Play biting--Help!

Posted by brynag2003
Mar 5, 2008
My 7 mos. old mutt likes to play by using her teeth--she either kind of takes hold of my hand and tries to wrestle with it, or she chases pant legs and grabs them with her teeth. At first, I didn't engage in the hand-teeth playing, but then two of my male friends (both dog owners) played this way with her, and I thought, "maybe this is how you play with dogs." But, then I saw your chapters on "biting/nipping" and tug-of-war. I'm confused! She's most definitely not biting anyone, she is clearly playing. But, maybe this is the behaviour you are refering to as inappropriate? And, what about the tug-of-war? Help!
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Mar 5, 2008
Hi there!

I found your posting very timely since I am now fostering a 7 mos old, 40 lbs puppy named Licorice!

When she first came to our house 2 wks ago, she play bits my hand and my sleeves, etc. She also tried to bite a towel when I wiped her paws, or a dog brush when I brushed her.

It was a bit of a surprise for me because last time we had a puppy was 16 yrs ago and we totally forgot puppy-like behaviors!

Every time Licorice bit my hand, I said "Ouch!" in a sharp voice and stared at her in her eyes. Then I gave her a bone, Kong, or a toy instead. I had to repeat this only a few times before she learned that it was something I didn't like to be done.

Yes, it is very true that dogs play using their mouth a lot! Usually they learn how much mouthing is OK by playing with other dogs. It is very fortunate that Lico has my two older dogs to play with her mouth so she does not need to do that with me. Their play looks pretty aggressive sometimes but they know how strongly they can bite so they don't hurt themselves (see the attached picture of Holly and Noah playing using their mouth).

Dogs/puppies at Licorice's age can learn what is an appropriate/inappropriate behavior. They just need a clear guidance. I would discourage your male friends allowing your dog to use her teeth/mouth to them. Because I believe dogs should never use their teeth to people and it will confuse your puppy.

Tug of war is a good game if you don't have another dog to play with your puppy. However, make sure your puppy knows that she should never put her teeth on you hand (again sharp "Ouch" will help) and also when she gets too excited you should stop playing. In other words you should be able to control the play by saying "That's enough. Drop it". It is actually a good game to play in order for your dog to learn that she can have a good time only when she listen to you. Don't let your dog control the play though. If you do that, then your dog will learn a resource guarding behavior, which will cause problems later on.

Hope this will help. By the way, Licorice does no longer use her teeth to me and she is going to be adopted this weekend!! I will miss her a lot.
Posted by brynag2003
Mar 5, 2008
This is a follow up to the play-biting male friends also growl at her when they play with her. Should growling (low, quiet) be reserved for reprimands only? Or is this a way to communicate playing, too?

Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Mar 6, 2008
I know some books including SitStayFetch says growling is good for reprimand but I don't agree with it.

Dogs can not speak our language and we cannot speak their language. In my opinion it can be misunderstood if you try to imitate dogs' communication methods, including growling, barking, facial expressions, etc.

I do pretend to growl or whine when I play with them but they usually look puzzled. When I growl as I play tug of war they get excited so growling can be mistaken as playing.

If you want to scold/reprimand, I encourage you use human language such as "No" "Ouch!" "Don't do that" etc. They understand what it means by the tone of your voice and your facial expression (in the human way).

However, the above is my opinion based on my experience with my dogs.

Hope your puppy will learn soon that play-biting is not allowed to people.

Good luck
Posted by luvnpeas2u
Mar 6, 2008
We need to remember that we domesticated dogs and they live in our world now! It is NOT OKAY for a dog to bite a human-even when playing with them. That sends a message to the dog that biting is okay period! Dogs can play bite with each other, but not with humans.