It’s normal for a puppy to use his mouth during play and social interactions, but it’s certainly no fun having those sharp teeth embedded in your ankle or arm. It’s important to teach your puppy how to use his mouth in an acceptable manner. Strategies for controlling the little piranha include providing: basic training, sufficient stimulation, encouragement for good behavior, and effective deterrents for biting.

Play biting is a puppy thing: it’s much less common in adult dogs. Some dogs, like herding breeds, nip or bite as a learned instinct. But whatever the reason, you need to step in and control biting behavior.

Don’t make things worse

  • Make sure you’re not encouraging biting by getting him all excited with “mouthy” games like tug of war, rough-housing, etc.
  • Don’t give your puppy attention if his mouth is on you.
  • Don’t use your hand or feet to shove the puppy away. He’ll think this is part of the game.

Channel that energy

If your puppy is demanding attention by mouthing or biting excessively or is playing too rough, then he might not be getting enough exercise and mental stimulation. If that’s the case you’ll need to increase vigorous play and exercise that include appropriate outlets for using his mouth, like fetch with a ball.

See that your puppy has frequent opportunities for playing with other young dogs. Provide plenty of interesting, interactive toys, like the ones that are designed to be manipulated to release a treat or those that promote prolonged chewing. The more energy the pup uses for appropriate activities, the less energy he’ll have to use you as a chew-toy.

You can take advantage of mealtimes as an extra opportunity for training and exercise. Divide kibble between you and another family member, then stand about 15 feet apart. Take turns calling the puppy to come and sit for some food. In addition to exercising the pet, this game provides acceptable social interaction and teaches the puppy to come to people and sit during greetings.

Take control early

Teach your puppy that you are in control by using obedience commands. Ask him to sit before giving him things he wants, and occasionally command him to stay for a second or two before allowing the treat or positive interaction. Ignore all pushy behaviors, such as nudging, nipping, pawing, or whining for attention.

Develop a soft touch

You may want to permit soft mouthing during play. You can even teach soft contact by placing your hand in the pet’s mouth when he is very calm and praising him when he mouths softly. Whenever the puppy bites with force, you quickly say “ouch” in a loud voice, and immediately stop playing. Walk away from him. Wait about 10 seconds, then lead him into another activity (like chewing on toys, fetch, or whatever else he likes).

Take time to settle down

There will be times when your puppy is out of control, and you have no time to effectively deal with his behavior. During these times the best solution is to confine him to a safe area until he settles down. Once he has relaxed, release him, and encourage him to play in an appropriate manner. Occasionally, providing toys stuffed with food or a treat can provide a distraction to keep your pet’s mouth off you when you don’t have the time or energy to concentrate on training.

What not to do

Avoid harsh corrections and physical punishment. Never do these things:

  • Hit or slap your pet
  • Thump his nose
  • Squeeze his mouth
  • Shake him by his scruff
  • Roll him on his backr
  • Force your fingers into his mouth

This kind of correction is likely to make the biting problem worse, ruin the bond with your pet, and lead to more serious problems, such as fear or aggression.

Instead, use positive training methods, and soon your puppy’s piranha behavior will disappear.