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The question is posed about what an owner should do if their new puppy is biting and hurting when he plays. This is part of the reason that we strongly prefer that a puppy stay with it’s mother/littermates until it is at least 10 to 12 weeks old. He will learn, sometimes the hard way from his mother, that when you play, you don’t bite to hurt. Just keep in mind that this is normal behavior in a puppy.

Even if he has been taught that lesson from his mother, he can still become a hard biter later on. Many experts say that this can be from him being allowed to think he is the dominant member of the “pack.” In his book “Best Behavior, Unleashing Your Dog’s instinct to Obey,” Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine Director of Animal Behavior, writes that we should adopt a consistent “no free lunch” policy with our dogs. They should get what they want the old fashioned way, by EARNING it. You are the provider of their basic needs, food, water, attention, etc. “With a dominant dog, it’s best to supply these things only when the dog promptly and obediently responds to a command. An obedient dog is acknowledging that you are in charge.” Understand that relatively minor changes in your behavior can create significant changes in your dog. If he’s misbehaving, change some of the small interactions to distract him and direct him to the behavior you want.

We personally stress that you should NEVER be physically mean or violent to your dog. He is reading you more than you may think and most likely will respond just fine to your mood and scolding – at the moment that he does the misbehavior.

If your puppy is nipping or biting so hard to cause pain or break your skin, treat him like littermates would treat him. Abruptly end the play session when he hurts you and turn away, ignoring him for a short time (seconds). Also, you may have to limit his excitement by enforcing a “time-out” even if it’s measured in a few heartbeats. If you are playing fetch, don’t immediately throw the toy. Make your puppy sit or do something to calm him. Unless you are working toward confidence building in a shy, non-aggressive dog, don’t play tug of war games or wrestle him vigorously because those actions will just serve to incite him to further hard play-biting.

One method we’ve read about and used is to make him understand that he is hurting you. When he bites too hard, squeal a loud, high-pitched “OUCH” and stay away from him for a few seconds. That’s what his littermates did when they were playing, and he probably learned, at least at that time, that he shouldn’t bite so hard if he wanted to continue the play. In a half-minute or so, return to playing with him and if he bites too hard again, repeat the procedure.

As you do this, his bite should begin to soften. You can play more gently, or redirect his attention to some good chew-toy. Remember that these are very orally oriented animals and they need to chew. It’s just better if they don’t chew on you.

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