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Puppy mouthing… bruised & confused?



Will my puppy eventually grow out of this mouthing behavior?

Imprinting on a toy with 5 week old Ridley American Bulldog puppies.

I get several calls a week asking me this question, and my answer is always…  “Not unless you stop reinforcing the mouthing behavior ” 

Before I address how to handle the mouthing behavior you need to understand a few reasons why your puppy is mouthing. By understading why your pup is mouthing  you can address the behavior and not diminish your pups social skills, confidence and willingness to play and please you.

Why puppies mouth:

Your puppy has been using their mouth for instinctive and social behavior like eating, prey, play & pack/rank order. Not to mention the physical aspect of teething and that it feels good using their mouth. Each puppy has its own genetic disposition to how much and to what extent they use their mouth. When a pup is with their litter mates for the first 6 weeks they learn from each sibling what it can and cannot get away with. Your puppy has their own level of how much they will take before they snap back at (correct) their siblings or even you. 

When you bring your new puppy home at 6-9 weeks and take them from their siblings, you become their sibling. So, of course they want to play with you and you engage in the play. Great!! But when they start to mouth you, you keeping playing and reinforcing their behavior Now, you have just taught them it is okay to put their mouth on you. They see you as a sibling who will not stop them. They remember this and repeat the behavior and low and behold it works over and over again. This is how the behavior gets worse and begins to generalize.

About 5-7 months is when the mouthing and other behaviors really start showing up.

How to avoid mouthing:

 Okay, when you bring a new pup into the home, always have a crate for them as well as a few toys…

  • soft toy or soft ball.
  • hard toy or rubber ball
  • several bones

When you play with your pup you should always encourage them to play with the toy and not your hands. If they keep insisting to bite at your hands just keep transferring to the toy and if they don’t transfer, you should put them in the crate. (Be neutral when putting them in the crate) I like to put a bone or hard toy in the crate with them so they can release some energy through their mouth and sooth their mouth from teething. 

If you are consistent with this you can and will avoid mouthing all together. You will also teach your pup that you will only play with them if they have a toy. Then tug of war and fetch become fun games to play and they will bring you their toy when they are excited instead of mouthing you.

How to correct mouthing:

 Its not going to be easy but, there are some things you are going to have to change. Like if you are rough housing without a toy or you do not have a crate.

IMO a crate, toys and bones are necessary tools for puppy or dog training. 

Now that you have your crate, toys and bones you can start your training. However, because you have taught your dog it is okay to mouth and bite you. you are going to have to teach them new behaviors by transferring.

  • You can transfer their attention by holding and playing with the toy and when they bite the toy you let it go and praise them.
  • If they let the toy go and try to mouth you, just try again. If they do not bite the toy and keep mouthing you… that’s your Que to put them in their crate for a time out.
  • Let them out of the crate and repeat.
  • Your goal is for them to bite and hold the toy and parade it around happily while you praise them. 

Now lets say you are not playing and they come up to you to play and mouth you, put them in their crate with a bone to chew on. After a few minutes let them out and play with them with their toy. Eventually they will learn to understand you will not play with them without their toy. However, you must be consistent!

Remember, the act of mouthing can mean so many things to the dog. Its important to understand why our dogs are mouthing. This understanding allows us to know how to address the behavior. Be patient with your puppy or dog. If you are having issues implementing the training and need help please contact me or call  530-409-1879 

Good luck and have fun with your dogs!