Do you have a puppy that would rather use your arm than a bone as a chew toy? Nip mouthing in the bud! While it is normal for puppies to use their mouths when playing with each other, this behavior becomes a problem when it carries over into their interactions with us.
Many breeds are genetically inclined to use their mouths to do a job. Sporting breeds are the retrievers and the carriers of items. Working and the Herding breeds use their mouths to control the movements of humans or other animals. Terrier breeds are motion-activated and will chase anything they perceive as small rodents, including your feet. Understanding these tendencies in your own puppy, whether a mixed breed or purebred, can help in dealing with the problem with mouthing.
At a very young age, puppies begin to learn how much pressure with their mouths is too much by the reactions of their mothers and littermates. When puppies play, they chomp each other's ears and chew each other's necks until one bites down too hard. Then, the bitten puppy lets out a piercing "iey, iey, ieeyyy" (referred to as the wounded puppy noise), gets up and walks away. This teaches the biting puppy that when he is too rough, play ends. Since dogs are social animals, this in itself is a correction. The puppy learns bite inhibition through these play fighting sessions when allowed to remain with his litter until at least seven weeks of age. This is one of the most important lessons puppies carry into adulthood, especially concerning their relationship with people.
As a new puppy owner, it is necessary to establish what is and isn't acceptable behavior from the very first day. Puppies benefit from expectations that are consistently enforced. Teething lasts from four to six months, so mouthing is quite common then. If mouthing has not gotten under control by the time the puppy enters adolescence at six months, not only will you have a less cooperative teenager to handle, but a larger, stronger jaw to deal with as well. Mouthing can become a way for your puppy to try to control you, allowing him to take that first step towards assuming a leadership role within your home. The following techniques are recommended for most puppies up to four months of age, depending upon their size and the severity of the problem.
Initially, a puppy will use his mouth to investigate his environment. Throughout the teething process, it gives a puppy relief to chew on all manner of items, soft and hard. Providing appropriate items for your puppy to focus his attentions on can sometimes be a simple way of solving a mouthing problem. Indestructible chew toys like large nylon bones or hard rubber can provide a positive outlet for mouthing. Large rawhide bones and carrots can be placed in the freezer and given to a teething puppy. Braided fiber knotted tugs dipped in chicken broth or water and then frozen are also a good option.
If your puppy is chewing on you, the moment the pressure increases use your "wounded puppy" noise leaving your hand in their mouth. Once the pressure is released, slowly remove your hand. You may wish to offer the back of your hand for your puppy to lick. By doing this, not only are you teaching him that your skin is tender, but also that you expect a sign of deference (licking your hand) from him. Praise him in a calm manner if his cooperation is immediate and offer him an appropriate chew toy. Do not offer a toy while your hand is still in his mouth, or you will be rewarding the wrong behavior. You may also choose to assign a command like “no bite” or “no mouth,” so he will associate his behavior with your correction. This method should work with the average, eager-to-please puppy. For piranha puppies, a squirt of breath spray in the mouth when mouthing may serve as a negative reinforcer. To avoid the minty freshness, the puppy will keep his mouth closed.