Controlling the Mouthy Puppy
Everybody loves to play with puppies—- until those needle-sharp teeth sink in! It’s entirely appropriate that puppies explore their world with their mouths and teeth, but important that they learn to inhibit their biting, and to restrict chewing to approved toy. Here are a few tips until this normal phase of development has passed.
Something to mouth other than you…
Offer LOTS of legal chewing options for them other than hands, feet and clothing. When puppies latch onto the wrong thing, gently disengage and offer substitutes. Quietly remove the “wrong” object, then praise the pup profusely when he picks up his own toy to teach playing with “good” toys is a better payoff.
Never verbally or physically discipline for picking up the wrong thing—-to a puppy, even negative attention is better than no attention at all. He’ll learn that chewing on your remote control or cell phone is a sure way to gain center stage! Negative reinforcement can also increase aggressive or fearful behavior as adults.
Feet, legs or trailing clothing are all targets for playful puppies. Offer a “latch rope” dangling from your hand as you move from room to room. Cut strips of worn out towels or jeans into strips, brains and knot to offer as an alternative.
Don’t invite naughty behavior
Don’t encourage mouthy behavior by wrestling or waving fingers in puppies’ faces, grabbing muzzles, or tousling their heads. Never allow them to mouth or chew on hair, shoes or clothing, but offer lots of play that doesn’t involve direct contact with your hands. Offer a toy as your ‘in-between’ instead. Don’t offer food treats by hand—-it increases their interest in your hands, as well as the likelihood of being chewed. When offering a reward, place it on the floor or gently toss it.
Provide opportunities to play with other vaccinated, friendly dogs to help teach good social behavior. Dogs will naturally provide feedback to other dogs and puppies about unacceptable bite strength by either growling or helping and then withdrawing from play.
Speak their language, not yours
Likewise, you can use the same “language” when your pup bites too hard. Instead of yelling “NO” (which increases the excitement level), give a loud, sudden high-pitched yelp, then withdraw your attention completely for a time-out of 20-30 seconds. Don’t look, speak or respond—totally ignore the pup. After a few seconds, gently stroke him, avoiding his mouth and head, and reward with happy-voice praise when he responds without using his mouth.
If he does start mouthing you again, repeat the time-out until he learns that biting means Game Over. The goal is not to teach him he can’t play with you, only that he must play gently.
Above all, be patient. It’s completely normal for puppies to explore their world with their mouths. Developing good bite control takes time and consistency, but is worth the effort.