Ouch! What to Do When Your Dog Mouths or Play-bites
Teeth on skin, especially those needle-like puppy teeth, are not only painful; they can also cause serious injuries and infections, even from apparently minor wounds that occur during play.
The First Line of Defense
With puppies particularly, you want to use the least amount of force or punishment that will accomplish your objective — in this case: to teach your puppy that humans are so delicate that they can't tolerate any teeth on them at all. The first thing to try when your puppy mouths you is to just yelp “Ouch!” loudly and walk away. Ignore your puppy for a few minutes and then let her make up with you. Repeat every time she touches your skin with her teeth for three days. If she's improving by decreasing the frequency of her mouthing or moderating the amount of pressure she applies, you're on the right track. If she's only a little better, you can try driving her away from you by scooching into her until she moves away. In other words, keep your feet close to the ground and scuff them on the floor as you move into her space and drive her away (into another room or her crate for a minute). Add emphasis by repeating “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” as you go.
If the kinder, gentler way isn't deterring your little shark-mouth, then you'll have to add a correction. Since it's a mouth issue, you want to use a mouth correction by applying or squirting something that tastes bad into her mouth when she has her teeth on you. What you use will depend on your dog and what she doesn't like. The most convenient option is breath spray in a tube (made for people), but you can also try Bitter Apple, vinegar, lemon juice, or Tabasco. If you use one of the last three options, buy a small travel spray bottle (available at most drugstores) and dilute your deterrent in water. Whatever you use, make sure you say “Ouch!” at the same time you spray. It only takes most dogs a few repetitions for them to connect the “Ouch” with the bad taste. Don't threaten your dog with the spray — it tends to create a “fresh” back-talking puppy — either spray her or don't. Remember to arm everyone in the house and keep the deterrents handy so you can correct her promptly. As mentioned previously, if you have to go looking for a deterrent, it's too late.
Your puppy's mother would correct her for rudeness by grabbing her by the scruff and pinning her to the floor for a few seconds, until she submitted. This can be an effective technique for people to use if they have good timing and can execute it smoothly. It should only be used on pushy puppies, not soft or shy puppies who need confidence building.
If your puppy is in a frenzy of play-biting, try one of the scruff techniques described earlier, or give her a time-out in her crate until she can control herself again. If she's in a phase of biting frenzies, keep a leash on her so you can control her quickly without actually having to put your hands on her. Use the leash to hold her away from your body and keep a little tension straight up on the leash until she calms down.