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Puppies are naturally biting machines. In a way, this is good because they learn to inhibit their jaw strength to exist with us fragile humans. Most mouthing is reflexive behavior. When a pup is touched, or even approached with a hand, the mouth is the natural means of responding. Puppies can be taught to inhibit this reaction. (It will help if you pet the puppy with long, firm strokes rather than quick pats.) Here are some ideas to help with this ouchy problem.

Grab a paw when your pup starts mouthing you. This distracts him from chewing on you-at which point you can praise him for being such a good dog. (Praising for good behavior is just as important as stopping the bad behavior.) Another idea is to holler “Ouch” in a squeaky voice and immediately leave the pup. After a minute, return and reward your pup’s good behavior by playing with him-immediately leaving if he starts biting again.

Teach your pup the “no-bite” or “stop it” commands. When he nips at you, take him by the jowls and lift his head up so you can look him in the eye for several seconds while you repeat the command. Release and ignore him. After a minute call him to you and praise him when he gets to you.

You can accustom your pup or dog to being grabbed and petted (valuable with children in the family) by giving a treat with one hands while gradually moving the other hand closer, giving a treat each time. Then start from the beginning with the other hand. Increase the speed of arm and hand and the squeeze (grab) of the dog. Another way to accustom the pup to hands moving toward his head or body is to scratch him on the chest or throat with one hand as your other hand moves into his visual field. This teaches the pup to inhibit his bite reflex when people and children grab at him.

If you have tried these methods conscientiously for a week or so with no improvement, you can move on to more negative methods. Try a solution of one part vinegar or Listerine to ten parts water in a spray bottle with a stream. When the puppy bites at your heels, you can squirt him in the mouth and scold in a low, growly voice to stop. Another method of negative reinforcement with a hard-mouthed puppy is to cause the puppy to bite himself. Put your hand under his muzzle and squeeze his lips into his teeth until he gives a squeak of pain. Then ignore the puppy for a minute and then call him over and praise him for doing a good recall.

These suggestions are successful with the normal mouthy puppy. A pup who bites with intent to hurt is an aggressive personality and is a different matter. Most pups, however, will try a nip or two and when they find out it’s not acceptable will stop such behavior.

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