When our pups are weaned, they begin to engage with their brothers and sisters in play that often involves biting, chewing, tussling, wrestling, and many other forms of contact play. This is very healthy and makes them much better-socialized adult dogs. It’s how they learn about their environment and their place in the family. As they mature, it may become the way they take their place in the pack. However, once they get to their new homes this type of behavior is not needed nor necessary. Unless you teach your dog to stop biting, he may never outgrow the habit.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten a phone call from a panicked new owner because the puppy is biting them or their child, and they think that perhaps their pup is too aggressive. Sometimes the parent has contacted a trainer who has said something like “never leave a puppy and a young child together unsupervised” and the parent took this to mean that combining puppies and children is dangerous. Puppies and families CAN co-exist in the same household, but it will take a bit of work, understanding, and supervision.
Unfortunately, puppies are at their most “oral” while their teeth are the sharpest, and yes puppy teeth do hurt. It's normal for puppies to bite as they develop and grow. Dogs need to have exquisite control over their mouths. They need to be able to exert the precise amount of control to gently lift and carry fragile items, and to be able to rip and tear food. Super sharp puppy teeth guarantee that the pup will get lots of feedback about how much pressure they are exerting. When puppies play with each other they wrestle, and bite, and grab onto each other. If one puppy bites another puppy too hard, the hurt pup will give a high-pitched yelp and go a bit limp. The biting pup will immediately back off. If the biting pup persists with biting too hard, the one being bitten will refuse to play with the biter. Thus, puppies learn exactly how hard they can bite each other without hurting, and they gain control of their mouths.
The longer a pup stays with Mom and littermates, the farther along in their bite inhibition training they will be, but even a 12-week-old pup won’t have mastered his or her mouth, so you’ll need to take over where Mom and the littermates left off. Some people punish a dog for using his or her mouth, and while in the short term this may solve the problem of sore hands, in the long term, the dog doesn’t learn sufficient bite inhibition. Bite inhibition is critical. To teach this, you want to solicit play with your hands.
Puppies, like human babies, do eat and bite everything. Puppies are learning about their world, and they are exploring, and everything, including your fingers and your child’s hands, are things your pup wants to learn about so into the mouth they go. Puppies don’t have hands, so where your human baby patted things and rolled things in his or her hands, your pup can only use his or her mouth. Not to mention soft fingers have "give" which feels good to a teething puppy. When the puppy bites you too hard loudly say "OUCH" like a hurt puppy and let your hand go limp, then turn or walk away and ignore the puppy. Social isolation and time-outs can be an effective form of punishment for a pack animal. Your pup should immediately back off. When the pup backs off, start the game again. If the pup is over-stimulated, or overly tired, the pup may have a bit of a temper tantrum and may repeatedly bite too hard. If this happens, your goal should be to calm your pup down, perhaps by giving the pup some time away from people or using gentle friendly restraint. Another effective way of calming down an overstimulated puppy is to hold him upside down (feet pointing towards the ceiling) high above your head for a couple of minutes. I don't know why this works, but a groomer taught me this once and it really works.
As with most things in dog training, repetition is important. The more frequently you work on this with your puppy the sooner your puppy will learn to control his mouth. In addition to teaching your pup about bite inhibition, you want to provide your puppy with plenty of puppy-safe toys to chew. A stuffed Kong, especially one that is frozen, is a great toy for pups, but look at your local pet supply store and try things out. Check out www.Chewy.com for Kong toys and stuffing ideas. Ideally, you should get enough toys so that you can rotate the toys out. Toys that a dog hasn’t seen in a couple of weeks are far more exciting than toys that the dog sees daily. Remember — puppies NEED to chew, so if you don’t provide things for the pup to chew on, your pup will find things to chew on, and you won’t like your pup’s choices. An inexpensive chew toy can be easily made. Just squish an empty plastic water bottle and put it inside an old sock. Another good chew item is Elk Antler Splits. Our dogs and puppies love these. It does need to be the petite splits so that they can eat the bone marrow, and then you can throw away the antler. Click link to find where we purchase our Elk Antler Splits.
Depending on the age of your children, you’ll need to involve them in this process to a greater or lesser degree, but unless your child is a baby/young toddler, your child will need to participate in the bite inhibition training. Fortunately for many children, their initial instinct when nipped by a puppy is to scream in a high-pitched voice and refuse to play with the puppy. But you still want to practice. Start before your puppy arrives (or if you already have a puppy, start with the pup out of the room). Have your child practice yelping like a hurt puppy. Make this a fun game. Also, have them practice freezing, and going limp. Make sure that your child does NOT hit the puppy or get aggressive toward the puppy.
Of course, puppies are learning a lot more than just about how to control their mouths, and puppies, like small children, can have temper tantrums or lose control of themselves. Puppies who get overly tired, or overstimulated, may nip more, may fling themselves about, and may even air snap. Puppies benefit from having a rhythm to their days, and to having plenty of nap time. Puppies tend to be energetic in bursts, and then need to sleep. Puppies that miss naps are often fussy, and grumpy. Make sure that your pup is getting plenty of downtime. Puppies that don’t get enough exercise also have trouble controlling themselves. You don’t want to go on overly long walks, or runs with your pup, but you do want them to have plenty of off-leash playtimes.
In conclusion, spend a lot of time teaching your puppy about bite inhibition, give your pup
plenty of things to chew, teach your children what to do if the puppy nips them but try to avoid the pup nipping the children as much as you can, play games that teach positive ways for child and pup to interact, have a rhythm to your day that includes both active times and quiet times for the puppy.
STEP ONE: INTERRUPTION
Loudly saying "Ouch" when your puppy lays teeth on you will give feedback to very young puppies about what is acceptable playing and what isn't. React consistently to bites. If necessary, when you say, "Ouch" you can also turn away from the puppy for 30-60 seconds. Return to engaging with the puppy. If they have calmed down, wonderful. If not, keep reading!
STEP TWO: REDIRECTION
Grab the nearest toy and offer it to your puppy. You can also redirect your puppy's
attention using teething toys. When he has calmed down, gently talk to him and stroke him. Keep your hand away from his mouth. Start playing again and avoid getting the puppy excited. This time, use toys instead of your hands to get your puppy engaged. Start playing fetch, so that you are tossing toys away from you and using the puppy’s prey drive for positive fun. Playing with toys can be used as a training reward or break and keeps your hands away from the puppy's teeth.
STEP THREE: WALK AWAY
If neither your “Ouch!” nor redirection worked to draw your puppy’s attention away from
you, try removing what they perceive as the “reward” in the interaction: YOU! This is really puppy time out...time away from you.
STEP FOUR: STARTLE THE PUPPY
You can use a water spray bottle in severe cases. In cases where biting is exceptionally also don’t want to create a situation where the puppy only behaves if the squirt bottle is in your hand.
Play safely while you supervise training, and never play roughly with a puppy that bites. Rough play will only encourage this behavior and strongly establish it in the puppy's mind. Never use your hands as toys. You should also closely watch children playing around or with the puppy. Don't let children play tug with the puppy unless an adult is present, the puppy fully understands the rules, and only if the puppy’s size does not pose a risk to the child during the game.
Always REWARD good behavior. Praise good behavior with lots of gentle love and cuddles. Use rewards effectively to reinforce good behavior. For example, if your dog successfully responds to your request to drop a toy, say, "yes!" or "good boy/girl!" Verbal rewards work well when you're playing and may have your hands full of toys. Schnauzers love to please you, and verbal praise works!
Just remember that if you allow your puppy to bite, it may get out of control and your puppy will never learn to control his bite. This can lead to serious behavioral issues when your puppy reaches adulthood. It is not acceptable for puppies to bite people, or other animals unless they are in true physical danger and need to defend themselves.