Dog Training and Dog Care advice from UK Professionals

Puppy Mouthing

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Puppy mouthing is often seen as a problem by many owners, and whilst i am not saying that it isn't a problem, it is not half as bad as many owners make out in their reaction to the puppy doing so,

Pupping Mouthing is NOT the same as Puppy BITING. Biting shows a distinctly higher level of confidence (which one might suggest a puppy should not yet even possess) and it also gives an indication to owners that their puppy doesn't yet have a clear grasp of the hierarchy in the home.

Puppy mouthing could also be caused or at least agitated by soreness of gums due to teeth growth in the mouth of the puppy, so a soothing chew or bone may be worth using at set times during the day (quiet times) to allow this behaviour to be focussed on something other than your body, and also to allow the soreness to subside a little and provide some relief.

Mouthing puppies are displaying a TRIAL behaviour, in other words they are just testing the water by placing their mouths around something like your hand or some other part of you, to see whether or NOT they should go forwards and escalate into biting. This is why we have placed emphasis on the difference in the two behaviours. Yes we can look at them in a very similar light, but they are not the same.

However, there is no doubt that puppies who have begun mouthing your hands, will certainly move on to gentle bites, and then firmer and firmer bites until you as the owner educate the dog that this behaviour is not acceptable and not rewarding or fun for your young puppy.

So, the good news is that by an owner noticing early puppy mouthing signs, they have a great opportunity to prevent far worse problems later. There are several motivators for a puppy, but generally behaviours like this are motivated primarily by fun, play-drive, experimental strength testing (just as they would with littermates), and sometimes pure desire for attention.

Regardless of the reason and motivation behind this behaviour, it must not be accepted, and any raised voices (including a harsh tone, contrary to popular belief) will have a good chance of actually ENCOURAGING the behaviour because it will raise the stress levels, the noise levels and the general excitement of the situation. What is called for is CALM but educative reactions, which are consistent and even every time, and which always PREVENT the puppy from obtaining whatever it desires, which you can pretty much always assume will be fun and interaction with you (play drive).

When mouthing begins, simply REMOVE yourself immediately from the company of the dog, and do so quietly and calmly. Each person will have their own way of doing this as each household is different. Many suggest using a crate with this behaviour but i would not advise this, as it is far too easy with such a young and impressionable puppy to associate the crate with punishment or at least a corrective reaction from you, and we don't want any such associations in your puppy's mind.

I prefer to gently and silently remove my hand from the puppy's mouth, and then get up and walk out of the room, closing the door firmly (not angrily) behind me. At the point when i get up and move away from the dog, i would make a sound which i will use in future to tell the dog "No". However i do not use the word No itself as i feel it is too commonly used in general conversation and is not fair to any dog as a result. I have used many sounds and words in my time, but a PSSH sound is the most effective generally. A small minority of puppes actually react to this sound with excitement, and in those cases i use "AH AH" which should sound like two sharp bursts of sound, but again, NOT loud or aggressive, just calm, firm and definitive.

By walking out of the room, you will put the puppy in a slight state of confusion and THIS is where the mind needs to be to learn to adjust behaviours in order to prevent this occurring again. I would wait the other side of the door usually for just a few seconds with a young puppy, and then i would walk back in the room, PAST the puppy completely ignoring it for a few seconds, before returning to the puppy and stroking again or interacting calmly and kindly with soft voice and gentle hands. If mouthing repeats, i would get up quickly but quietly, make the PSSH sound and walk out.

In the event of problems with the puppy being too quick for you and beating you out of the door, you can either use your body language or voice (if this works for you and your puppy) to make the puppy stay in the room, or you can try my secret trick! This is something i suggested to a puppy owner once and it worked a treat! The lady was elderly and too slow to beat her little lab puppy through the doorway. Every time she tried, the puppy skipped through her legs on the way through and waited the other side with a mischievous face as if to say: "Beat ya, now what?!"

I told the lady to get to that point with the dog the other side and instead of moving towards the dog, she just pulled the door shut immediately, and remained in the first room leaving the dog in the room it just ran into in its attempt to out-think its owner!

You have to find your own physical positioning and timing, but it should not be difficult to use a combination of body language and voice to either slow your puppy down and beat it out the door, or to make the puppy run through the door past you. In either case, the door is shut and the puppy wishes it had your attention again. It is important not to leave it too long, as the puppy may then display another unwanted behaviour like scratching at the door or barking. The puppy just needs enough chances to begin to learn the association between mouthing and the sudden and calm removal of your eye contact, physical presence, play and affection.

It should take no more than 7 or 8 of these scenarios before your dog adjusts it behaviour for the better, and you can apply this same removal technique to many other behaviours.

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