Mouthing and chewing are very normal dog behaviors; however, they can be destructive, painful and dangerous if not addressed right away. When puppies are very young, they learn bite inhibition from their littermates. If puppy A applies too much mouth pressure to puppy B, puppy B will correct puppy A indicating his discomfort. Play may temporarily end and if that consequence is punishing enough to puppy A, he will figure out a better way to use his mouth the next time.
The process above is constantly happening during the ever-popular “puppy social”. Young puppies get together under the guidance of a trainer to socialize with other silly, naive puppies. It’s a great place for them to learn how to make social mistakes (bite too hard), interact appropriately (take breaks and listen to corrections) and expand their social circle with different breeds, sizes and play styles.
It’s also the BEST outlet for a mouthing young puppy! Whenever I talk to puppy parents after they have taken their puppy to a social, they report that their home is bliss and their puppy is an angel. Providing oral outlets for a young puppy is so important and is the best way to satiate this normal dog behavior.
Puppies usually have a “witching” hour in the early morning or late evening (this can vary for all puppies). Most puppies tear around the house, engaging in increased levels of mouthing behavior with his/her pet parent or the poor resident dog/cat. Some trainers call this the “zoomies”. Please keep note of when your puppy engages this way so you can be ready to introduce one of the outlets below BEFORE they start this behavior sequence so you can prevent it from happening.
Here are my suggested outlets:
- PHYSICAL STIMULATION:
- Puppy socials: Nothing like an hour of non-stop puppy play to tire your dog out mentally, physically and orally!
- Walks and increased physical stimulation: Take your puppy for a walk. Allow them to sniff and engage in their environment.
- MENTAL STIMULATION:
- Training: Scheduling 2 training sessions per day is a great way to mentally enrich your puppy while also teaching them life skills.
- Find it: Say “find it” and then toss your puppy’s meal on the ground in the living room. Watch as they focus on the food/treats and start using their sniffer, a great way to mentally enrich them!
- ORAL STIMULATION:
- Rotation of toys: Pick up your puppy’s toys and give her new ones daily. This makes your toys novel again which can also help redirect their mouths away from you, guests and pant legs back to the toy.
- Tug: It’s a myth or maybe even an urban legend that playing tug will increase your dog’s aggression. At this time, there is no scientific evidence that supports this claim. Playing tug is very important, especially if your dog naturally engages in this behavior. Giving them an outlet will only satiate this need. In order to prevent the dog from “getting out of hand” while playing this game always be ready to trade treats for the tug toy. This helps to prevent the dog from becoming overly aroused while also teaching the dog that when she drops the item, treats rain from the sky!
- Chew sticks/bones: Provide your puppy access to Primal’s raw marrow bones or bully sticks so they can chew to their heart’s desire! Provide these high-value items inside your puppy’s crate in order to build the crate’s positive association!
- Food puzzles: Feed your puppy’s meals inside a food puzzle toy (Kong) at every meal. The trick here is to have these food puzzles frozen and ready to go. When my puppy was young, I always had 6-8 Kongs frozen and ready to go in my freezer! Check out recipes here! Other food puzzle options include the Busy Buddy, Canine Genius & Kong Wobbler.
Now that you have given your puppy outlets for this normal dog behavior, we can begin to address the behavior in the moment.
- If you have implemented all the above techniques and your puppy is still mouthing, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Did my puppy get enough outlets today?
- How could I have prevented this?
- Do they need a nap? Do they need to go potty?
- Do they need some “downtime” in the crate, possibly chewing on a frozen Kong or bully stick?
- If the puppy’s needs are being met and the redirection to another outlet/toy does not work, I would remove yourself from the puppy when he or she starts biting you. When the puppy places her mouth on you, disengage and remove yourself from the puppy for several seconds. You can do this by stepping over a baby gate or going into another room.
- After you have ignored the puppy for several seconds (10), try interacting with them again. Expect that your puppy might still be mouthy and bring a novel toy with you. If she does not use her mouth – great – continue to play with her. If she places her mouth on you again, use the toy to redirect her. If that does not work and she continues to mouth you, disengage and walk away again.
- Try this process two times in a row. If the puppy cannot settle down and continues to mouth you, place them in the crate/puppy pen with a chew stick so they can settle down.
- It’s best that we do not punish this normal puppy behavior but rather we provide as many outlets as possible. Some people might encourage you to say “no” or tap the puppy on the nose or push the puppy off of you; however, your behavior might inadvertently reinforce the puppy’s mouthing since you are giving her attention. And it’s not the kindest way to interact with the puppy as they engage in very normal puppy behavior. Others might encourage you to yelp in a high pitch noise, however, this method has the potential to get your puppy even more excited! I can only imagine the puppy is thinking “Oh wow – a squeak toy!”