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My Puppy is scaring me!

Ouch! When Puppy mouthing is a problem.

Is your puppy driving you crazy by constantly mouthing, biting and nipping you? This is one of the most common behavior problems that new puppy owners complain about. Don’t worry, your puppy is not likely doing this to become dominant or to purposely irritate you. Your puppy is acting this way because it is a dog, and mouthing is a very normal behavior for a healthy puppy!

Why Do Puppies Mouth and Bite So Much?

If you watch puppies playing with one another, their play is mainly comprised of chase games and roughhousing with lots of mouthing and wrestling. Puppies mouth much more than adult dogs because they are learning, through experience, just how hard they can mouth their playmate and still keep the play going. If they mouth too hard, the other puppy with usually yelp and stop playing for a short amount of time. Puppies use their mouths to explore their new environment in the same way that human children use their hands. Also, a puppy is getting their adult teeth in between 4-6 months old, and teething pain can escalate mouthing and nipping behaviors. 

How Do I Get My Dog To Stop Nipping Me?

Although mouthing is normal, it can become a nuisance and even painful. Puppies don’t know the house rules. It is our responsibility to teach them that humans don’t want to be mouthed. Here are some hints to help turn your little alligator into a little angel:

  • Have your puppy Socialize regularly off-leash with other puppies and well-mannered adult dogs. This is your best bet to teach your puppy how to have a soft mouth. They will get consistent feedback in their own language about how hard to mouth and bite. 
  • Prevent your puppy from getting rewarded when he mouths or bites you. If you jerk your hands away or wave them around, it will entice him to chase and play with them. If you yell at him or push him away, most puppies will just come back for more, since those behaviors closely resemble roughhousing, which is exactly what your puppy is trying to do! Instead, remove the reward by taking your hands and attention away for 5-10 seconds any time your puppy puts his teeth on you. You can also try to “yelp” like another puppy might by saying “Ouch!” in a sharp tone right before you remove your attention. If this gets your puppy more excited, don’t use the yelp, just mark your displeasure with a calm “Ouch” instead.
  • Anytime your puppy starts to mouth you, Redirect your puppy onto what you want him to chew instead: fleece toys, tug ropes, teething bones, etc. This is an important step because you can’t (and shouldn’t) prevent him from using his mouth at all, so you need to redirect that normal doggie energy to something appropriate. Keep appealing chew toys available at all times, especially if you suspect your dog is teething. 

In Conclusion…

It may be tempting to lash out or use physical force to punish your puppy, especially when the mouthing hurts. However, this will only damage his trust in you, and is an inappropriate reaction to a normal puppy behavior. By teaching your puppy over a few days or weeks to decrease his mouthing more and more, you will end up with a dog that understands how to inhibit his bite. This is a crucial skill for a puppy to learn so that if he ever feels threatened as an adult dog and actually does bite, he will not do serious damage. Most dogs outgrow their mouthing stage in a few months naturally unless they are rewarded for mouthing, but these hints can help you speed up the process significantly. So remember:  Socialize your puppy often, Prevent him from getting rewarded when he does mouth, and Redirect him to a more appropriate chew toy. Have a little patience, a sense of humor, and take heart-your puppy will grow up soon!

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