Puppy Mouthing: How to Stop Your Puppy from Mouthing and Biting?

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A close-up of a puppy's mouth with teeth gently gripping a chew toy

What is Puppy Mouthing?

Puppy mouthing refers to a normal behavior exhibited by young dogs, especially during their teething phase. It involves gentle biting or chewing on objects, including hands, feet, and clothing. It is a way for puppies to explore their environment, relieve teething discomfort, and engage in play. While mouthing is a natural behavior, it’s important to teach puppies appropriate bite inhibition and redirect their mouthing toward chew toys or appropriate objects. With proper training and socialization, puppies can learn to control their biting and develop appropriate manners.

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Are you tired of constantly having to dodge your furry friend’s sharp little teeth? Well, you’re not alone. Puppy mouthing is a common behavior among our four-legged friends, and it’s important to understand why they do it and how to handle it.

According to statistics, nearly all puppies engage in mouthing to some extent, especially during their teething phase. It’s a natural and instinctual behavior for them to explore their surroundings, including you! But, it can become a problem if they start to bite too hard and hurt you.

In this article, we’re going to dive into the world of puppy-mouthing and explore ways to redirect and manage this behavior. So, grab a cup of coffee, and let’s get started!

Puppy Mouthing

Puppies love to play, chew, and explore. That’s what they do all day! They use their mouths and sharp teeth to do it. Sometimes when they play with people, they might bite, chew, or play with their hands, legs, or clothes. It might seem cute when your puppy is just a little guy, but as they get bigger, it’s not as cute anymore.

What to Do About Puppy Mouthing

It’s important to help your puppy learn to curb his mouthy behavior. There are various ways, some better than others, to teach this lesson. Your goal is to teach your puppy not to bite or mouth on people. However, the first and most important objective is to teach him that people have very sensitive skin, so he must be very gentle when using his mouth.

Bite Inhibition: Teach Your Puppy to Be Gentle

Bite inhibition refers to a goal to teach your puppy not to bite or mouth on people. dog’s ability to control the force of their mouthing. A puppy or dog who hasn’t learned bite inhibition with people doesn’t recognize the sensitivity of human skin, and so they bite too hard, even in play. Puppies love to play and explore with their mouths, but it’s important to teach them how to be gentle when they do. By learning to control their bites during playtime, they’re less likely to hurt someone if they ever need to bite in a scary or painful situation. You can help your puppy learn this by watching and playing with other puppies.

Puppies also bite each other all over. Every now and then, a pup will bite his playmate too hard. The victim of the painful bite yelps and usually stops playing. When you yelp loudly the moment you feel your puppy’s teeth touch you, they’ll be surprised and stop playing for a moment. However, pretty soon, both playmates are back in the game. By playing in this way, puppies learn to bite gently. This way, everyone stays safe and the play can keep going without stopping. If puppies can learn how to be gentle with each other, they can also learn the same lessons from people.

When you play with your puppy, let him mouth on your hands. Continue playing until he bites especially hard. When your puppy starts mouthing you, yell “ouch!” Loudly, like you’re in pain, and stop moving your hand. This should surprise your puppy and make him stop biting you, even if just for a moment. (If shouting doesn’t seem to work, try saying “No way!” or “You missed the mark!” in a firm voice instead.)Praise your puppy for stopping or for licking you.

Resume whatever you were doing before. If your puppy bites you hard again, yelp again. Repeat these steps no more than three times within a 15-minute period. If yelping doesn’t stop your puppy’s mouthing, try using a time-out. This can be super effective! If your pup bites too hard, let out a loud yelp. When your puppy bites you and looks surprised, remove your hand. If your puppy starts biting you again, just take a short break. Walk away for 10 to 20 seconds. If he calms down, you can start playing again. Once the time-out is over, come back and play with your pup again! It’s important to teach him that gentle play continues, but painful play stops.

Play with your puppy until he bites hard again. When he does, repeat the sequence above. When your puppy starts biting too hard, let out a yelp. Then pause playtime for a moment. Keep doing this every time they bite too hard. As they get gentler, you can set your standards higher. Only yelp and pause play when they’re biting a little too hard. Keep doing this until they’re only giving gentle, playful mouthing. You’ll know they’re getting there when you can play with their mouth and feel no pressure at all!

What to Do Next: Teach Your Puppy That Teeth Don’t Belong on Human Skin

      • Replace fingers or toes with a toy or chew bone whenever your puppy tries to nibble on them.

      • When your pet, pat, or scratch your puppy, they might start mouthing your hands. That is especially true if they’re not sleepy or focused on something else. To avoid this, you can distract your furry friend by giving them small treats from your other hand while you pet them. To get your puppy used to being petted without biting, distract them with treats from your other hand while you pet them. That will help your puppy see petting as a positive experience.

      • Instead of wrestling or playing rough with your hands, try playing fetch or tug-of-war. These are great non-contact forms of play for you and your puppy.(Refer to our article, Teaching your Dog to Play Fetch, to learn more about this game.) To keep tug-of-war safe and fun for you and your puppy, you’ll need to follow strict rules. Please see our article, Teaching Your Dog to Play Tug-of-War, for detailed guidelines. Once your puppy can play tug safely, keep the tug toys in your pocket or have them easily accessible. If your puppy starts to chew on your hands, redirect his attention to a tug toy. This way, he’ll start to associate mouthing with playing with a toy, rather than your hands.

      • If your puppy bites your feet and ankles, you can redirect his attention by having his favorite toy in your pocket. Whenever he ambushes you, instantly stop moving your feet. Take out the tug toy and wave it enticingly. When your puppy grabs the toy, start moving again. If you don’t happen to have the toy available, just freeze and wait for your puppy to stop mouthing you. The second he stops, and gets a toy to reward him. Keep doing these steps until your puppy understands that it’s not okay to chase your feet or ankles. Eventually, they will get used to seeing you move around without trying to bite or play with your feet.

      • Keep your pup entertained with a variety of toys that spark his interest. This way, he’ll be less likely to chew on you or your clothes. Make sure to switch up the toys often to keep things fresh and exciting for him.

      • Hang out with other pups and adult dogs! It’s crucial for your pup’s growth to play and make friends with other dogs. The more they play with their doggy buddies, the less they’ll want to play rough with you. Sign them up for a fun puppy class! They’ll get to play with other puppies and learn cool new tricks. Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT) in your area who offers puppy classes.

      • If your puppy is nipping at your feet and ankles, switch up your strategy. Use the same time-out method as before, but with a slight change. Give your pup a time-out whenever you feel his teeth touch your skin, instead of just for hard bites.

    If your puppy starts to bite or nip at you, don’t worry! Just follow these steps:

    • Give a loud, high-pitched “yelp” the moment you feel their teeth touch you.
    • Quickly walk away from them and ignore them for 30 to 60 seconds.
    • If your puppy follows you or keeps biting and nipping, leave the room for a bit. Make sure the room is safe for them first, though. No dangerous or breakable items!

    By following these steps, you can help your puppy learn that biting and nipping aren’t okay and encourage them to play in a more gentle way.

      • Want to stop your puppy from mouthing? Try spraying areas of your body or clothing that your puppy likes. Or, when you’re supervising your puppy, keep a leash attached to them. If they start mouthing, grab their leash and lead them to a quiet area. Tether them and turn your back for a short time-out. Then untie him and resume whatever you were doing.

      • If a time-out isn’t practical or effective, consider using a taste deterrent, such as Grannick’s Bitter Apple®. (For more information on taste deterrents and how to use them, please see our article, Using Taste Deterrents.)Teaching your puppy not to bite can be easy with the right tools. Start by spraying areas of your body and clothes that your puppy likes to mouth with a deterrent spray. If they do bite, stop moving and wait for them to react to the unpleasant taste. Then, give them plenty of praise when they let go. Repeat this process for at least two weeks and your puppy will likely learn to stop biting.

      • Be patient and understanding. Playful mouthing is normal behavior for a puppy or young dog.

    If you’re having trouble with your puppy’s mouthing, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT). They can offer group or private classes that can help you and your pup improve their mouthing habits. Check out our article “Finding Professional Help” to find a CPDT near you.

    General Precautions

      • When playing with your puppy, be gentle and avoid harsh gestures. Don’t wave your fingers or toes in their face or slap the sides of their face to get them to play. Instead, use toys or other playful methods to engage with your furry friend and have a fun time together! Doing these things can encourage your puppy to bite your hands and feet.

      • Do not discourage your puppy from playing with you in general. Play builds a strong bond between a dog and his human family. It’s important to teach your puppy how to play nicely, instead of not playing at all.

      • 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.

      • Slapping or hitting puppies for playful mouthing can cause them to bite harder. They usually react by playing more aggressively. If your puppy is mouthing you during playtime, don’t slap or hit them! This might make them bite even harder, and they could start playing more aggressively. Physical punishment can do more harm than good for your puppy. It can make them scared of you and even lead to aggressive behavior. So, it’s best to avoid using physical punishment and find alternative methods for training and discipline. Don’t hurt or scare your puppy by doing things like shaking their scruff, hitting them on the nose, or putting your fingers down their throat.

    When Does Mouthing Become Aggression?

    It’s normal for puppies to mouth and nibble. But, if a puppy bites because they’re scared or upset, this type of biting could mean it might have issues with being aggressive in the future.

    Puppy “Temper Tantrums”

    Puppies sometimes have temper tantrums. Typically, tantrums occur when a puppy is asked to engage in an activity that they find unfavorable. Sometimes, puppies have little fits. That usually happens when you try to make them do something they don’t want to do. Even simple things like holding or touching them can upset them. These tantrums can also happen when playing gets too wild. (Just like when kids play too rough and have a meltdown!)

    A puppy tantrum is different from just playful biting. When a puppy is just playing, it will seem relaxed and its face won’t look tense. But if your puppy is having a tantrum, it might look stiff and show its teeth by pulling back its lips or growling. Their bites will also be much more painful.

    If your puppy starts having a tantrum while you’re holding them, don’t react like you’re hurt by yelping. Doing that might cause your puppy to continue or intensify his aggressive behavior. Instead, be very calm and unemotional. Don’t hurt your puppy, but continue to hold him firmly without constriction, if possible, until he stops struggling. When your puppy stops biting for a short moment, release him. Then, reach out to a professional for help. Biting out of frustration won’t just go away on its own, so it’s important to get your puppy’s behavior checked and fixed quickly.

    When and Where to Get Help

    A professional trainer can tell you if your puppy’s biting is okay or not. They can also help you come up with a plan to stop it. If you suspect that your puppy’s biting fits the description of aggressive or fearful behavior. Please seek consultation with a qualified professional, such as a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) or a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behavior (Dip-ACVB). If you’re looking for help with your pet’s fear and aggression problems, consider reaching out to a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT). Just make sure they have the right training and experience to help with these issues because not all CPDTs have that expertise. Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate one of these professionals in your area.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is the difference between puppy mouthing and biting?

    Mouthing is a gentle exploration with the mouth, while biting is more forceful and aggressive, causing pain or injury.

    What age do dogs start mouthing?

    Dogs typically start mouthing during the puppy stage, around 6 to 8 weeks old.

    At what age do puppies stop mouthing?

    Puppies usually stop mouthing between 4 to 6 months of age as they develop better bite inhibition.

    How do I stop my puppy from mouthing?

    Redirect their attention to appropriate chew toys, provide positive reinforcement for good behavior, and use consistent training techniques.

    How to stop a puppy from biting your feet and hands?

    Offer suitable chew toys, avoid rough play, and redirect their attention to more appropriate activities to discourage biting feet and hands.

    What age to teach a puppy not to bite?

    Start teaching puppies not to bite as soon as they join your household, using consistent training and positive reinforcement.

    Why do puppies bite hands?

    Puppies may bite their hands due to teething discomfort, playfulness, seeking attention, or exploration. Redirect their biting behavior onto toys and teach proper bite inhibition.

    My puppy keeps biting me aggressively. What should I do?

    Seek guidance from a professional trainer or behaviorist to address and manage aggressive biting behavior effectively.

    My puppy won’t stop biting me and my clothes. What should I try?

    Provide appropriate chew toys, reinforce positive behavior, avoid rough play, and seek professional help if the behavior persists.

    Is puppy mouthing a sign of affection?

    Puppy mouthing can be a sign of affection or playful engagement, but it’s important to redirect this behavior to prevent it from becoming excessive or painful.

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