All pup­pies like to explore their envi­ron­ment with their mouths and when play­ing with oth­er pup­pies they do this con­stant­ly. Unfortunately, when play­ing with their human com­pan­ions, this can be painful, as we don’t have the fur to pro­tect us from those sharp teeth and our cloth­ing can seem so very fun to pull on!

When pup­pies are under 16 weeks of age, they are learn­ing what is called ‘bite inhi­bi­tion’. This means under­stand­ing how to use their mouth in con­tact with oth­er liv­ing things, with­out bit­ing too hard. This is best taught to them by anoth­er pup­py, which will respond with a high-pitched squeak when the play­mate bites down too hard. The pup­py brain is hard wired to under­stand this sound and light­en the pres­sure. If they don’t, the oth­er pup­py will stop play­ing with them, teach­ing them that if they don’t play nice­ly – they don’t get to play at all. Owners can use these same strate­gies; squeak when the pup­py bites too hard, and leave the area when they won’t stop. One very impor­tant ele­ment that has to be added in for human/puppy play is redi­rect­ing the puppy’s mouth from the skin to a SOFT toy, where they get the same sen­sa­tion as play­ing with a pup­py. Make the toy more inter­est­ing by flop­ping it around, so that the pup­py wants to grab it, not you.

There will be times when the pup­py just gets overex­cit­ed and can no longer think clear­ly – they go into what I call the shark stage! This is notable for non-stop grab­bing at hands and clothes, pos­si­bly vocal­iz­ing and being unre­spon­sive to any­thing you say. There is no point at this stage in try­ing to dis­ci­pline, or even inter­act with the pup­py, as they are too aroused to learn any­thing. Any type of phys­i­cal inter­ven­tion, such as grab­bing the muz­zle, or hold­ing them down on their back, will usu­al­ly result in a more aggres­sive response from the pup­py. The best thing to do at this point is to either remove your self from the room that the pup­py is in, or put them calm­ly in their crate to set­tle down. This is NOT meant to be pun­ish­ment and they can have a busy toy, such as a stuffed Kong in the crate to help set­tle them down. They need to be qui­et­ly in there for at least 10 to 15 min­utes and then when releas­ing them, be sure to be very calm with them so that you don’t get them all excit­ed again.

Take note of when this hap­pens most fre­quent­ly, as there is usu­al­ly a pat­tern. Often if a play ses­sion is too long or too excit­ing, the pup­py gets over-stimulated. Be sure to have pause in play, where you work at just gen­tly pet­ting them, so that they learn to qui­et nice­ly. End of day and just before bed are oth­er like­ly times, as the pup is tired and more like­ly to act inap­pro­pri­ate­ly – just like a tired baby! Anticipate this and have a good busy toy ready to give them in a qui­et place, before they get riled up.

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