Ouch! Helping your puppy play nicely

By Jessica Colson | behaviour, puppy, training

Puppies use their mouths just like we use our hands! They explore new things with their teeth, and when they interact and play with one-another you will see a lot of teeth! So, how do we teach our puppies that the rules are different when it comes to interacting with their human friends?

The first thing that is required is a lot of patience! Puppies mouth people to get attention and play. Your puppy will therefore need to learn that using their teeth on people NEVER works to get attention. Remember your attention comes in three forms (talk, touch and even eye contact). You will have to be very consistent whilst your puppy learns the ‘rules’ – and any time they put their teeth on you, quietly remove your skin/clothes from your puppies mouth. If they continue trying to mouth you, try turning away from them and crossing your arms – a clear signal that your attention has been withdrawn! If this still doesn’t work you will need to walk away from your puppy and leave the room, closing the door behind you and leaving them to calm down for a moment before going back in. It is very important that it is YOU who leaves the room, instead of picking your puppy up and moving them away, as this still counts as attention! Once your puppy has calmed down and is doing something more suitable you can praise them and interact again – remember, if they mouth you again you will again need to move yourself away. This can leave you feeling like a bit of a Yo-Yo to begin with, and you puppy may go through a period where they seem to get worse before they get better because they need to learn that this behaviour no longer works. Be very strict with yourself and make sure that you do not give in and respond when your puppy mouths you particularly hard or for a long time (you will only teach them to mouth harder/persist!). This training will eventually click and your puppy will learn not to use their teeth when interacting with people.

Although it can be very frustrating, try to avoid telling your puppy off for mouthing. Remember, the only reason they are doing it is to try and get you to interact with them – so any interaction could still reinforce their behaviour! In addition, telling them off may make them worried. Although this may work to stop your puppy in their tracks, it can drive more over the top, severe mouthing in the future, in addition to contributing to other issues. Simply stopping any reward for the behaviour is the safest and most effective way of dealing with mouthing in the long term.

A top tip for success is to keep a toy with you when you know your puppy is feeling lively, and let them chew on this as you play with them, instead of having the temptation of putting your hands in their mouths! Always keep a few different toys out so that your puppy has something suitable to chew on at all times. You puppy is much less likely to mouth when they are tired out, so ensuring that they have the right kind of outlet when they are feeling energetic is half the battle!

We would advise against wearing your best clothes around puppy! It is far better to get changed into something you don’t mind getting spoilt whilst you are training your puppy not to mouth. If you have young children that cannot put this advice into practise you will need to manage the situation more closely. It is a good idea to separate your child and puppy at times when either is feeling particularly excited, and/or to keep a light lead on your puppy in the house so that you can gently remove them from a situation without needing to tell them off or give them your attention when they are being ‘naughty’!

If your puppy is showing an extreme mouthing and/or this advice does not seem to help ask an expert for advice. Always get your puppy checked over by a vet if they have a sudden change in behaviour or are behaving in a way that is of concern– as this could be a related to a medical issue.

So, remember our top tips for preventing mouthing:

  • Try not to shout at your puppy, as they will associate mouthing you with getting your attention, or potentially get scared.
  • If your dog mouths you, don’t respond with your attention. Remember your attention comes in three forms – talk, touch, and eye contact. Turning away and crossing your arms removes all three forms of attention.
  • If this still doesn’t work, you may need to leave the room, close the door behind you and let them calm down for a moment before you return to the room.
  • Positively praise your dog when they stop mouthing and interact with you in a gentler way.
  • If you have children in your home, you may need to supervise their contact with your puppy. If your puppy or child is feeling particularly excitable, it may be wise to keep them apart.