Mouthing

Its Normal

By 8 weeks of age puppies will have developed their puppy teeth, just in time for you to bring them home. Teeth will begin to fall out between 12-20 weeks depending on the breed of your puppy which is usually when biting behaviour is at its worst. This is the phase we label teething. Any biting aside from this is more well commonly known as puppy mouthing. Play biting is often used but often less than suitable as mouthing is not always a means to play. Most puppies will have all their permanent teeth through by 6-7 months of age.  This coincides with a stage of development when your puppy is more adventurous, less frightened and exploring their world (which they do through their mouth).While this biting phase is something that puppies will move out of, we need to ensure we respond appropriately to ensure we don’t make the problem worse or allow them to learn the behaviour as a habit.

So I’m going to go through some tips to help you through this stage.

Its Information 


Please always see play biting as information rather than your puppy trying to be a nuisance. Mouthing can happen for several reasons and when you can begin to differentiate the causes, and listen to what your puppy is trying to tell you, our response will be much more successful. So if any of you have used the very good advice of interrupting and redirecting your puppy for biting behaviour, but on some occasions this does not appear to be very successful, we need to look at what your puppy was actually trying to tell you. I can probably bet it wasn’t that it wanted to play or chew something, hence why your redirection didn’t work. Play biting is often a very small portion of the mouthing behaviour you see in your puppy.
Natural Behaviours 

We need to be aware of natural behaviours. So chewing is a natural behaviour, shredding, tearing and exploring with their mouth is also natural. Some dogs will do this more than others and some breeds may do this more than others. So if you have a breed that was bred to grab, shake prey, nip etc then you may find mouthing more difficult during the puppy stages than breeds that were bred as lap dogs for instance. We must give these puppies outlets. So you have a puppy that likes chewing or shredding, can you give them outlets for that behaviour? Can you give them things to chew and destroy? And I will say, as I know this will be a question for many of you, This isn’t going to encourage them. For example if you fancy a treat lets say some chocolate, in most cases once you’ve had a bar, you’re then satisfied. As Long as our other wellbeing needs are met, the majority of us won’t then feel the need to eat chocolate 24/7, actively rummaging through cupboards trying to find more, you had your fix, you no longer have an urge for that right now. And this is similar for them.

So to minimise the mouthing behaviour, you need to ensure you are meeting your puppies natural needs on a daily basis. 

Stimulation

So what has stimulation got to do with biting? As I’ve just touched upon, a lot. Puppies must learn to be bored and that is important. But if their needs are not met, they will try to find their own way of fulfilling them. We must give our puppies good opportunities for stimulation so that they are satisfied and happy and less tempted to find their own fun. 

PHYSICAL – exercise or physical activity – walks or play time
MENTAL – Puzzle toys, novelty, training
SOCIAL – Social contact with either the same species or cross species (us!)
PHYSICAL HABITAT- Differences and challenges in the environment
SENSORY – Sight, scent, substrate, sound, temperature
FOOD- Novel food or differences in food presentation

So to minimise the mouthing behaviour, you need to ensure you are meeting your puppies stimulation needs on a daily basis. Now some puppies will need more than others, try to find a nice balance between stimulation and down time for your individual puppy. 

Naps and Settling 

‘A tired puppy is a good puppy’ – nope! When tired some puppies will take themselves off to sleep while others will become land sharks looking for their next victim. It’s the same as people, nothing functions properly when you’re tired. Puppies should be sleeping around 18 hours a day. Dogs’ sleep cycles are much shorter than ours, but they fall into a deep sleep much quicker. Dogs spend around 10% of their sleep in REM (deep sleep) where as people its 25%. Because they spent less time in rem, they need more sleep overall. 

Ensure your puppy is getting regular naps during the day to ensure they have time to refresh. If they are not good at this, pop them away for a nap or make sure it’s on the top of your to do list to practice settling.

Arousal 

Quite often puppy mouthing can get worse when a puppy is either over excited or over tired. If you can begin to spot the signs in your puppy and manage them before they become bitey, you will be able to manage this behaviour while in this stage of development.

Calm lie downs or new chews or stuffed kongs are a great way to encourage calm and relaxation (and usually then sleeping) when falling into this area. Redirections to toys are likely to spark more chaos! Calming a puppy down once at the charging around aimlessly stage is often difficult so spotting signs is a must. Evening routines are important. Late evening should not be play time, this is when we want to teach our puppy about boring relaxing time. All play should be earlier in the day to prevent high arousal games mixing with over tired puppies and thus leading to uncontrollable biting and mad zoomies.
This also goes for play time. If your puppy is likely to start biting mid play- watch for the signs. Does your puppy need a calm break in between small bouts of play? Probably. Our aim here is to ensure we keep our puppy in an able state to think and learn.

Watch Your Hands

Do not allow anyone to play with your puppy with clothing items, hands or things that are inappropriate. These will only encourage your puppy to bite these items for fun. Ensure that play is encouraged through the use of toys only. Once your puppy is older and past this stage, you can then begin to introduce tactil hand play games if this is your thing. 

Watch your hands when your puppy has started doing something you find inappropriate. Waving fingers at them, pushing them away or physically manipulating them or moving them will lead to biting. Mouths are a dog’s hands, if you push them expect them to push you back- what a fun game. Waving fingers in faces look like tug toys so don’t be surprised when they use your finger like one. Keep your body language in a way that is clear to them.
This goes for grooming too. Mouthing in this context is almost like a ‘no thankyou, please stop that’. It is your responsibility to help teach your puppy that its ok to be handled, please don’t expect them to just accept this because they are a dog. This takes time, dedication and a ton of patience.

Chew This

Chewing is super important for our puppies so we need to provide them with things to chew on.  Have lots of these available to them. Ensure you have a variety of textures and styles so that there will be at least one that your puppy fancies. I want you to look around your room, how many legal items does your puppy have to chew on? Are they different textures, shapes, materials?

Your shopping list may include:

Long lasting chews- Nylabones, Yaker Chews, Antlers (half cut/split), Root chews (mango), olive or coffee wood – these can be left lying around

Chews- Dried meat or vegetable sticks (aim for natural, high quality chews rather than those that contain lots of cereal, animal derivatives or meat meal). – these can be given a couple of times a week. Some examples include pizzles, hooves, 100% meat plaits and twists, rabbit ears, tails, necks, trachea, trotters, fish skins, tripe. Stuffed kongs can also work well.

Toys- Rope toys, rubber toys, soft toys (eg skins with no stuffing), balls – these can be left lying around. If you have lots of these I would hold some back and switch them every so often, this not only keeps them interesting but also prevents overwhelm. 

Your puppy will favour different textures depending on which teething stage they are in so be sure to provide them with lots of different options around.

What if they Bite 

Common advice given to puppy owners is to yelp like a puppy. However when people use high pitched noises we are often exciting for dogs. This often causes puppies to bite more as they believe we are playing, leading to frustration from us and one confused puppy when they then get told off or shut out on their own. The reason behind this advice is often because ‘this is what the mother dog does’. Please be aware that puppy’s know we are not dogs and we cannot communicate with them the way dogs do- we are simply not good at it. If we apply this advice we also need to be sniffing their bums to say hello! 

Each and every time your puppy bites something or someone, you want to practice the no biting rule.  When your puppy is biting something inappropriate you want to calmly interrupt them with a word such as ‘no thankyou’ or a calm noise ‘ah-ha’ and then redirect them to something more appropriate for that moment. This may be a toy, this may be a chew, this may be to their bed for a chew and a nap or a simple sit or down to help break the moment. Try to always remain positive while you do this though, you don’t want to turn these useful behaviours into punishment. 

Remember your body language too from earlier. Flapping your hands around and screaming isn’t going to help. Try to communicate to them calmly and clearly. If you have children, it’s often best to teach them to be a tree and stand still, while you cue puppy away from them.

Management 

When it comes to chewing inappropriate items or biting hands our first call shouldn’t be punishment, it should be management of the puppy and the environment. The use of crates, puppy pens, puppy confinement areas can all be used coupled with lots of appropriate chew items. If you are unable to redirect your puppy from an item, remove it. This prevents continuous frustration from us and prevents your puppy learning that that item is fun to chew on. Once your puppy is over the teething stage, these items can be reintroduced. If you are unable to redirect from an item and unable to remove it, we will need to look at your puppy’s motivation. Is it because it has a preference for that texture and has no appropriate items of the same texture? Is it that it’s become a good attention seeking game? Is it because your puppy is now over tired and we missed the signs of arousal? Is it because it’s a source of reinforcement? Or become a predictor of a game?

It’s common for owners to allow the puppy the run of the whole house. This obviously makes supervision much harder and allows the puppy to practice behaviour that isn’t suitable. Set up your environment so that your puppy only has access to inappropriate items when supervised.

If the problem is with people, teach your puppy to do something else during that time, something you’d find more appropriate when they are in each other’s company. 

Common Problems

Your puppy won’t redirect, they just want your arm? Here, they are likely tired or over aroused. Spotting the early signs next time will prevent that from happening, you may also need to look at adjusting your routine if it’s a regular occurrence. If you do find yourself here and you have tried a calm redirect to a chew item, walk away and do something else for 5 minutes. Your puppy is likely to follow you which is fine. If they however continue to chew on your leg, use a barrier (such as a stairgate) so that they cannot get to you. Once they are calm again, (take a deep breath!) go back and redirect them to the appropriate thing you wanted them to do. 

My puppy just shreds his toys? Your puppy either finds this fun, is bored or doesn’t know how to play. You can spend time teaching them rules of fetch or tug so that they learn how to play with these (keeping these toys out of reach in between playtimes to prevent temptation to shred) or you can give them outlets for the shredding behaviour (boxes, tubes, stimulation toys or holey balls you can stuff can work well).