From the Pink Panther Strikes Again:
Clouseau: Does your dog bite?
Hotel Clerk: No.
Clouseau: (bowing down to pet the dog) Nice doggie.
(Dog barks and bites Clouseau in the hand)
Clouseau: I thought you said your dog did not bite!
Hotel Clerk: That is not my dog.
There are a lot of reasons to teach our dogs to inhibit their mouthing or biting. Young children and older folks have thinner skins and easily bruise or get a skin break. If we teach our dogs to inhibit their bite, then there is less risk of an accident, including an unintentional or non-aggressive one.
I start with puppies in the whelping box to teach them their teeth are sharp. As soon as they begin to use their needlelike little teeth on my hands, but not to the point of breaking skin, I say “OW!” I don’t move my hand until the puppy removes his mouth from my hand, once the mouth is off my hand I praise the pup in a low-key tone of voice so he doesn’t start right in again. He usually has a surprised look on his face, like what a namby-pamby you are!
If he persists in the mouthing or biting, I get up and walk away. Or I’ll let him know I am unhappy that he hurt me with my tone of voice. For example, “You hurt me and I’m not going to play with you.” I don’t want to frighten the puppy, but I want to act similarly to what a littermate would do--yelp in pain or leave if things get too rough.
If you are having problems with your puppy biting, teach the puppy that he does not get what he wants as long as his mouth is on you:
1) If the puppy is grabbing for the treat, take your hand away and offer the treat again. If the puppy reaches for or grabs the treat, remove your hand. Repeat this as many times as necessary until the puppy realizes that grabbing for the treat gets him nowhere. If the puppy calmly sits still and does not grab for the treat, click (if you are doing clicker training) and give him the treat.
2) If you are petting your puppy and he is mouthing or biting you while you are petting, stop the petting! You are telling the puppy that it is OK to bite or mouth while being petted, because you continue to pet! Take your hand away quickly and try again, every time the puppy attempts to mouth or bite you, remove your hand. When the puppy calmly accepts petting, click and treat, and pet your pal!
3) If your puppy bites you or the leash while putting the leash on, apply copious amounts of Bitter Apple and click and treat for calmly sitting and allowing you to put the lead on. Remove your hand every time the puppy grabs for the leash or your hand.
Teach “OFF” as a command just like you would Sit or Come. “Off” can mean; off of couch, no jumping up (instead of using the word “down” which means lie down), no grabbing hands or clothes in play.
Step 1) Give the puppy a piece of food “for free” and say “take it” while giving him the food.
Step 2) Hold a treat in your hand so the puppy can smell and lick it, but is unable to eat it. (You will probably need to fold your fingers in and tuck your thumb in too). When the pup voluntarily stops mouthing/licking your hand, either by stopping or looking away, click, praise and give the treat with “take it.” Timing of the praise with the moment the dog looks away or stops is important; it should be instantaneous. Do this 6 times, (it may take some patience for the puppy to give up and stop trying to get the treat), each time praise when the puppy stops on its own and immediately give the treat with “take it”.
Step 3) While the dog is mouthing your hand, tell it “Off” in a low tone of voice. Wait until the puppy stops mouthing, then immediately click, praise while it is off, and give treat. Puppies that really “get it” might sit and wait, which is wonderful. Or they even might start to wander away. That’s OK, still praise them and give them the treat.
Step 4) Increase the time that the puppy is “Off” from 2 seconds, then 5, up to 7 seconds.
Step 5) Use “take it” when giving food. You may have to be firm when saying “Off,” the degree of firmness depends on the individual puppy.
If you are having difficulty with this exercise because the puppy is biting too hard, hold food enclosed in your right hand so that the puppy cannot eat it, but spray the outside of your fingers with Grannick’s Bitter Apple. When you are giving a treat with the “take it” command, use your left hand that has not been sprayed. Once your dog understands the OFF command with your hand you can generalize to clothes, furniture, etc. If your puppy is uninterested in the treat, you’ll need to find a treat good enough to entice the pup, but not so great that it really bites your hand. Or do this exercise before a meal so that the puppy is a little bit hungry.