Ok, so maybe your puppy isn’t a beast, but your puppy is probably mouthing and biting you and your family. It is probably driving you crazy! Luckily, this behavior is totally normal! Read The Gold Coast Dog’s guide to dealing with mouthing and biting behaviors.
The first thing to know is that puppies learn and explore by using their mouths. Since puppies do not have hands and fingers like human babies, they use their mouths to learn, feel, and explore the world. They use their mouths to explore items, textures, objects, and even our hands, feet and legs.
Puppies typically start losing their teeth somewhere around four to five months of age. Their adult teeth typically are in at about six months. Mouthing behaviors can still continue until adult teeth are fully in. You might see mouthing behavior go on until about seven months.
In the meantime, we will need to manage these behaviors. This prevents mouthing and biting us and random items around the house from becoming a normal and fun activity.
Look at those little teeth! Ready to use that mouth at any moment!
Addressing the Beast!
What is mouthing & what is biting?
First, I want to explain the difference between your puppy mouthing versus biting. I look at mouthing as more of a soft and playful behavior. During mouthing the puppy is investigating, exploring and is probably teething. The puppy is acting in a social way towards people without chomping down or going too far.
Knowing how and why your puppy is mouthing is important. Does your puppy chase, grab and let go quickly? Or do they grab with their whole mouth and hold on? These questions can help determine what the puppy is doing and if it should be cause for concern.
Typically, when a puppy is mouthing they might start chewing a little or playfully grabbing and letting go of you quickly. Teething puppies tend to be mouthy because their mouths hurt as their adult teeth come in. It is normal that a puppy wants to mouth to comfort themselves.
I look at biting differently. (Please keep in mind I am NOT saying what your puppy is and isn’t. I am simply trying to distinguish the difference between mouthing versus biting behaviors.) To me biting is more forceful then mouthing. Just because a puppy may not break or puncture someone’s skin, does not mean it isn’t a bite. If your puppy is approaching in a pushy and/or confident way, grabs with their entire mouth, and holds on in a forceful manner, this is considered biting behavior.
Now, does this mean there should be cause for concern? Well, that depends! I am not saying that this is an issue. This depends on a variety of factors including the individual puppy. Your training & behavior professional needs to determine what is appropriate and what could be cause for concern.
Common Reasons for Mouthing & Biting
Although puppies use their mouths to learn and explore, they also mouth and even bite for other reasons.
Some Common Reasons Are:
Teething: Young puppies are typically mouthy because they are in the teething process. Their mouths may be hurting because their puppy teeth will eventually fall out, making way for their adult teeth! Once those adult teeth start coming in, you may find your puppy is a bit more mouthy. This can be because it is uncomfortable.
Stress &/or Excitement: Even a calm puppy with gentle mouth may increase the pressure of his bite when he is stressed and/or excited. Yup, you heard me right! Stress and excitement are two reasons that can cause a dog to increase the pressure of his mouth. Puppies can become excited and over stimulated by a variety of random things. Some puppies might get overly excited and stimulated by someone’s dress or even jeans swaying in the wind, causing the puppy to get mouthy. Puppies mouths gravitate towards movement! The same is true in households with young children. Children constantly running around can cause a puppy to get over stimulated and excited causing them to chase and mouth. Knowing how and why puppy is mouthing is important. If your puppy chases and grabs and let’s go quickly verses grabs with his whole mouth and holds on; this can help determine what the puppy is doing and if it should be cause for concern.
Displacement Signals: Some puppies and adult dogs may mouth or bite when they are feeling conflicted. Displacement Signals are body language and communication signals that are displayed during specific situations when a dog is feeling some internal conflict and is not sure what to do or how to act. These types of dogs might start out as excited and then become anxious or even frustrated. When they have these feelings, they might not know what to do or how to react, so they start displaying their displacement behavior.
Excessive Touching & Holding: Sometimes we just can’t help how cute our puppies are! They are cute, soft and adorable. OMG, don’t you just want to squeeze them all day, right? Well, that being said, sometimes we touch and hold puppy’s to much which might cause the puppy to mouth or bite. We have to remember to listen to our puppy’s body language. The puppy is the one who decides what is excessive. It is also important to note that not all puppies like being touched or held a lot. Puppies that don’t want to be held or touched may communicate their displeasure by trying to squirm out of your hands and arms. They may also growl, snap, or even bite to tell you “Stop, leave me alone, and put me down.” Again, this is important information that can help you learn more about your puppy. If you have any issues or concerns make sure to reach out to a positive reinforcement training and behavior professional.
Early Experience: In the first few weeks of life, a puppy learns how and why to control the pressure of his teeth. If he bites too hard while nursing, mom might just get up and walk away. If he bites too hard while playing, his siblings are likely to quit playing with him or let him know he is hurting them. Learning bite inhibition from the mother and litter is crucial early on, as it starts to lay the foundation. Puppies who are pulled from their mom and litter to early may not learn how to control the pressure of their mouths which can sometimes cause some behavior issues, especially as the puppy grows up. These puppies may also not know how to appropriately socialize with other puppies and adult dogs. I also find that puppies who are not socialized and exposed to other puppies and/or adult dogs once they are brought home also run the risk of having a lack in control of the pressure of their mouth and bite.
Genetics: Genetic components can also play a role in why a puppy has a gentle mouth or hard bite.
At the end of the day, if you have any issues or concerns make sure to reach out to a positive reinforcement training and behavior professional.
For example, if your puppy constantly tries to chew your shoes then manage the environment by putting your shoes inside a closet or another room. Dogs ultimately do what works for them and what’s fun and enjoyable. If your puppy keeps chewing your shoes over and over and over, then he is learning and rehearsing the “fun” behavior. We would need to introduce management strategies to minimize and stop unwanted behaviors from occurring.
Below is a list of my suggestions on how to address mouthing. If you find your puppy is mouthing excessively or even biting, reach out to a positive reinforcement training & behavior professional to assist you.
Manage by Puppy Proofing:
Puppy-proof your house by placing items out of the puppies reach. Shoes, socks, dirty laundry, the puppy’s leash, the kid’s homework and anything else that shouldn’t be on the floor or in puppy’s reach. You may also want to remove rugs as your puppy may choose to urinate on them. Additionally, removing items from counters and tables prevents your curious puppy from being tempted to jump up.
Another great option to help puppy-proof your home is to contain your puppy with baby gates.
Managing a puppy is a great first step! However, management does not teach a puppy what to do. This is where training comes in. To prevent mouthing, jumping, or any other problem behaviors start training your puppy ASAP. It is much easier to teach a puppy what to do rather than trying to fix issues later on. Training is also very important to start building the owner and dog relationship.
Exercise Your Puppies Mouth:
Chew toys will be your best friend! One of my biggest pieces of advice is exercise the puppy’s mouth. The more your puppy can chew on their own things the more they can exercise their little mouth. This can help cut mouthing. Buy many safe chew toys of different sizes, shapes, and textures. These include Braided Bully Sticks (odorless), Pigs Ears, Tracheas, and Flavored Nyla Bones. I would also recommend mental enrichment toys. One of my favorites being Classic Kong’s. Classic Kong’s are great because you can stuff them with high-value foods such as canned dog food, peanut butter (without xylitol), cream cheese, wiz cheese, 100% Natural Canned Pumpkin, mashed sweet potato, and plain Greek yogurt. Other mental enrichment toys include A Dog Slow Feeder Bowl, Kong Wobbler Toy, Kong Tiltz Bowl, Kong Quest Wishbone, Hyper Pet Licki Mat and West Paw Toppl.
Physical & Mental Exercise:
Provide your puppy with enough proper mental and physical exercise.
Mental Exercise can be using food dispensing toys to feed your dog meals rather than a dog bowl. Another form of mental exercise is training. Training your puppy is super important to help teach him what you want him to do. It is also important to help set rules and boundaries.
Allowing your puppy to go for walks, sniff and explore the world is an important positive experience for the learning and development process. Games like fetch and tug are also great ways to play and engage with your puppy while getting them tired.
Using relaxation protocols can be very helpful in teaching your puppy to settle down. They should be used when you have time to give your puppy your undivided attention. These kinds of exercises can be useful during times when the family is hanging out in the family room together, or when you have visitors come over. Pro Tip: Implementing a relaxation protocol can be useful after exercising your puppy. Here is a simple relaxation video by Kikopup.
Tethering can be a helpful way to manage and teach your puppy. Therefore, I highly recommend hiring a professional positive reinforcement trainer to help introduce this concept. The last thing you want to do is accidentally teaching your puppy that tethering is a bad thing. You also do not want your puppy being afraid of the tether as this can cause more harm than good!
Think about what to wear around your puppy. Wearing dresses, loose pajama pants, baggy shorts, fuzzy socks, and Uggs are all articles of clothing that may cause your puppy to mouth you.
Touching, Handling & Lifting:
Some puppies start mouthing and will even bite to avoid being excessively handled. Handling is sometimes overlooked during training. It should be something we train our puppies to enjoy. Contact a professional to help you and your puppy with this!
Kids & Play:
Kids and puppies should always be monitored when interacting together. The household may cause the puppy to become overly stimulated, hyper, and mouthy. When this happens, confine the puppy in another part of the house where they can relax. When kids are loud, hyper and bouncing off the walls this can affect the puppy in many ways. Some puppies may react in a playful manner which may come across to kids and adults as “rough or aggressive.” In reality, the puppy is simply trying to play. HOWEVER, some puppies may also react out of fear (even if it doesn’t seem like it) because they don’t know what is going on or how to react. Some puppies may try to run and hide due to fear. If they cannot run and hide they can react or display “aggressive” behavior out of fear. Contact a positive training and behavior professional to assist you if issues arise.
Learn About Canine Body Language:
Understanding canine body language is essential to learn what your puppy is communicating to you. Here are two great body language videos found on Youtube.
Some trainers will recommend trying to redirect a puppy onto something else like a fun squeaky toy, tug toy or bone. This can work and can become very useful, but pay close attention to this as you could be rewarding your puppy for the mouthing behavior instead. Redirecting can work as long as the puppy is not learning that his behavior is being rewarded.
What NOT To Do
I wanted to quickly point out some misguided information that I would avoid.
Do Not punish, reprimand, hold puppy’s mouth closed, blow in her face, alpha role, use a shock collar, spray bottle, a hose to spray or shake a can of coins! These things can cause your puppy to become afraid of you which can slowly destroy the relationship you and your puppy can build together. This can negatively affect the training and teaching process.
Yelp, scream “NO” or scream “ouch!” These are typically things I would also avoid. Sometimes puppies become mouthy as a way of seeking attention because they have learned it works. Over time they can learn that you screaming or making sound effects gets them the attention they wanted. Some puppies even become excited and playful because of owners becoming vocal. This can cause mouthing to escalate in the situation.
With some time and patience things usually get better. You will hit some bumps in the road where your puppy may regress. This is where consistency and the training you have done will come in very handy!
Anthony De Marinis is a graduate of distinction from the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior. He is also a Certified Victoria Stilwell Licensed Positively Dog Trainer, Certified Behavior Adjustment Trainer, The Third Way Certified Trainer and a Fear Free Certified Animal Trainer. Anthony runs his dog training practice, The Gold Coast Dog full time and provides private training and behavior modification solutions using positive reinforcement methods. His website is: www.thegoldcoastdog.com