When puppies bite their owner's hands, feet and clothing, there can be many explanations and many different levels of seriousness. For this reason, this article is just a general basic guide to the various factors and reasons behind it, and some solutions.
Over the years, we have heard from many owners complaining of puppy biting behaviours becoming a problem for them. The seriousness ranges from little more than puppy mouthing with a hint of tooth contact, through to the most serious of ripping bites causing severe injury and scarring to owners' hands.
Puppies bite their litter-mates, and many people read this and therefore believe that they have found reasonable justification for allowing it, or not being concerned about it. DO NOT underestimate how difficult and potentially dangerous this behaviour can become in a very short space of time, if not handled correctly.
When puppies bite their litter-mates they are learning the beginnings of natural selection and prey instincts. They are, if you like, practicing their primary skill, to bite, and in doing so, they learn how strong they are, how their bites can achieve an advantage over their fellow pups, and how to fight using their mouth to overcome another dog or animal.
The most important thing to remember is that, whilst you love your puppy dearly and enjoy his or her playful nature, you are NOT a litter-mate and must never allow yourself to be seen or treated as one. I happen to believe that puppies are allowed to be sold too young, and removed from the security and learning environment of their litter and mother FAR too early. Having had several puppies, and having experienced many puppies through behaviour work with clients, my experience tends to suggest that puppies taken from the litter at 12 weeks old are much less likely to suffer behavioural problems than those taken at 8 weeks. The most common problem is the playful instinct to bite, chase and effectively hunt which is still extremely experimental in a puppy at the tender age of 8 weeks old.
When 8 week old puppies leave the nurturing place they were born in, the world is an extremely big place and one which needs working out quickly. The first thing a puppy wants and needs to work out in its mind is the kind of people it is living with. A puppy MUST know its 'place' and if it doesn't, it will play with and test every single rule or boundary it can possibly think of, in an attempt to assess everything around it, namely YOU.
Having said that, i do not want to give the impression that a puppy biting its owner is a challenging dog which needs 'putting in its place', that is FAR from what i believe. In contrast in fact, i think the puppy needs to be nurtured and encouraged to have confidence, and not knocked down at the first sign of what would call negative behaviour. This does not mean you are not dealing with it, you ARE dealing with it, WITH the understanding of its causes and reasons.
To treat a biting puppy with scorn or anger will firstly NOT solve the problem, and secondly WILL cause confidence issues, and when a dog has no mental confidence it becomes nervous. Nervous dogs account for the huge majority of dog bites in any country in the world. Fearsome deadly dogs don't exist in the numbers which many newspapers would have you believe, instead we have a huge number of dogs which LACK the confidence NOT to bite, and lack the trust in their environment which is needed to prevent them feeling threatened.
Puppies biting their owners are usually attempting to play, and in some rare cases, they are using that play to challenge. However, regardless of the reasons, ALL puppies work to the same rule "IF IT BRINGS A RESPONSE I LIKE, I WILL DO IT AGAIN." Having said this, and contrary to what many people believe, this statement does not make the reverse statement true, i.e. "If i tell my dog off, it won't do it again because it won't like being told off." This is a myth and mostly because what PEOPLE call a telling off is NOT the same as what a young dog calls a telling off, and in the confusion between the two, most puppies simply because nervous, withdrawn and MORE likely to repeat the behaviour.
In addition, if you use raised voices, heightened stress levels and heightened emotions (such as anger or frustration) in response to puppy biting, you will more than likely cause your dog to have a raised stress and emotional level too, which will never help you calm the dog down and cease to use its mouth in nipping you.
If a puppy bites, you need to do whatever it is that you think the puppy would LEAST want you to do. If your puppy is biting to get food from your hand, you simply remove that food, make sure the puppy doesn't get it, and if anything, delay any further foods a little while longer than you would have without the biting. If your puppy bites you for fun, then show NO fun in your character, be calm and quiet and remove yourself from the puppy's company immediately. If your puppy bites to get your attention, DO NOT react to it. Do not even look at the puppy, just keep looking away and walk away, shutting the door behind you.
Try to get into the mind of your puppy, thinking about what his or her motivations or end goals might be in biting you. It may be because (as is very common) each time your puppy begins to make contact with you with his teeth, you move your hand stroke his belly. This is something you MAY NOT notice you are doing, so be vigilant of your own behaviour. It may be because you have read somewhere that when a puppy bites, you should 'refocus his biting onto a bone or toy' so your puppy has become educated to the idea that biting gets a toy or bone delivered speedily by the owner!
Think in SIMPLE terms, it should not be hard to out think a four legged animal who is not even close to adolescence! Be smart, calculating and LOGICAL. WHY is YOUR puppy biting YOU? What routine has he learned, or what reaction have you given to cause him to ENJOY THE RESULT of his biting? Even an owner who shouts, screams or cries in reaction to a nip from a puppy is probably actually unwittingly rewarding the biting behaviour, so find out what your puppy LEAST wants you to do, and DO THAT the second he bites or nips.
As time goes on, you should see the signs which give an early indication of your puppy getting 'wound' up to bite you. If its a particular toy which causes it, remove the toy for good. If its the way you stroke your dog (i.e. maybe sitting on the floor with him) then STOP doing that, instead stand up and bend down to stroke your puppy until this behaviour has completely gone. Look for early signs and learn how to engineer the puppy out of that cycle of preparation.
If you have a serious case of a puppy biting you, you need to address it immediately, and if you can't, then you MUST seek professional advice. There is no time to waste on a behaviour like this one, it won't go away with time, it will get worse unless you learn either through education or through a trainer or behaviourist precisely what reactions to offer to your puppy to cause it to rethink its actions and refrain from this potentially dangerous behaviour. Your puppy also deserves every opportunity to live a happy life as a balanced and trusted dog, so you are doing both of you a favour by addressing this problem without delay.