How to Deal with a Mouthy Puppy
Part of bringing home a puppy is going through the house and moving everything you hold dear in life up out of their reach. When puppies start exploring the textural qualities and flavor profiles of everything, the real training begins. This innate desire for puppies to put everything in their mouths is similar to the same stage in human toddlerhood; exploring and experiencing new things through all the senses. Taste just happens to be the most important sense for puppies, and the hardest impulse for them to control.
Teaching puppies what is appropriate to use teeth on, and what is not, can be the most important learning experience your puppy is likely to have. It is the foundation of your relationship with your pet, and will affect how they interact with both people and other animals for the rest of their life.
Why Are Puppies So Mouthy?
Past three weeks old, puppies stop being as dependent on mom, and start interacting with siblings and their environment. Everything new is explored with their mouth, which is more useful for tasting and picking up items with their paws. Puppies love experiencing new flavors and textures of all things through their mouth, which unfortunately comes with miniature needles known as teeth. Through play, puppies also learn that a good way to start a fun game of chase is by giving a good nip to their nearest neighbor. As they grow and play with their siblings, puppies learn how biting too hard will cause a disruption in play or feeding, and slowly learn how not to play too rough.
When playing with people, puppies will employ these same lessons when learning how to play with hands. People unknowingly encourage puppies to bite at their hands and feet by offering them up, thinking a puppy mouthing at them is cute. Sooner than anticipated, though, the puppy’s teeth can cause serious damage and the habit of using hands as toys is already ingrained. Puppies also use rough play to get a reaction from their new families; by biting and causing trouble, puppies are asking to play with their new humans. Sometimes this play can escalate to harm someone, especially when humans unknowingly encourage rough play.
How to Train for Correct Teeth Etiquette for Life:
When faced with a puppy who loves to play rough, there are three steps to remember (How to Train a Puppy That Bites):
- When bitten harder than is comfortable, yelp in a very high-pitched voice and stop playing with the puppy
- Once puppy responds by licking or being concerned, continue play. Repeat as necessary.
- If puppy continues to bite too often, remove yourself entirely from play and ignore puppy for about five minutes. Do not shout, spank or chase, since these reactions will only fuel the biting behavior.
These reactions mimic the responses the puppy would receive from their siblings or mom when getting too mouthy. By making a high-pitched squeak when being bitten, puppies show that what is happening hurts, and their playmates will stop. When biting mom too hard, she will typically remove herself from the situation entirely. Both of these reactions, when used consistently, will result in a puppy’s healthy respect for biting others.
Another way to encourage a respect of biting is through offering plenty of appropriate chewing toys in a variety of textures and sizes. By redirecting biting behavior towards these objects, the puppy learns to focus their chewing energy on appropriate objects. Avoid using your hands or feet to entice play, either by gently slapping the side of the face or through tugging the paws in play and instead offer a rope or squeaky toy to interest them.
Food and Biting:
One area that you want to encourage healthy behavior in is with food and teeth. Many toddlers have learned the danger of puppies when giving them a treat and finding their whole fist disappearing into the puppy’s mouth. A good way to train correct food etiquette with your puppy is through giving treats and food by hand (Becker). When offering a treat, first offer it with your hand surrounding the food. Release your grip on the food only when the puppy licks or touches their muzzle to your hand. Remove your hand, and the treat, from the puppy if they try to bite your hand, paw, or mouth to get to the treat.
Work your way up in the desirableness of treats, from their everyday food to cooked chicken, by following these rules. At the end of training, your puppy will respect hands being around their food and learn not to bite regardless of the reward.
Training good manners around biting can instill lifelong respect towards people that will be useful in any situation. When puppies learn to moderate their behavior through reading body language and ignore impulses, they will continue to take cues from it for life. Start your relationship off on the right foot by tackling inappropriate biting as soon as they come through the door.
By Lauren Pescarus
Becker, M. (n.d.). Teach Your Dog to Take Treats and Toys Gently. Retrieved March 13, 2018, from http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/teach-your-dog-to-take-treats-gently
How to Train a Puppy That Bites. (n.d.). Retrieved March 13, 2018, from https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/biting-puppy-how-train-puppy-bites#1