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Question: We have an 8-month-old mini poodle and he has a tendency to bite when he plays and pulls at our pants and socks as a way of getting us to play. We give him a nudge across the nose or mouth and push him away with a firm no! (The vet told us to do this). This has not been working. Is there anything else we can do?
Answer: Yes! There are a couple of different techniques you can try. Mouthing is one of the most common problems with young pups. Unfortunately for us, its not an ideal way to play as it usually ends up in ripped clothes and broken skin.
Its natural for dogs to use their mouths when they communicate and play with each other. Dogs and pups have a very effective way to communicate to young pups if they are playing too rough with their teeth they give out a quick, sharp, high pitch yelp as soon as the teeth make any contact that is too hard and cease all further interaction with the puppy. So one of the things you can try is to take a page from a dogs book. Next time your pup nips at your hands or socks, let out a very quick, sharp, high pitch Yipe! Take one big step away from your now startled pup and cease any further interaction with him. That means crossing your arms and facing away from the pup and not giving any eye contact or making any noise. Wait at least 10 seconds and then calmly move towards the pup and ask him to Sit. If he does say, good boy in a gentle tone of voice and give him an appropriate toy to play and chew on.
Also, try avoid playing one-on-one with your puppy when he is very activated. He is more likely going to be tempted to sink his teeth into you. If your pup is in active mode, take him outside and toss a toy or ball around the backyard for him acting as a buffer for your hands. Again, if he tries to go after your pant legs or socks, immediately cease all interaction with him.
Teach your dog how to be gentle with his mouth. When your pup is not activated, sit down with him in a quiet room and have a few small treats like cooked chicken within arms reach (even better if you are using a treat pouch). Hold out your hand and place the treat in your palm close to your pointer finger and your thumb and then clench your fist around it. A little tiny bit of the treat should be sticking out from your clenched fist. Sit in front of your pup and ask him to sit. When he does, slowly bring your hand with the treat in front of his nose and say gentle. If he tries to take a big bite, immediately pull your hand back and wait a few seconds. Then repeat the process. Your dog will very quickly learn that his bite made the treat disappear and he will offer a different behaviour to get the treat to stick around a bit longer. This is usually a lick or more gentle nibble of your hand. When he does, open your hand and give him the treat.