The dogma of Mouthing

Mouthing is a normal behaviour for puppies. They investigate by using their mouths. Babies will put the toy in their mouth to figure out what it is. Dogs are the same way. Their mouths are like our hands. We need to teach them bite inhibition (control the strength of their jaws) and how to play appropriately.

It is relatively easy to teach your puppy not to do this. Most will grow out of this behaviour altogether. Chewing feels good when they are young as they are teething. Below is a list of some ways to train them to stop mouthing:

  • Never reinforce mouthing. Remove your attention anytime the puppy puts their teeth on you. Even eye contact is attention. Stand up, with your arms crossed and look away from the puppy. If they persist, walk out of the room. Close the door (ensure your belongings are safe/out of reach) for a brief timeout (up to 30 s). Continue this until the puppy calms down. Reward for appropriate behaviour.
  • Yelp. Begin playing with your puppy and when your puppy nips let out a sharp yelp, turn around and ignore your puppy for a few seconds. The puppy needs to learn that mouthing stops play.
  • Allow playtime with other dogs. Allow your puppy to play with other puppies and friendly older dogs as often as possible. Other dogs can better teach a puppy that their biting/playing is too rough.
  • Redirect. Offer your puppy a toy to play with while you are interacting with them. This will teach them what’s appropriate to chew on, while still allowing them to use their mouth.
  • Teach mouth manners. Hold a piece of food in your fingers. Offer it to your puppy and only allow them to have it when they are gentle (i.e.: licking) rather than biting at your hand.
  • Accustom them to handling. Puppies tend to mouth hands whenever stroked and patted. When you pet the puppy, distract him by feeding tiny pieces of treat from your other hand. You can read our post on teaching your dog to calmly accept handling here.
  • Provide appropriate outlets. Ensure you are giving a variety of toys to help address their chewing needs appropriately.
  • Play appropriate games. Encourage non-contact forms of play, such as fetch and tug-of-war, rather than wrestling and rough play. Don’t entice the puppy by using your hands as play objects or waving them around your puppy.
  • Do not use physical punishment. Even negative attention can be rewarding for some puppies. You may see an increase in the behaviour by reacting to it and by getting physical. You also risk making the puppy afraid of you.

Remember to be patient and understanding. This is a normal behaviour and most puppies just need time to learn how to be appropriate with their mouths.