Puppy Biting, Mouthing- How To Stop It.
Mouthing is one of the most common problems people seek my help with- so much for cute cuddly puppies. Often the problem is so bad the owners look like they have been self harming!
Puppies naturally use their mouths and unfortunately their needle sharp puppy teeth to interact, play and explore. This behaviour starts whilst they are tiny and in the litter. It serves a really useful purpose as it teaches them how hard or not to bite, particularly each other in play. This learning process, which takes place with their siblings and mum is known as bite inhibition.
If you observe young pups playing when one bites another too hard the other puppy squeals and stops playing leaving the culprit looking really sorry. This can be mimicked by us yelping and stopping play. This method is effective in teaching bite inhibition ie don’t bite me hard, but the big problem lies in the fact it tends to only be effective with pups up to the age of 8 weeks or so.
It is my opinion that we should teach our pups that under no circumstances should they take hold, mouth or bite human flesh or clothing no matter how gently they do this.
Teaching a Pup not to Mouth
Mouthing gets worse and harder the more excited a puppy is, so you need to have calm interactions and try not to over stimulate him.
I always teach puppies using conditioning techniques, a word which tells them when they are doing something I want which is followed by a reward and one which tells them when they are doing something wrong which causes a reward to be with drawn. This is important for mouthing and grabbing problems as it speeds up the teaching process by the puppy understanding what is required.
By conditioning your puppy you can use the word No which will tell her to stop and withdraw on doing so give a good and reward her. I like to reinforce this response with a high value food reward such as one of Natural Instincts chicken hearts.
Another effective method which works well particularly with puppies who are persistent mouthers is to spray your hands with a taste deterrent. I recommend one called Grannicks Bitter Apple, pups hate the taste but it is harmless.
Before interacting with your pup spray your hands and lower arms. Do this when your puppy isn’t present
Once you have done this remove the bottle and bring your puppy in
Stroke and interact with your puppy as normal
As your puppy mouths say ‘No’, they will taste the bitter apple and withdraw. The taste of the bitter apple will reinforce the ‘No’ command, and it wont be long before you don’t need to spray your hands with the bitter apple.
Another method to try is to use a toy to divert the pup mouthing you. By having the toy in her mouth she can’t mouth. This technique doesn’t teach the puppy not to mouth it just prevents her from being able to, so although is useful in certain scenarios the pup doesn’t learn to stop the behaviour.
As with all training and teaching consistency is key to success and you must ensure that nobody does anything to encourage your puppy to mouth. This is particularly true when it comes to other people it is amazing how many people actually offer their fingers to young puppies mouths and allow them to chew them!