Puppies, similar to babies, have a tendency to put everything in their mouths. Unlike babies, puppies have fully developed teeth and jaw strength. This can make it a serious problem when your puppy feels the need to investigate something by chewing on it. This process is called mouthing and it is how puppies investigate things.
Puppies will use their mouths to investigate objects, play, and chew whatever they can manage to find. While it might be adorable in the very beginning, this behavior can become problematic quickly if it is not corrected. For instance, it can develop into your puppy biting everything and everyone in sight.
If your puppy has not learned that mouthing is unacceptable, then your puppy will see no reason not to bite people to greet them. Thankfully, it is relatively easy to teach a puppy not to be so mouthy. First things first, you will want to teach your puppy what bite inhibition is. Once your puppy has a solid grasp of what this is, you should then move on to teaching your puppy that it really shouldn’t be putting its teeth near the skin in the first place.
You will also need to learn when mouthing and playful chewing becomes aggressive and truly dangerous, as this is not something you should try to correct on your own unless you have the expertise of a professional.
Knowing the Difference Between Aggression and Mouthing
Puppies who have not yet learned that mouthing is not okay will generally bite people out of curiosity or interest. While this is not okay, it is vastly different than biting a person out of fear or frustration. If your puppy is biting people out of fear or frustration, it can be a red flag that your puppy has the potential to become aggressive, which can endanger the people around that puppy. In a way, this aggression can be equated to a temper tantrum in a child.
Eventually, there will come a time when you have to do something that your puppy doesn’t want you to do, such as pick it up when it would really rather you not. Tantrums can happen when playfulness escalates as well, which is something that you will have to be wary of. Puppies who are being playful and generally content will be more relaxed in the body and face.
Why Is My Puppy Biting Everything and Everyone
At most, the muzzle will have a few wrinkles, but there won’t be any tension. This is almost the opposite of a puppy throwing a tantrum. When your puppy throws a tantrum, it will generally become stiff and its body will be frozen. It will pull its lips back, ready to expose teeth and growl, and potentially bite if it sees the need to. When your puppy bites during a temper tantrum, there will be next to no restraint, which is not good.
What Should You Do If Your Puppy Throws a Tantrum?
If this happens, you should be as emotionless as possible and remain as calm as you can. Of course, you shouldn’t hurt your puppy, but you should be firm. For instance, if holding your puppy set off the tantrum, continue holding your dog firmly, but do not constrict it. If you can, do this until it stops struggling.
Once calm, place the puppy down and then contact a professional for assistance. Fixing this problem is something that requires the knowledge of a professional, as it differs vastly from harmless mouthing. With that being said, the first thing you need to teach your puppy when you notice it has a mouthing problem is bite inhibition.
What Is Bite Inhibition?
Bite inhibition is the idea that your dog can control the force of mouthing. When puppies don’t learn about bite inhibition, it might not understand that human skin tends to be much more sensitive than a dog’s. This means that it could bite down too hard during play without meaning to or realizing that it is wrong.
Many professionals believe that teaching a dog about bite inhibition will minimize the chances that your puppy will bite down hard on another person, although you should make sure that your dog doesn’t think that biting people is okay.
In the natural world, puppies will learn from other puppies. This is also the case with bite inhibition. If a puppy bites another puppy too hard during play, the other puppy will obviously let out a pained yelp, which will startle the puppy who bit it. After a few seconds, play will resume as normal, but the puppy will have learned a valuable lesson.
This shows the puppy that there really is such a thing as biting too hard. To show your puppy what bite inhibition is, you will want to create a similar scenario. If you are able to do this, you will be taking the first steps toward curbing the behavior of your puppy biting everything and everyone.
How Do You Teach a Dog Bite Inhibition?
Teaching your puppy about this is going to take a bit of time and patience. While you are playing with a puppy who tends to mouth things, you will want to keep playing with the puppy, even if it is mouthing you. When the puppy bites down particularly hard, you should yelp (and make it high-pitched, if you can) and act as if you are hurt.
To reinforce the idea that you have been “hurt” by your puppy’s mouthing, let your hand go limp. This type of reaction is going to startle the puppy, causing it to stop playing and mouthing you, at least for a little bit. Sometimes, your puppy might lick your hand if it believes that it truly hurt you.
Take note of actions
When your puppy stops mouthing or begins to lick your hand, you should praise your puppy. This reinforces the idea that there is a limit to how hard a puppy can bite, and shows the puppy that good things can happen if it is not being mouthy. After this, you can continue playing with your puppy as normal. If yelping doesn’t elicit a response, consider saying “too bad” in a stern voice, or something to that effect.
However, there are some puppies who might see through your actions and might not believe that you are actually hurt. When this happens, there is another route you can take to teach your puppy about bite inhibition. This process can take some time, but it is crucial for teaching your dog about mouthing and preventing this behavior in the future.
What If Your Puppy Doesn’t Respond to Yelps?
Some puppies are stubborn, especially when it comes to the habit of your puppy biting everything and everyone. Sometimes, simply yelping and pretending that you were injured won’t be enough to get your puppy to realize that this behavior is not okay. If you notice that your puppy is acting this way, the route you should take is providing timeouts when your puppy acts up.
Similar to the first process, you should wait and play with your puppy as normal until it bites your hand particularly hard. First, you should yelp as you tried before. At the very least, the loud noise will get your dog to pause and let go of your hand. Take this moment to remove your hand from the dog and when your puppy looks back at you, ignore it for about 10 to 20 seconds.
Some puppies will first take this as play, and begin to mouth you. If your puppy does this, simply get up and move away and stay away for 10 to 20 seconds. Once those seconds are up, go back to playing with your dog as normal, even encourage the puppy to play.
The purpose of this is to show the puppy that being gentle will keep the play coming, but when the puppy is being painful, the play will stop. Considering the fact that all puppies generally love play, your puppy will eventually come to learn that being gentle is the best way to act.
As your puppy gets used to this, you will eventually want to tighten up the rules of this “game.” By doing so, you will eventually teach your puppy that the common behavior of having a puppy biting everything and everyone will not be tolerated at your house.
How Does This Teach a Puppy Not to Mouth?
Eventually, your puppy will get used to the first set of rules, and it will stop biting forcefully. When your puppy is able to do this consistently, you can then begin to tighten up the rules of the game. Repeat the same process when your dog begins to bite somewhat hard, but not painfully so. Your puppy, having learned from before, will slowly begin to adapt to those rules as well.
Continue repeating this process until your puppy only mouths you with the slightest pressure or none at all. Now, even if your puppy decides to mouth you, nobody would really consider it biting. This is a key point in teaching your puppy about not biting everything in sight. As your puppy continues to control its jaw strength, you won’t have to worry nearly as much about letting another person pet your dog, as your puppy now knows how to be gentle.
With both time and patience, your puppy will only mouth things with the gentlest of force, even as an adult dog. Most puppies, similar to human children, will eventually grow out of their mouthing phase, but learning about bite inhibition will be permanent, making it all the more valuable. However, as with many parts of training a puppy, there are a few things that you should be wary of.
What Should You Keep in Mind?
For this process to be successful, you will want to make sure that you are not actually being counterproductive. There will be a few things to keep in mind throughout this process. For instance, when you are encouraging your puppy to play with you, you shouldn’t use your fingers or slap the sides of your puppy’s face.
This will encourage your puppy to bite you, which is the opposite of what you want for this. What you want for this process is your puppy to inadvertently mouth you, rather than bite because it thought you were encouraging biting. Similarly, you shouldn’t jerk your hands away from your puppy when it does bite harder.
Jerking away will entice the puppy to jump forward and grab. This is why it is suggested to let your hand go limp, so that not only does it go along with pretending to be injured, but it makes play a whole lot less fun for the puppy.
Things to make sure of
You should make sure that you are not discouraging play either. Playtime with your puppy is important. The goal of this process is to make sure that you can play with your puppy without having to worry about a mouthy dog. Therefore, you should make sure that you are offering treats whenever your puppy does anything good, even if it is only for a little bit.
The treats also help reinforce good behavior, which is something you will always want when you are teaching a new behavior to your puppy. Never, ever, resort to physical punishments when your puppy messes up. While annoying, mouthing is a completely natural and very common phase that all puppies go through. Punishing the puppy only reinforces aggression and fear, which can make the habit of mouthing stay until adulthood, when the habit is much harder to break.
Providing Alternatives for Your Puppy
Sometimes, puppies will mouth your feet and ankles because it is simply boring and wants your attention. To discourage this behavior, you should start carrying some small dog toys on you when you are walking around the house. When your dog begins mouthing you, distract the dog with the toy and praise the dog with toys and treats when it plays with the toy rather than biting your ankles.
This reinforces the idea that playing with toys is a better alternative than having your puppy biting everything and everyone. Generally, tug toys and other types of durable toys that your dog can chew and gnaw on are best when your puppy is in the phases where it is mouthing everything it can get its mouth on.
You should also keep in mind that if you are feeling at a loss as to what you can do to fix your puppy’s mouthing habits, you can contact a professional for help and assistance with training. As with teaching a puppy any new behavior, patience, praise, and time are going to be key throughout this entire process.