Why do puppies mouth?

Puppies mouth, or bite, because they are not only teething but also exploring their world. It is a normal behavior, but they are also genetically programmed to learn that it is not acceptable. 

They learn that mouthing is not okay starting with their mom. She begins to teach puppies bite inhibition when she corrects them for biting too hard. Dogs correct, or communicate to other dogs to stop doing something, with growling, air snapping, or lip curling. You may see your dog do this when playing with another dog. This is a normal way for them to talk to each other, and should not be punished. 

Littermates then carry on the lesson during play. If one puppy bites another too hard, the puppy who was bit will scream and stop playing. This teaches the puppy that the fun stops if they bite too hard. 

When a puppy is separated from his mother and siblings before he is done learning, we must continue teaching him this important skill.

What to do if your puppy is mouthing:

  • Say ouch in a high pitched voice. Timing is important here. In order for your puppy to understand that your reaction is due to his biting, you need to make sure that you react just as he is putting his mouth on you. Combine this with giving him the cold shoulder for a few seconds. This will mimic the reaction he received with his siblings. Repeat this every time he puts his mouth on you, until he learns bite inhibition, or self control.
  • Time out. When you receive a hard bite, give a high-pitched yelp, walk away from the puppy, and ignore him OR leave the room for 30 to 60 seconds. 
  • Non-contact play. Encourage play that does not result in the puppy touching you, such as fetch and tug-of-war
  • Toys. Be sure to provide plenty of interesting and novel toys so the puppy stays engaged.
  • Substitute with toys. If your puppy is trying to chew or bite on human body parts, give him a toy in exchange to encourage appropriate chewing.
  • Provide friends. Give your puppy plenty of access to canine friends. It is important that your puppy be provided with the opportunity to socialize with other friendly, vaccinated puppies and adult dogs. This will help to continue teaching your puppy bite inhibition.
  • Patience. Remember that mouthing is a normal behavior for puppies and young dogs. It is important that you give your puppy time to learn that it is not acceptable behavior. 

What not to do if your puppy is mouthing:

  • Never use physical punishment when your puppy is mouthing. The puppy will not associate the punishment with mouthing. Instead, he will begin to fear you, and physical punishment could cause injuries to your puppy. All physical punishments, including scruff shaking, whacking on the nose, sticking fingers down his throat, are cruel and inhumane.
  • Do not entice the puppy to play by waving your fingers or toes in his face or by batting at the sides of his face. 
  • Never discourage your puppy from playing with you. Engaging in play helps to build a strong bond between him and his human family, you just need to teach him to play gently. 
  • Avoid jerking your hands or feet away when he mouths. This only encourages him to jump forward and grab you. 

If you try all of these and your puppy continues to mouth, consider seeking out training classes or a behaviorist’s help. Kelley Bollen is a great local resource, click the button below to learn more.

Learn more!

Need a printable version of this page to hang on your fridge? Click on the button below!

Download PDF