Dogs are not born with soft mouths, but they can learn to bite softly if taught properly, which means plenty of information and communication from you and from other dogs.

Interacting with other dogs is critical to teaching your puppy bite inhibition. When two dogs play together and one bites too hard, the other one cries and runs away. This behavior helps to teach the biter to play-bite softly.

Normal puppies can and should play-bite continually in social interactions, because biting and mouthing are normal canine behaviors. Puppies and young adolescent dogs have a physical and psychological need to use their mouths. Remember, dogs use their mouths the way humans use their hands.

Soft mouth exercises need to begin as soon as you get your new puppy. Puppy teeth are sharp, but their jaws are underdeveloped so these exercises should not be painful to you. When your puppy is mouthing your hand or fingers, monitor their bite pressure. If your puppy bites too hard, screech “OUCH” very loudly and look at your puppy as if she just ripped your hand off. Then leave the room and ignore your puppy for several minutes.

You need to make a strong impression on your puppy that if she bites too hard, she will end up playing all by herself. Being very social animals, most dogs and puppies will not opt to play by themselves. Be prepared to repeat this exercise over and over again so that a trend emerges…Bite too hard, play by yourself!

This exercise is even more effective if all the people that come into contact with your puppy implement it with one exception. Young children should never teach soft mouth exercises. When you puppy starts to get overexcited and begins to bite too hard, have your children leave the area so you can do the training.

When your puppy is consistently demonstrating better self-control, you can start to monitor even the moderate to light pressure bites. Now, if your puppy is putting her mouth on you with even moderate pressure, screech “OUCH,” leave, and ignore her for a few minutes. Then go back and try again.

Remember, you must give your puppy plenty of outlets for her mouth and jaws. Stuffed Kong toys, frozen wash cloths, chew toys soaked in broth or chicken stock, and tug-of-war games are just a few great ways for your puppy to use her mouth and jaws in an acceptable way. If you say no to one item (your hands or your clothes) you must say yes to another (her toys).

And always manage your puppy’s behavior. If she is biting and mouthing you excessively, this is a clear signal that she is bored and needs to release some energy. A good dose of aerobic exercise should remedy this. On a final note, never reinforce your puppy’s biting or mouthy behavior. Your attention, be it scruff shaking, grabbing her snout, or smacking her nose is all reinforcement to your puppy and will make the problem worse.

Biting is a normal stage that puppies go through, and when properly managed, never needs to become a big issue down the road.