Managing mouthing in dogs

Mouthy dogs routinely grab at people using their mouths without causing injury. This often happens during play, exercise, and whenever they are overexcited. While puppies under five months tend to explore the world with their mouths, dogs past this age are considered adolescents and should no longer be play biting.

Follow these guidelines to teach your dog to be gentle with his mouth:

Provide appropriate chew toys

When your dog starts to chew something inappropriate, calmly redirect him to a proper toy. Praise him for chewing the correct items. Never encourage mouthing during play. Select a toy for tug-of-war and play by a set of consistent rules: I start the game, I end the game, dog must give me the toy when I ask for it, and teeth on my skin makes the game stop immediately.

Withdraw attention if he gets mouthy

If you’ve been playing with your dog, stop the game when he gets mouthy. Put him gently in his crate or a time-out area. Bring him out only when he’s calm. 

Use consequences instead of punishment

Punishing your dog can create the very problems you’re trying to solve. Physical or verbal punishment can provoke aggression in any dog, particularly in one that is aroused or overexcited.

Avoid any methods involving force and intimidation, such as alpha-rolling, scruffing, muzzle-grabbing, and leash jerks. These do not teach the dog what he should do, and could lead to serious behavior problems. Focus on removing the things your dog likes as a consequence for mouthy behavior.

Make a trade

Teach your dog to give you an object in his mouth without becoming defensive. Hold a tasty treat under his nose and gently say, “Can I have that?” When he drops the item, give him the treat.

Don’t allow him to rehearse problem behavior

Your dog needs you to teach him good behavior. If he chases and mouths your children while they play, keep him on leash or inside the house. If he mouths your hand on walks, use a Gentle Leader. Stop walking and pull steadily up on his Gentle Leader, releasing the tension when he stops mouthing.

Don't teach your dog to mouth you

If your dog learns that mouthing you makes something good start or something bad stop, he will continue doing it. Some dogs learn that jumping up and grabbing their owners gets them lots of attention instead of a trip to the crate. Others learn that if they don’t want to be leashed, gentle mouthing makes it stop instead of continue. Let the consequences teach the behavior you want.

Provide plenty of exercise

Strenuous exercise won’t teach your dog not to mouth you, but it will burn off excess energy that can make mouthy behavior worse. Long walks, games of fetch, and play with other dogs can all be helpful. Avoid long walks (over a mile) and runs until your dog is one year old. The growth plates at the ends of his bones are still developing, and hard exercise can cause swelling or even stunted growth.

Continue training appropriate behavior

Some dogs use their mouths because they’ve learned it gets a reaction from their owners. Teaching and heavily rewarding appropriate behavior will give your dog “legal” activities that will earn him attention for the right reasons.

Tips for training puppies
  • Practice the high yip. When play between puppies gets too rough, the one being bitten will give a high-pitched, piercing yip. You can mimic the high yip to startle most puppies, then withdraw your hand and substitute with a toy. If you notice that this noise only increases your puppy’s excitement, immediately stop using this method.
  • Supervise play between puppies and kids. Many children aren’t able to use these techniques on their own and will need your help. Puppies learn quickly and may discover that young children can be intimidated by rough play and biting. Kids also like to do things that get puppies overexcited. Adult supervision will be needed until the puppy and the child learn how to play appropriately.

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