Just like with human babies, baby animals need to be taught acceptable limits to their behaviours.
Babies also learn a lot from putting things into their mouths and comfort the pains of teething by biting and chewing. Dogs don’t have the dexterous hands which humans have so prefer to hold things in their mouths rather than in their paws.
It’s a natural habit but a dog needs to be taught what it is acceptable to bite and chew (food, a chew toy) and what it is absolutely not okay to chomp (your hand, the legs of your favourite armchair).
We can wean a dog away from using its mouth defensively through some simple training, ideally started when the pup is young.
Using your dog’s natural instincts to curb naughty nipping
Little pups naturally ‘mouth’ each other – play fighting with their teeth, mouths open. It’s all an important part of growing up but it’s also a great way for your pup to learn what’s okay and what isn’t.
When a pup bites its sibling too hard, the poor pup who got nibbled will make a yelping sound and go limp. This usually shocks the pup who did the biting and makes them realise they have overstepped the mark.
You can mimic this using this behaviour to help him understand how much is too much. If Fido bites your finger too hard, try not to pull away (very tempting! But this could activate your dog’s ‘chase’ instincts or make them clamp down and ‘worry’ your finger, neither of which are acceptable behaviours). Try to mimic a pup’s yelp and let your hand go limp. Pup should release your finger. Turn your back and refuse to play for twenty seconds, refusing to give any attention – and then resume play.
If this nipping behaviour happens too frequently (more than three times in 45 minutes), then enough is enough. Play should stop. The aim is to teach your pup that you love gentle play, but that rough play is unacceptable.
Don’t bite me, don’t chew the furniture!
Once you’ve taught Fido not to bite you, you might want to put him off biting the antiques too! There are several methods which can help.
Redirecting their attention
If pup goes to bite something precious, redirect his attention onto something he can bite. Take the object away (or take the pup away from the object) and provide something like a chew toy, tugger or treat.
If all else fails, biting deterrent products can be useful. Try an anti-chew spray on furniture. Its bitter taste is enough to put any dog off gnawing. Try spritzing it on a clean cloth and putting it in your pet’s mouth. They should immediately spit it out in disgust. When they do, let them sniff it. That should cement the association between this horrible taste and the smell, to put them off nibbling anything undesirable again!