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Mouthing & Biting & Chewing

Updated: Mar 7


Puppies typically use their mouths to explore the world and to play. The problem is, their little teeth are very sharp and can really hurt when they explore or play with you. They also are teething and find relief from chewing. Teething is typically over by 8 months of age but dogs enjoy chewing for their entire lives, so it’s good to teach appropriate behavior early.

“Bite inhibition” refers to a dog’s ability to control the force of his bite. Puppies usually learn bite inhibition from their mother and during play with other puppies. If one puppy bites another too hard while playing, the playmate yelps and usually stops playing. After a moment, play resumes, and the puppies eventually learn how to inhibit their bites so the fun never stops. Providing plenty of chances to play with other puppies and dogs will be extremely helpful in teaching bite inhibition to your puppy. We want to teach that soft bites are desirable through age 18 weeks of age when puppies seem to be pretty good at continuing to adapt their bite pressure, and then we can start to ask our puppy to discontinue mouthing our bodies.


Sidebar:


It's a good idea to consider other reasons besides exploration, play, and teething that cause puppies to mouth or bite. Your puppy may be asking you to stop doing something or your puppy may be overly emotional about something that's happening.


  • Sometimes puppies are overtired and need a nap. Be proactive and settle your puppy on a mat with a chew at regular intervals to help encourage settling down before becoming wild. People tend to offer puppies a chew only after they become a bit wild, which is not ideal.

  • I have met a handful of puppies that were hangry, particularly due to being moved to 2 meals per day instead of 3. Giving back the midday meal curbed mouthing and biting for those pups.

  • If you pet your puppy and then your puppy mouths you, commonly when you have touched a paw or belly or top of the head or touched them when they are trying to rest or play, a puppy may use their mouth to bite in an attempt to tell you to stop touching them that way. (It's a good idea to work on helping puppies enjoy touch, and you can visit the Video Refreshe Library in the Blog and then look up Husbandry on that page.)

  • If your puppy is stressed, your puppy may mouth in a way that seems atypical. This may be because your puppy is scared, stressed, or excited. I have seen this happen when people are putting the puppy in conflict or inadvertently scaring the puppy by picking them up, pulling them by their collar, taking items from them, and so on. It may be a good idea to ask a qualified trainer to assist you in identifying why your puppy is stressed and making a plan to help them feel more comfortable in that situation.

How to Discourage Painful Mouthing

Some trainers will tell you to act like a littermate, yelping when your puppy bites you during play. In my experience, this method is not very effective and my guess is that it’s because our imitation yelps don’t communicate pain, they communicate excitement. Instead, I like to use a gentle time out to interrupt play.

  • When a puppy is mouthing you, and it's not painful, be still and boring, no playing. When they take their mouth off of you, resume interacting and offer a toy.

  • When a puppy delivers a painful bite, extricate yourself if necessary, move out of reach for 10 seconds, then return. Repeat as many times as necessary – it may take many repetitions in the beginning, so be patient and understanding. We use consequences to help him learn about bite inhibition - biting people makes them stop playing with you.


I find it convenient to use a playpen or a tether to keep persistent puppies who keep leaping and biting from being able to do so. Kids might want to hop onto a kitchen counter or bar stool. So, in summary -

Hard Bite = people leave

Gentle bite = nothing happens, life is boring

No Bite = play/attention continues

(Not sure what a hard bite is? Check this link out.)


When your puppy is age 19 weeks or older and has been playing our mouthing game for at least a couple of weeks, make the game more difficult.

Teeth on skin = people leave

No teeth on skin = play/attention continues

Ask Puppy to Interact in Different Ways

  • Hand targeting is a good exercise to teach puppies to touch hands with their noses instead of mouths. Hold your hand about 2 inches in front of your puppy's nose. Say “Good!” when he touches it and feed a treat. Repeat until he understands the game, then hold your hand further and further away and in different positions.

  • Encourage fetch and tug games. Avoid wiggling your fingers or hands in the pup's face, wrestling, and rough play. When playing tug or fetch, the play ends when teeth touch your skin. Set your puppy up for success by using a nice, long rope with room to grab without hitting your hand.


Things to Avoid

  • Avoid roughhousing or waving your fingers or toes in your puppy’s face, or slapping the sides of his face to entice him to play. Doing these things can actually encourage your puppy to bite your hands and feet, and it's not fair to ask him to know when you are playing and when you aren't.

  • Avoid jerking your hands or feet away from your puppy when he mouths. This will encourage him to jump forward and grab at you. It’s much more effective to let your hands or feet go limp so that they aren’t much fun to play with.

  • Punishment of any kind can cause fear or aggression. You will have a real problem on your hands down the road if your dog is so afraid of your approach or your hands that he feels he must bite you to avoid being hurt. Absolutely never do any punishment, including scruff shaking, whacking your puppy on the nose, holding his muzzle shut, sticking your fingers down his throat, and any and all other punishments you may read about online or in outdated training books that might hurt or scare him.


Give Puppy Other Things to Do

  • Try a puzzle feeder like an Omega Treat Ball for him to push, paw, and chase. Kibble will dispense as it moves. Be sure you aren’t overfeeding by measuring what you put into the ball and keeping track of his meals from bowls and puzzle toys (a large ball fits about ½ cup kibble).

    • Buster Cubes are similar but more difficult to destroy if your puppy is a tough chewer. Kong Wobblers and Starmark Bob-a-Lots are great for puppies who will grow up to be large dogs because they hold up to 3 cups of food.

    • Other great toys are reviewed on FirecrackerDog.com and Amazon.com, too. Outward Hound slow feeders or puzzle feeders are fun and easy.

  • Puppy Kong toys are great for developing puppies. You can smear a little peanut butter or squeeze cheese or wet food inside. If he likes that, you can also freeze the stuffed kong so it so it takes longer to excavate. Make it easy at first and use more complicated stuffing as he learns patience and persistence. Larger Kongs are available as he grows and you can find great recipes in one of my other blog posts.

  • You can stuff a bell pepper just like a Kong if you don't have any of those toys.

  • Chilly Bones are made to be frozen and you can also get a rope toy soaking wet and freeze it to help with teething pain. If your puppy isn’t interested at first, try soaking them in broth instead of water.

  • Large carrots are also great chews, albeit messy. If your puppy bites at your feet/ankles or pant legs, stop moving and redirect with a tug or chew toy. I often find tossing toys works the best. If it happens mostly when you arrive home, keep a basket or bag of toys in easy reach of the door to the room your puppy is living in while you’re away or on top of your puppy’s crate. Long, soft toys work best like braided and knotted fleece.

  • Ruff Roots AKA Gorilla Chews are good for pups who seem to enjoy chewing on wood (baseboards, coffee tables, chair rungs and legs,…)

    • Consider using a scent or taste deterrent on furniture and electrical cords that can't be relocated, like bitter apple spray or another essential oil your pup is disgusted by. You have to experiment a bit, but many pups dislike the scent of orange, peppermint, lavender, and eucalyptus. (No tea tree oil, that's toxic!) Just wipe a tiny bit of scent on areas you want your pup to avoid.


This article has some more great ideas for puppies if you need them. If your puppy is an older adolescent, mouthing may progress to arousal biting, where your puppy is over-stimulated and jumps and bites to release stress. See if this article sounds familiar. If so, get help from me to change this behavior, as it can cause accidental injury to humans.

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