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Main Street Pet Care- Puppy Mouthing Behavior- March 25, 2014

Dr. Ben Leavens discusses the problem of puppy mouthing behavior and ways to correct it.

PUPPY
MOUTHING BEHAVIOR

(Adapted From ASPCA web site)

Puppies spend a great deal of time playing, chewing and investigating
objects. All of these normal activities involve puppies using their mouths and
their needle-sharp teeth. When puppies play with people, they often bite, chew
and mouth on people’s hands, limbs and clothing. This kind of behavior may seem
cute when your puppy is seven weeks old, but it’s not nearly so endearing when
he’s three or four months old—and getting bigger by the day!

What to Do
About Puppy Mouthing

It’s important to help your puppy learn to curb his mouthy behavior.

There are various ways, some better than others, to teach this
lesson. The ultimate goal is to train your puppy to stop mouthing and biting
people altogether. However, the first and most important objective is to
teach him that people have very sensitive skin, so he must be very gentle when
using his mouth.

Bite
Inhibition: Teach Your Puppy to Be Gentle

Bite inhibition refers to a dog’s ability to control the force of his mouthing. Some behaviorists
and trainers believe that a dog who has learned to use his mouth gently when
interacting with people will be less likely to bite hard and break skin if he
ever bites someone in a situation apart from play—like when he’s afraid or in
pain.

Puppies usually learn bite inhibition during play with other puppies. If you watch a
group of puppies playing, you’ll see plenty of chasing, pouncing and wrestling.
Puppies also bite each other all over. Every now and then, a pup will bite his
playmate too hard. The victim of the painful bite yelps and usually stops
playing. The offender is often taken aback by the yelp and also stops playing
for a moment. However, pretty soon, both playmates are back in the game. Through
this kind of interaction, puppies learn to control the intensity of their bites
so that no one gets hurt and the play can continue without interruption. If
puppies can learn how to be gentle from each other, they can also learn the same
lesson from people.

It is OK to use a loud vocal tone! When you play with
your puppy, let him mouth on your hands. Continue play until he bites especially
hard. When he does, immediately give a high-pitched yelp, as if you’re hurt, and
let your hand go limp. This should startle your puppy and cause him to stop
mouthing you, at least momentarily. (If yelping seems to have no effect, you can
say “Too bad!” or “You blew it!” in a stern voice instead.) Praise your puppy
for stopping or for licking you. Resume whatever you were doing before. If your
puppy bites you hard again, yelp again. Repeat these steps no more than three
times within a 15-minute period. If you find that yelping alone doesn’t work,
you can switch to a time-out procedure.

Time-outs are often very effective for curbing mouthing in puppies. When your puppy delivers a hard
bite, yelp loudly.
Then, when he startles and turns to look at you or looks
around, remove your hand. Either ignore him for 10 to 20 seconds or, if he
starts mouthing on you again, get up and move away for 10 to 20 seconds. After
the short time-out, return to your puppy and encourage him to play with you
again. It’s important to teach him that gentle play continues, but painful play
stops.

Play with your puppy until he bites hard again. When he does, repeat the sequence
above. When your puppy isn’t delivering really hard bites anymore, you can
tighten up your rules a little. Require your puppy to be even gentler. Yelp and
stop play in response to moderately hard bites. Persist with this process of
yelping and then ignoring your puppy or giving him a time-out for his hardest
bites. As those disappear, do the same for his next-hardest bites, and so on,
until your puppy can play with your hands very gently, controlling the force of
his mouthing so that you feel little or no pressure at all.

General
Precautions

·        - Avoid waving your fingers or toes in your puppy’s face or slapping the sides of his face to entice
him to play. Doing these things can actually encourage your puppy to bite your
hands and feet.

·         Do not discourage your puppy from playing with you in general. Play builds a strong bond between a
dog and his human family. You want to teach your puppy to play gently, rather
than not at all.

·         Avoid jerking your hands or feet away from your puppy when he mouths. This will encourage him to
jump forward and grab at you. It’s much more effective to let your hands or feet
go limp so that they aren’t much fun to play with.

·         Slapping or hitting puppies for playful mouthing can cause them to bite harder. They usually
react by playing more aggressively. Physical punishment can also make your puppy
afraid of you—and it can even cause real aggression.
Avoid scruff
shaking, whacking your puppy on the nose, sticking your fingers down his throat
and all other punishments that might hurt or scare him.


When Does
Mouthing Become Aggression?

Most puppy mouthing is normal behavior. However, some puppies bite out of fear or
frustration, and this type of biting can signal problems with future
aggression
.

Puppy “Temper Tantrums”

Puppies sometimes have temper tantrums. Usually tantrums happen when
you’re making a puppy do something he doesn’t like. Something as benign as
simply holding your puppy still or handling his body might upset him. Tantrums
can also happen when play escalates. (Even human “puppies” can have tantrums
during play when they get overexcited or upset!) A puppy temper tantrum is more
serious than playful mouthing, but it isn’t always easy to tell the difference
between the two. In most cases, a playful puppy will have a relaxed body and
face. His muzzle might look wrinkled, but you won’t see a lot of tension in his
facial muscles. If your puppy has a temper tantrum, his body might look very
stiff or frozen. He might pull his lips back to expose his teeth or growl.
Almost always, his bites will be much more painful than normal mouthing during
play.

If you’re holding or handling your puppy and he starts to throw a temper tantrum,
avoid yelping like you’re hurt. Doing that might actually cause your puppy to
continue or intensify his aggressive behavior. Instead, be very calm and
unemotional. Don’t hurt your puppy, but continue to hold him firmly without
constriction, if possible, until he stops struggling. After he’s quieted down
for just a second or two, let him go. Then make plans to contact a qualified
professional for help. Repeated bouts of biting in frustration are not something
that the puppy will simply grow out of, so your puppy’s behavior should be
assessed and resolved as soon as possible.

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