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 need and behavior.
Here are my top 5 prevention outlets:
- Puppy socials: Nothing like an hour of non-stop puppy play to tire your dog out mentally, physically and orally!
- 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 training!
- When your puppy places her mouth on you completely disengage and walk away. You can even walk into another room and physically separate yourself from the puppy. 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. 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!”
- After you have ignored the puppy for several seconds (20), try interacting with her again. This time expect that she might 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.
- If your puppy has the inability to settle down and you find yourself walking away several times in a row, then your puppy may need some “down time” in the crate chewing on a frozen Kong or bully stick.
Once a puppy loses his puppy teeth (~6 months old), his mouthing behavior should decrease significantly. If you have an adolescent pup or an adult dog that is mouthing, they may not have received the proper bite inhibition training we discussed at the beginning of this post. Even though they no longer have those razor sharp puppy teeth, adult teeth can do a lot more damage so it’s imperative that you reduce this behavior in order to keep everyone safe. Following the prevention and training plans above will be very helpful in reducing this unwanted behavior.