If a puppy's oral behavior extends to nipping and biting, the pet needs to be taught the limits of such mouthing. Unlike chewing behavior, mouthing is usually motivated by inappropriate social play. If the puppy were raised in a pack, its mother and the other adult dogs would not permit such liberties-and neither should people. To prevent or eliminate play nipping, advise owners to avoid using their hands in play unless they are petting their dogs or tossing a toy to be fetched.' Also tell owners to avoid rough play and tug of war. Such activity can excite the puppy, prompting mouthing of the owner vs. chewing on a toy. Instead, advise owners to use toys such as balls and ropes that keep hands at a distance.
Puppy bites necessitate a firm "no" and quick withdrawal of the owner's hand from the puppy's reach. When the owner's hand is withdrawn, the puppy's game no longer works. If the puppy still insists on biting in play, some carefully measured discipline is required. For example, the owner might quickly BUT GENTLY grasp the puppy's mouth, holding it firmly closed until the puppy relaxes or whimpers for a few seconds. If the puppy interprets that response as play, becomes defensive or overly fearful, or challenges the owner, all such direct punishment must cease. In many cases, leaving the room to socially isolate the puppy for 30 to 120 seconds is enough for the puppy to learn that mouthing is unacceptable.
Owners may also need to put a bitter-tasting substance on their hands, as described for chewing problems. This tells the puppy that hand chewing is unpleasant. Other forms of acceptable puppy discipline include using a squirt bottle or water gun; a shaker can; loud, hand-operated horns; or a head halter.2 These techniques work only if they are handy when needed. It is best to have several options in place wherever the owner and the puppy spend time together. When the puppy's play gets too rough, a deep, firm "no" needs to be followed by an effective intervention. This combination gives the puppy the vocal cue that it has overstepped acceptable bounds and reinforces that its actions will have consequences.
REFERENCES 1. Dunbar I.: Doctor Dunbar's Good Little Dog Book. James and Kenneth Publishers, Berkeley, Calif., 1992. 2. Landsberg, G.: Products for preventing or controlling undesirable behavior. Vet.