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How to Teach your Puppy to Stop Biting your Fingers + Toes

How to stop your young puppy from mouthing, biting and nibbling on fingers and toes, and your shoes and clothes... This is a question I get asked times and times again - so let me explain a bit more about this and then watch the videos further below for seeing how well this works in reality.


This page is specifically for younger pups that are recently weaned and are just getting settled into your home. Information about teething, destructive chewing and aggression biting and how do deal with that, will be added at a later time.

 

Puppies left to their own devices, explore and learn by putting things into their mouth and by pawing them. It is as simple as that. When you see a litter of pups playing - there is always a lot of tussling, wrestling, mouthing, ear and tail pulling going on as well as stalking and jumping on each other. Playing tug of war with a toy or a "body part" and mock biting [that sometimes gets a bit carried away in the excitement of playing] is also a normal part of pups learning, developing and growing. This is normal puppy behavior. What is missing when a pup goes home with you, is your proper response to teach bite inhibition during play.


A sibling will squeal or scream when rough-housed with too much, or will promptly retaliate and return the favor - the old "tit for tat" routine and it works remarkably well. The mom is often more patient, but when she has enough - she will discipline the pup and will let it know in no uncertain terms, that it is in trouble and needs to stop.

Our KneeHugger line can be very mouthy, but is also extremely affectionate and smoochey - often more so than poodles from other breeders or bloodlines, and certainly more than some other dog breeds I have had experience with in the past.


One of the permitted way my adults show their love and affection is by "holding" my hand - by mouthing, closing snouts around my fingers and hands, and by gently hanging on to or licking my hand while standing on their back feet.


I am not fond of face kisses, nose-stickem's and licks by my adults - I know where those tongues were earlier ;o),  although there is always one or the other who gets a fast tongue in. I am perfectly fine with them showing affection by "holding my hand".


When I walk into or greet one of my poodle groups, I tend to have 4-6 or more dogs jumping excitedly up and down, hugging my knees or hanging off my two hands - teeth and all - walking, dancing,  jumping up + down and balancing on back feet to keep up with me. I have yet to get seriously bit, snagged or even get blood drawn by any of my poodles - no matter what the occasion.


This is because - even during the excitement of greeting me - they have been taught well as youngsters and know how much mouth pressure is ok and how much is too much. These are the same dogs - that when rawfed - shear effortlessly through chicken carcasses or deer vertibrae and goat legs. Occasionally when a younger dog gets carried away or thinks s/he can't get close enough to reach comfortably, they tend to jump and snap to reach me. All it takes to correct them is that "ackhhh" sound you will hear me make on many of the video clips when a pup gets naughty, for them to chill and be more careful.  


Teaching Proper Mouth Pressure

If you teach proper mouth pressure when they are young puppies and reteach as teenagers [as they tend to forget some of the things they knew previously as young pups] this is something they retain all of their lives long.


Let's watch the video clip and then I will explain some more...


First - before you are teaching your young pup [this page is specifically for new kids that just went home with you, after they get settled in and feel comfy with you and their new home] - that rough mouthing/biting is not appropriate - lets discuss a few things that will come in handy.


*** If you do not want your pup to lick, mouth or "hold your hand" at all now or when it is older, then do not encourage it in the first place. It is much harder to un-teach something that was initially cute, at a later stage when it has become a problem. So if in your case you do not ever want your pup to lick fingers or hold hands - click here to learn how to do that!



*** If you are okay with the pup [and later adult dog] showing its affection for you by gentle mouthing and hand-holding - then you will want to work on pressure modulation and how to stop on command. This basic training will also come in handy when teaching how to release toys [or other items the pup is not supposed to have] some time down the line and will help when your pup is teething, rough housing, or goes into a destructive chewing phase.

Using the 3 Finger Grip


During the first few times, do a short soft grip, but firm enough so the pup won't wriggle  loose until you are ready to release. 


Give the "Ackhhh!" command - you want to associate the ackhhh sound with a mild correction.  The longterm goal is when you make this sound in the future, the pup stops whatever it is doing and looks at you or backs away from the activity. Along with the "ackhhh" give a soft shake of the head. The entire action should take no longer than 2-3 seconds when you begin.


 Watch the above video clip one more time. Feel free to share it with your friends and family or new puppy owners in need of help.


Towards the end he still wanted to nibble on my fingers, but was a bit unsure if that was okay. So he settled for a nice [and for me acceptable] compromise - instead of biting he gently mouthed and licked my fingers, and got rewarded with pets + cuddles in return.


You can also see that towards the end of the clip, when he realized that I would "bite" him back with my fingers if he got too rowdy, he was content to just climb into my lap and cuddle. He was not upset, scared or angry - he accepted me as his alpha dog and he wanted my goodwill and protection [and the cuddles that come with lap hogging ].

 

With each repeated correction the finger pressure increases a bit, I hold an extra second or two and the little head shake is a tad more pronounced, until he gets it that it has to do with him biting on me in the first place.


You bite me - I "bite" you back - tit for tat in puppy play.

I also often say "ouch" in a high pitched louder voice initially [imitating the high pitched squeal of an offended sibling] - again - when my adults get too excited - an "ouch" from me tones the bounciness down and the mouths get softer when they love on me.


"Ouching" often works well enough if the pup knows the next step is an "ackhhh" and getting "bit" in return. 


Excessive mouthing or too firm nibbling does not need to become an issue when you nip it in the bud when it first becomes an issue. Most younger pups only need 2-3 playsessions to catch on, and a reminder every once in a while to make it stick!


An  older pup that has been biting quite hard or for a longer period of time and thinks it is fun to do so, needs more thorough work along the same principles - because they work, regardless of the age or size of the dog.

The grip just gets a bit firmer, a bit longer and more uncomfortable, the shake is definitely noticeable and more pronounced. I might put a growl into my voice when I say "No bite" - and there will be no question that I am displeased and unhappy.


It is important that you will not let him wriggle free or get away from you if the issue has progressed to a dominance struggle, until you are ready to end the lesson and release him when you want to, not when he wants you to. If your older pup tends to bolt and goes nananana-booboo on you - you need to work with him/her when she is on the leash so you remain in charge and can reel him/her back in.

 

Same Lesson - Different Puppy!

See how well this works! Different puppy - same lesson. All it took was once or twice, and at the "ackhhh" sound, he backed away and rolled over, showing his tummy [submitting]. This is a very low key puppy - overall laid back and mellow, so easier to teach than some other babies.

You may need repeated training sessions with more dominant pups, or pups that have been getting away with rough biting for a while... But it does work, you just need to teach it and be persistent about it!


e-Cards

This Works with Older Puppies & Teenagers too...

An  older pup that has been biting quite hard or for a longer period of time and thinks it is fun to do so, needs more thorough work along the same principles - because they work, regardless of the age or size of the dog.


The grip just gets firmer, longer and more uncomfortable, the shake is definitely noticeable and more pronounced. I might put a growl into my voice when I say "No bite" - and there will be no question that I am displeased and unhappy.


The alternative is to unteach this behavior all together and not allow any mouthing or biting at all. Read here how to achieve that with little to no stress, and how to work with an older pups better intuitive understanding, rather than the "fluffiness" of a young baby.


It is important that you will not let him or her wriggle free or get away from you if the issue has progressed to a dominance struggle, until you are ready to end the lesson and release him when you want to, not when s/he wants you to.


If your older pup tends to bolt and goes nananana-booboo on you - you need to work with him/her when she is on the leash so you remain in charge and can reel him/her back in to finish the lesson and release it when you say you two are done, not when the pup says!

 

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