While visiting friends, Gloria enjoyed petting and chatting with their sweet, friendly Mastiff, Bruno. One day, Bruno wrapped his mouth around her forearm. He wasn’t hurting her; he simply wanted to lead her to the spot where he kept his toys. Gloria remained calm, although it was quite unnerving to her. Bruno, after all, weighed more than she did! She sincerely hoped he would not drag her out to the backyard, dig a hole, and bury her like an old soup bone. However, her friend caught up with them and convinced Bruno to give Gloria her arm back.

Play biting in dogs, also called mouthing, is normal behavior for dogs, especially puppies. It is how they explore their environment as we would with our hands. This process is a part of how dogs socialize with one another and often with humans as well. It is not an act of aggression or defense. When interacting with you, it’s not unusual for your dog to nip your fingers as they would nip other dogs. 

As natural as it may be, play biting or mouthing can be annoying, and if the dog bites hard, it can cause pain. Pet parents want to know how to put an end to the behavior. Here we have some tips on how to stop play biting in puppies and adult dogs.

Why Is Your Dog Play Biting?

Social Interaction

Puppies begin play biting while still with their mothers and littermates, and the activity continues into adulthood when dogs get together with their friends. As they run around together, they may nip at each other playfully. If one dog bites too hard, the other will let out a high-pitched yelp to let the first dog or puppy know they went too far. They essentially do the same with you.

Instinct

Play biting and even play fighting is a part of the prey drive. Some dogs are bred for chasing, grabbing, and biting. Cattle dogs, for example, may want to nip at their ankles. The behavior can be desirable in some working dogs, like guard and police dogs.

Teething

If you get your dog as a young puppy, you have to deal with teething and the incessant chewing that comes with it.Puppies begin sprouting baby teeth at three to four weeks, and by the time you bring them home at about eight weeks, they have a set of 28 sharp baby teeth that are starting to come out and 42 permanent teeth waiting in the wings. Puppies chew on anything, including your shoes, furniture, other household items, and your enticing selection of 20 fingers and toes to ease their discomfort.

Attention Seeking

What a great way to let your pet parent know you want to play! Right? But pet parents have different thoughts about this. It’s not fun getting your fingers bitten, so you’re not likely to respond positively to your dog’s invitation.

Accidental Encouragement from People

You may be doing things that unintentionally encourage your dog to play bite. For example, waving your fingers in the dog’s face or jerking your hand or foot away after a bite tells your dog to keep playing. This is also true of yelling at or even punishing the dog. The latter may turn into fear and aggression. 

How to Stop Dogs’ Play Biting

Your dog needs to learn “bite inhibition.” This means they know they cannot bite down hard. Also, focusing their attention on other things helps a lot!

Play and Exercise

Play biting can happen because the dog is overly excited while you’re playing with them, and they accidentally bite too hard. One of the easiest ways to deal with this is to ensure your dog has plenty of exercise, enriching toys, interaction with other dogs and people, exciting places to explore, and time with you. All of these activities will drain some of that overexcited energy.

Some people, including children, like high-energy play with their dogs. While it can encourage play biting, that doesn’t mean you can’t wrestle or play tug-of-war. You just have to know how to stop and correct their behavior if they start biting. 

Biting Hurts!

It’s important for your dog to learn that biting hurts people and must be gentle if they ever put their mouth on your hands. Any time the dog bites, yell “Ouch!” loudly, then redirect their attention with a toy. Consistently stop playing any time the dog bites too hard. They will quickly make the connection. 

Time Outs

Demonstrate to your dog that biting means a time out in the form of you ignoring them. Start with 10 to 20-second intervals. If that doesn’t work, go to 30 to 60 seconds. 

Leash Training

Keep a leash on and use it to interrupt the unwanted behavior with a small tug. This way, you can let them know that they have crossed a line. You can also use the leash to interrupt your dog if things get too rough with other dogs.

Redirecting the Dog’s Attention

Have plenty of appropriate chew toys handy. Any of them make better toys than your fingers! If the dog starts to bite, put a chewable toy or a treat in front of them and pull their attention away from your valuable body parts.

A Parting Reminder

Play biting is one of your dog’s ways of socializing with other dogs, exploring the world, and playing with you. However, for many people, it can be uncomfortable and too rough for their liking, so it’s important to teach your dog to keep their teeth away from people.

There are several ways to train your dog that you can probably handle yourself. But if you have a particularly difficult situation, there is help available in the form of professional trainers, such as the team at K9 Basics! We have training programs to help your dog learn appropriate behaviors. In addition, we offer group and individual training and a schedule of classes to teach your dog obedience and social skills.

Whether you do your training or seek professional help, you can have fun playing with your dog without ending up with friendly little bite marks on your arm!