Young puppies don’t know the difference between their toys, your belongings, and your hands. When it comes to playing and chewing, anything goes. Their needle-sharp teeth can hurt you, so it’s understandable that you’ll try to spare your hands by shoving a toy in your puppy’s mouth as soon as he bites you. You may think this is an efficient way of teaching your puppy to leave your hands alone and play with his own toys, but what you are really doing, is giving him a reward (toy) for having chewed on your hands.

In this article I’ll show you how to efficiently redirect your puppy’s attention from your hands to a toy.

First of all, it’s much easier for your puppy to learn that teeth on your skin is never allowed, than to learn to play bite softly. Secondly, it’s paramount that nobody ever, ever allows him to play bite. Trust me on this one: if he’s allowed to play bite sometimes or with some people, he’s going to carry on trying his luck and you’ll have a much harder time teaching him to chew only on his own toys!

I personally teach puppies to stop play biting in two different ways, depending on the situation. If he’s calm and chewing on your hands I use a method, and if he’s excited and full of energy I use another technique.

Assuming he’s calm or sleepy while chewing on your hand:

– Make a sound that’s loud enough to startle or surprise him, but not so loud that it will scare him.

– Pull your hand away from him immediately after making the startling sound. Make sure to always make the same startling sound. What will happen is that, after some time, your puppy will recognize the sound as a warning that your hand is about to be taken away from him and will start to let go of your hand as soon as he hears it.

– After pulling your hand away from him, wait about three seconds before presenting it to him again. Repeat this as often as necessary, until he learns that interaction with your hands stops the second he bites them, but continues if he doesn’t bite.

Now why won’t this technique work if your puppy is way too excited or full of energy? During moments of excitement your puppy wants to use his mouth a lot more than when he’s sleepy. So the back and forth movement of your hands is an invitation to play bite!

Assuming he’s excited and play bites:

– Make a startling sound. As soon as he lets go of your hand pull it away.

– Wait 3 to 4 seconds and then redirect his attention to a toy. This 3 to 4 second pause will ensure your puppy understands he got a toy for not chewing on your hand as opposed to thinking he got rewarded for biting it – which would be the case if you gave him a toy to let go of your hand.

– Not only do you want your puppy to stop biting your hand, but also to shift his focus from your hand to the toy. If you give him the toy right next to your hand, he can easily chew on the toy once or twice and go for your hand again. So in order to shift his focus, instead of just putting the toy in his mouth, throw it and engage him in a game of fetch. If your puppy prefers games of tug over games of fetch, by all means engage in a game of tug and let him win. Letting him win is a very important detail, because when a puppy wins a game of tug he’s likely to wander off to enjoy the “trophy” by himself. Games of fetch and games of tug both shift his focus from your hand to the toy or game.

A word of caution: Avoid playing games of tug if your puppy is displaying aggressive behaviors.

– Alexandra Santos –


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