keep him interested and pass one to him before each major petting session.
Let him mouth your hands but as soon as you feel teeth, squeal, pull your hand away and stop playing. It doesn’t matter whether or not the play biting actually hurt -- pretend that it did. Don’t punish your puppy; just stop playing for a short time and ignore him. Given the attention span of your average puppy, 15 minutes or so should be long enough for your sulk. Note that a really high-pitched yelp is particularly effective, so pretend you are six.
Spray your hands and any other accessible body parts with a bitter dog-training spray, if you don’t want him to mouth you at all. These sprays are harmless but taste utterly revolting; in fact, they use the same substance people paint on their nails to stop biting them. Don’t forget to wash your hands afterward, especially if you are going to eat or prepare food. Your sandwich will not be improved by the taste of this stuff.
Tell all household members the roles concerning play nipping and whether to allow mouthing or not. Demonstrate the procedure to children. It is important that everybody is consistent. If one person lets the puppy nip while others don’t, he’ll just get confused.
- The Humane Society notes that particularly small children might not respond appropriately to play nipping, either encouraging it in fake fights or resisting by pushing the puppy away. Both reactions encourage the behavior so supervise child/puppy time until you are certain both parties are playing nice.
- If the puppy belongs to a large breed, especially one with an undeservedly bad reputation, such as the American pitbull, it is crucial to stop all nipping and mouthing behavior. This is important for his own safety when he gets bigger. People do not respond well to any sort of mouthing behavior from large breeds, no matter how gently it is done.
Judith Willson has been writing since 2009, specializing in environmental and scientific topics. She has written content for school websites and worked for a Glasgow newspaper. Willson has a Master of Arts in English from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.