Puppies use their mouths for many reasons. Teething, exploration, taste, play, and chewing are just a few. Plus, your puppy needs to learn bite inhibition so he or she can regulate those powerful GSD jaws as an adult dog. So what do you do when those needle-sharp baby German Shepherd teeth are tearing up your clothes or skin?
First, let’s cover a few DON’Ts:
- Don’t hold your puppy’s mouth shut. Besides possibly hurting your puppy and causing him to retaliate with a hard bite, think about what puppies do when they play — they mouth each other! If you start interacting with your puppy when he puts his mouth on you, he will be likely to try that strategy again the next time he wants your attention.
- Don’t smack or hit your puppy (on the face, or anywhere else). Besides hurting your puppy, hitting teaches him to be wary or afraid of human hands — definitely not an association we want our adult German Shepherds to have!
- Don’t shout NO! or Stop! If this worked, it would have worked the first time, and forevermore! Instead, shouting at your puppy teaches him to be afraid of you or to ignore you (or maybe both).
Here are some strategies to try if you find your puppy is biting too hard:
- Decide what “too hard” is. Remember, your puppy NEEDS to bite. Biting with puppy teeth is how your pup learns how to be gentle with his or her mouth. You want your puppy to bite you! However, you get to decide how hard is too hard. My rule of thumb is if the bite leaves a red mark, that is too hard. If your puppy bites too hard, say “Ouch!” in an unpleasant tone, and stop playing with your pup for a moment. IMPORTANT: You should never allow your puppy to mouth or bite babies and children. Kids aren’t capable of appropriately telling a puppy how hard is too hard, and biting can easily become a game, or could hurt the child. Have kids play with the puppy with toys or feed your GSD puppy treats for being calm.
- Use toys. Use a tug or fluffy toy to encourage your pup to bite a toy instead of your hands and clothes. Remember to trade your puppy the toy for a treat each time you want him to give it up, so he learns to give you the toy quickly and easily!
- Teach a desired behavior. Teach your puppy to chase a treat up and down the stairs, or to walk nicely on leash, or to fetch something, instead of biting.
- Create some downtime. Using a leash, tether, crate or other barrier is a good way to help your puppy calm down when he or she is to excited to play appropriately. If the “Ouch!” technique isn’t working, or your puppy is disinterested in toys and only wants to bite you or your clothing, it’s time to shift to a calmer activity. Use the teaching calmness technique as above, or put your puppy on a leash, temporary tether, or crate with a stuffed Kong or other tasty chew toy. Try playing again in a little while, after a potty break!