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Biting and Mouthing in Puppies and Dogs

All puppies will "mouth", a behavior that some people mistake for biting. Mouthing is a learning process for puppies while biting is usually a corrective measure that has more force than mouthing. Sometimes while playing a puppy will nip too hard and cause its playmate to bite back. This is part of how a puppy learns and is normal behavior. Sometimes the puppy will nip its owner too hard while playing, the same way it nipped its litter mate. Again, this part of the learning process and should not be confused with intended, aggressive biting.

The best way to prevent puppy biting and mouthing is to teach the puppy the correct way to interact with humans. It helps if the puppy is left with its mother and litter mates until it is at least 12 weeks old. The mother dog will teach the puppy its most important lesson – bite inhibition. Bite inhibition is when a puppy learns to control the force of its mouth and to refrain from using its mouth in certain circumstances.

If the puppy is taken away from its mother before 12 weeks of age, or if the puppy tends to be very mouthy, the owner can do a few things to help the puppy learn bite inhibition. As soon as the puppy is old enough, the owner should enroll it in a puppy kindergarten class. Along with puppy kindergarten, it helps if the owner understands the nature of puppy biting.

Puppies do not have hands to manipulate their environment. Therefore, all of the puppy’s manipulation and exploration is done primarily through its mouth.

Sometimes an owner will not be sure if the puppy is being just a puppy or if there are more serious aggressive tendencies. Most young puppies do not aggressively bite. Therefore if the owner is doubtful, that is enough of a warning to seek professional help.

When working with a mouthy puppy, keep in mind that the puppy does not know how to act around humans. The puppy has not had much life experience outside of its canine family. Many inexperienced dog owners will punish a puppy for mouthing. This is often harmful to the puppy’s mental well being and teaches the puppy to use aggressive methods to solve problems. Puppies may bite too hard because they do not know better and need to be taught, not punished.

All dogs, and certainly all puppies, chew. They will chew almost anything that they can get into their mouth. Therefore the owner must puppy-proof the area where the puppy will spend its time. Puppies do not know what is safe and what is not safe to put into their mouth.

Providing proper and safe chew toys will teach the puppy what it can and cannot chew. The best products are ones made of rubber and nylon designed for puppies and dogs to chew. Anything else will look, feel and/or smell like the things in the home that the puppy is not allowed to chew. How can a puppy be expected to understand that to chew rawhide is correct but to chew shoes is not? For safety reasons, it is not a good idea to give puppies bones and other animal parts.

If your puppy should put any part of your person in its mouth, gently tell the puppy not to do this and give the puppy the correct thing to put in its mouth. The same applies to unacceptable objects that a puppy might try to chew. Once the puppy takes the correct object, praise it, so that it will know what is good.

Do not try to yank or otherwise pull objects from the puppy’s mouth. You could hurt the puppy, even pull out a tooth or two. You will also trigger the puppy’s grab reflex which is not what it should learn. Yanking things that are in a puppy’s mouth could teach the puppy to have a pulling contest.

When the puppy releases the incorrect object and takes the correct object into its mouth, praise the puppy for doing what is correct. Remember, the puppy does not know what is right and wrong unless it is shown.

If a puppy shows genuine aggressive behavior, such as snarling, raised lips, glaring eyes and body language that is stiff and threatening, the owner should consult a canine behaviorist immediately, even if this behavior is acceptable for the breed. If the owner is not sure about the puppy’s behavior, it is better to check with a behaviorist than to take a chance. There are a number of organizations that have animal behaviorists world-wide. One such organization is the International Association of Animal Behaviorist Consultants.

Many puppy and dog owners think that unwanted behavior will go away on its own, or they feel that, given enough love, the puppy will change. Some feel that the right type of punishment will cure the problem.

Aggressive behavior will not go away on it own, nor will the dog get better with age. The biggest mistake that owners make is to excuse away aggressive behavior and/or hope that the behavior will be outgrown. The behavior always gets worse with age, because of what the puppy learns as it is growing up.

The dog owner who has a dog or puppy with aggressive problems should never try to fix the problem on their own, especially when it manifests itself in a puppy that is under six months of age. Professional help is necessary.

If a professional decides that the puppy is aggressive or has serious aggressive tendencies, the owner should give serious consideration whether or not to keep the puppy. An aggressive puppy may mature into a dangerous adult. Most pet owners are not qualified to handle an adult dog with aggressive tendencies, nor can they afford the legal issues that are involved in a dog bite situation.

To successfully raise a puppy to be a well adjusted adult, the dog owner will recognize the difference between mouthing, playing and true aggression. Mouthing is the way a puppy learns. All dogs will chew and carry things in their mouth. Some dogs will even use their mouth to show affection. And all dogs will play using their mouths.

However, the responsible dog owner will not tolerate aggressive behavior from either a puppy, a young adult or an adult dog. A properly socialized and adjusted puppy or dog will not feel the need to act aggressively.

A dog that chooses to act aggressively is a danger to itself and those around it. Aggression can also signal that the dog has a relationship problem with humans. Sometimes a puppy’s owner has unknowingly taught the puppy to act in an aggressive manner. In other cases, the dog decides that aggressive behavior is needed when it is not. This is a misjudgment on the part of the dog, indicating that the dog needs training.

The steps to take to prevent or stop a dog from being too mouthy are:

1) Purchase a well bred dog who has a sound temperament. This requires some research and using a breeder who follows the ethical standards of the breed club.

2) Do not purchase a puppy that is under 12 weeks of age.

3) Avoid getting a puppy from a commercial breeder or business or Puppy Mill.

4) As soon as the puppy is old enough, enroll it in a puppy class.

5) Socialize the puppy properly. A once a week class is a good start but not the complete program.

6) Right after puppy class, enroll it in an obedience class for pet dogs.

7) Avoid hitting, yelling or otherwise acting in a harsh manner to try to teach the puppy to inhibit its bite.

8) Employ a teach-and-show program to teach the puppy how to behave around people.

9) Do not let small children, (under eight years of age) interact with a puppy unsupervised.

10) When you do allow children to interact with a puppy, do not allow them to hurt or otherwise stress the puppy. This applies to children of all ages.

11) Be sure to feed your puppy/dog quality dog food as described on this web site, to promote mental and physical health.



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Copyright 2001 Susan Bulanda. All Rights Reserved.