Mouthing in puppies is a harmless way for them to explore the world, but as they get older it can feel like biting so it's important to start training them not to mouth from a young age.
Sometimes confused for biting, mouthing is when your puppy or dog puts their mouth around something without actually biting down. Puppies usually mouth hands, feet, or sometimes clothing as they begin to use their teeth and naturally want to explore the world. As your puppy gets older mouthing becomes even less desirable and starts to feel more like biting, so it’s important to get them out of the habit from a young age.
If your adult dog suddenly starts mouthing in response to being touched, as a reaction to strangers, or even when playing with toys they may be trying to warn you that they’re not comfortable. In this case it’s best to seek the advice of your vet and potentially a behaviourist to stop this behaviour from becoming more serious, like biting.
Mouthing is natural, but it’s important to follow the steps to get your puppy out of the habit before they get bigger and stronger.
Take a look at our video for tips on how to stop your puppy mouthing, and follow the steps below:
Step 1 – Figure out their triggers for mouthing
First, it’s important to identify what triggers your puppy’s mouthing.
For example, puppies need lots of sleep and mouthing can sometimes get worse when they are over-tired. Giving your puppy a long-lasting chew in a crate or somewhere where they feel settled can encourage them to be calm and help them fall asleep instead, take a look at crate training for help with this.
If your puppy is mouthing people’s feet, then it’s important to make those feet as unexciting as possible. During the puppy phase, it’s best to avoid wearing fluffy socks or slippers. You might even feel more comfortable wearing some comfy outdoor shoes for a while in order to protect you from those sharp puppy teeth.
Keeping a diary of your puppy’s day can help you to predict when they are most likely to get mouthy. If you can anticipate the times of day or events that might trigger the mouthing, then you can divert their attention and give them something else to do before they start.
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Step 2 – Try not to react
When your puppy mouths stay calm and try not to react. Your puppy will see any kind of reaction or attention from you as a reward, which will encourage them to keep mouthing. If you shout or yelp loudly and your puppy stops this is probably because they’re scared, which is also not the answer.
If you move away and your puppy chases you, try to stand still instead of running off. Running will turn it in to a game and encourage your puppy to keep repeating the behaviour.
If the mouthing is getting a bit much, either remove yourself from the room with a door or safety gate between you or encourage your puppy into their crate or bed with some food. This will give everyone a chance to calm down.
Always remember that what gets rewarded, gets repeated. A reward can simply be your attention. This includes eye contact, being touched, or even being told ‘no’ or simply spoken to.
Step 3 – Give your puppy something else to focus on
Instead of reacting to your puppy mouthing, try to redirect their attention somewhere else, like a favourite toy. It can be tempting to encourage them to play with your hands or clothes, but while it might be cute when they’re small, this will become a problem when your puppy gets bigger. You can redirect their energy onto a toy by making the toy seem more fun and exciting.
It’s a good idea to have a few of your puppy’s favourite toys nearby when you know they are likely to get mouthy. If they are ignoring the toys and still trying to mouth you, try to redirect the behaviour onto something more constructive such as a training session, nap time or some calm time with a food puzzle toy to keep their brain occupied.
It’s also important to provide your puppy with lots of enrichment in general as they won’t be able to exercise as much as adult dogs. Mental stimulation is just as important as physical stimulation for all puppies. Have a look at our brain games and other free training resources for some tips.
Step 4 – Reward good behaviour
While you should try to ignore the bad behaviours, make sure you reward your puppy when they do good things. Praise your puppy and reward them with your attention when they interact with you in an appropriate, gentle way. If you reward your puppy for quiet, calm behaviour you will start to see this more often. Remember: what gets rewarded, gets repeated.