If you’ve ever spent time with a puppy, chances are you’ve ended up with your hand, arm or foot in their mouth! This behaviour is described as ‘mouthing’ and refers to a developmental behaviour of young pups. Mouthing is different to biting, which is usually referred to in the context of aggression and is something to be more worried about.
Is play biting and mouthing normal?
Just as children like to explore the world by putting things in their mouths, so too do puppies. While it might be frustrating, nipping, mouthing and biting is actually a form of puppy social interaction and is rarely done with malice or aggression.
However, despite the best of intentions, nips from puppy teeth can hurt so it’s important for them to learn to play with toys and chews instead of our hands, arms and feet. So, what can you do to stop the bite?
Regular play with other dogs
Pups usually learn the strength of their bite during the first few weeks of life with their siblings. Insufficient opportunities to practice this can result in a lack of bite inhibition in older dogs – meaning more scratches for you! If you find your puppy is a bit too nippy for your liking, they might need to spend more time with their own kind.
It’s your job to provide plenty of opportunities for your puppy to interact with other puppies and friendly, vaccinated adult dogs. They’ll expend a lot of their energy playing with other puppies and learn boundaries from the dogs around them. Consider enrolling your puppy in a good puppy class, where they can have supervised playtime with other puppies and learn some important new skills. For more advice on choosing puppy classes or behaviourists, view our webpage on choosing the right dog trainer.
Re-direct the bite
Mouthing is a normal dog behaviour, so disciplining them isn’t the route to take. Instead, positively redirect them by giving your pup something satisfying to chew on that isn’t your hand. Supplying your puppy with plenty of toys and tricky-to-tackle treats will keep them entertained for hours and keep your hand slobber free. When your puppy goes to bite you, quickly replace your hand with a chewy treat such as raw hide, pig’s ears or even a raw bone for a quick fix.
Encourage forms of play that don’t require contact, such as fetch and tug of war. Once your puppy gets the hang of it, quickly redirect him to these forms of play whenever he starts to mouth or nip you. Ideally, he will begin to search for the toy whenever he feels like mouthing.
Puppies, like children, need constant entertainment. With boredom comes destructive behaviour like chewing on your favourite pair of boots! Provide plenty of enrichment to keep them mentally and physically stimulated to prevent mouthing at you or your clothing. You can read our blog that outlines eight enrichment ideas for your dog for more advice.
If your puppy mouths you, immediately exit the room. Leave the puppy alone for a minute before returning. If on your return the wild play resumes, leave again. Consistency is key here. Over time your puppy with learn to associate a quick nip of the hand with the end of an enjoyable play session.
Consult an expert
Sometimes you need a bit of extra support. Consider using a behaviourist or check out our range of animal care courses to see if one suits!