Mouthy Puppy Help
January 14, 2016
Mouthing and biting is a common concern for new puppy owners. Keep in mind that it is completely normal for puppies to use their mouths to play and to explore the world. So while we teach them what is acceptable and unacceptable n our homes, we are working against their natural instincts. Also, some breeds are more “mouthy” than others. All puppies take time and consistency to extinguish this behavior, but any breed selected to use its mouth (for example, retrievers) will take even more. This is not an issue that will be extinguished in a few days or even a few weeks. For many puppies, this is a process that takes months to complete.
There are several techniques that, when combined, will teach a puppy to use its mouth appropriately. First of all, do NOT encourage any kind of mouth wrestling or other rough play with your hands, body, or clothing or your puppy will be confused and develop bad habits. Behaviors that are practiced or encouraged quickly become ingrained, turning into habits that are harder to break than to prevent.
Also, I do NOT recommend methods like grabbing or slapping the muzzle or pressing the lip onto the teeth. In addition to being scary or painful, for puppies who like rough play these may actually amp them up and make the problem worse. To them, these techniques signal “game on!” Better options include:
Interception: As puppy is incoming with an open mouth, quickly grab a toy and put it in his mouth. This helps build the habit of mouthing toys instead of people, as well as protecting you from a play bite.
Interrupt, withdraw, and redirect: Puppies who are bitten too hard during play with their littermates will cry and withdraw. A puppy who bites too hard soon finds herself with no playmates, so puppies learn to tone down their play. For humans, “too hard” generally means no contact between teeth and clothes or skin. If your puppy does make contact, make a high pitched “ouch!” sound similar to a puppy yelping. Most puppies will stop what they are doing and freeze. Then, turn your back on your puppy and ignore for 10-15 seconds. When you re-engage, direct your puppy’s attention to a toy that he is allowed to chew or mouth. If your puppy keeps jumping or biting at you when you turn away, you may need to step over a baby gate or similar obstacle to physically prevent contact.
Time out: Sometimes puppies go into a very over-stimulated state much like a human toddler having a tantrum or meltdown. In this state, your puppy is unlikely to learn anything and may simply need a short break. Place your puppy in a safe, enclosed area such as his crate/kennel, an exercise pen, or a baby gated room with a toy or chew until she settles down. Many puppies will fall asleep at this point.
The two most important factors by far in eliminating mouthy behavior in puppies are patience and consistency. You may be doing everything right and feel like you are making no progress, but this is common and normal. Stick with it, be consistent, and you will see the behavior diminish over time. Please feel free to call the clinic if you are having trouble with your puppy mouthing!
Karen Christopherson DVM CVA