Puppies use their mouths just like we use our hands! They explore new things with their teeth, and when they interact and play with one-another you will see a lot of teeth!
So, how do we teach our puppies that the rules are different when it comes to interacting with their human friends?
The first thing that is required is a lot of patience! Puppies mouth people to get attention and play. Your puppy will therefore need to learn that using their teeth on people NEVER works to get attention. Remember your attention comes in three forms (talk, touch and even eye contact). You will have to be very consistent whilst your puppy learns the ‘rules’ – and any time they put their teeth on you, quietly remove your skin/clothes from your puppies mouth. If they continue trying to mouth you, try turning away from them and crossing your arms – a clear signal that your attention has been withdrawn! If this still doesn’t work you will need to walk away from your puppy and leave the room, closing the door behind you and leaving them to calm down for a moment before going back in. It is very important that it is YOU who leaves the room, instead of picking your puppy up and moving them away, as this still counts as attention! Once your puppy has calmed down and is doing something more suitable you can praise them and interact again – remember, if they mouth you again you will again need to move yourself away. This can leave you feeling like a bit of a Yo-Yo to begin with, and you puppy may go through a period where they seem to get worse before they get better because they need to learn that this behaviour no longer works. Be very strict with yourself and make sure that you do not give in and respond when your puppy mouths you particularly hard or for a long time (you will only teach them to mouth harder/persist!). This training will eventually click and your puppy will learn not to use their teeth when interacting with people.
Although it can be very frustrating, try to avoid telling your puppy off for mouthing.
Remember, the only reason they are doing it is to try and get you to interact with them – so any interaction could still reinforce their behaviour! In addition, telling them off may make them worried. Although this may work to stop your puppy in their tracks, it can drive more over the top, severe mouthing in the future, in addition to contributing to other issues. Simply stopping any reward for the behaviour is the safest and most effective way of dealing with mouthing in the long term.
A top tip for success is to keep a toy with you when you know your puppy is feeling lively.
You can let them chew on this as you play with them, instead of having the temptation of putting your hands in their mouths! Always keep a few different toys out so that your puppy has something suitable to chew on at all times. You puppy is much less likely to mouth when they are tired out, so ensuring that they have the right kind of outlet when they are feeling energetic is half the battle!
Positively praise your dog when they stop mouthing and interact with you in a gentler way.
You can also satisfy your puppy’s urge to mouth things with non-contact games, like fetch or tug-of-war. However, remember to never let the tugging become too aggressive, and teach your puppy “let go” or “leave it” command, so that you can always remove something from his mouth without an aggressive response.
Avoid wrestling or rough housing with your dog as this can exacerbate mouthing behaviour.
Distraction In addition to mouthing people, puppies will also mouth things in their environment, mostly out of curiosity. In addition to puppy-proofing your home, provide an assortment of interesting and safe chew toys, chosen for your pup’s level of chewing and destructiveness — for example, if she shreds that plush toy in two minutes, you may want to stick with rubber or hard plastic.
“Hide the treat” toys are also great for distracting puppies from nibbling on other things, and these provide mental stimulation as well, since she has to figure out how to get to the reward.
Arrange for playtime with your dog and other puppies or vaccinated adult dogs. This will help to socialize her, and those dogs will also assist in the process of teaching your puppy when a bite is too hard.
Ankle biters Many dogs become fascinated with nipping at people’s feet or ankles when they walk. This is particularly true of herding breeds. To stop your puppy from nipping at your heels, keep a favorite toy in your pocket. When she does bite, stop moving, then wave the toy around to distract her until she latches onto it.
If you don’t happen to have the toy handy, stop moving when she bites and then, when she releases on her own, offer her the toy or a treat, and praise. The idea is to teach your dog that good things happen when bad behaviour stops.
Mouthing and nipping are natural behaviours for puppies but unwanted in dogs
If your puppy is showing an extreme mouthing and/or this advice does not seem to help ask an expert for advice. If your dog is tense when she nips at you or bares her teeth, this might be a sign that the behaviour is less than friendly. Enlist the help of a trainer to help you the behaviour can easily get out of control.
If you have children in your home, you may need to supervise their contact with your puppy. If your puppy or child is feeling particularly excitable, it may be wise to keep them apart
Always get your puppy checked over by a vet if they have a sudden change in behaviour or are behaving in a way that is of concern– as this could be a related to a medical issue.