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Training Tips: Mouthing

Why is my dog nibbling on me? Mouthing is actually normal. Puppies explore the world with their mouths. But it’s never normal for your dog to chew on people. Even without any initial aggression or force, your dog could harm or scare somebody with his mouthing, which could escalate into an actual bite.

Training your dog not to mouth follows the same principles as positive reinforcement for good behavior: distraction, redirection, reward.

You may have unknowingly trained your dog to mouth you; humans often think it’s cute and sweet when puppies are little. Now that you need to train your growing dog for good behavior, you must withdraw attention as soon as your dog gets mouthy.

When your dog starts to mouth, toss him a chew toy or a Kong stuffed with peanut butter. This trades the undesired behavior for something you want and can actively encourage your puppy to enjoy. When he takes the treat, pet and praise him.

If your dog likes to pounce on your ankles, immediately stop moving. Offer a chew toy. As soon as he takes it, keep walking.

Regular play sessions, when you encourage non-tactile activities like tug-of-war or playing fetch, provide a healthy outlet for your puppy’s boundless energy.

Teaching Bite Inhibition

Anyone with a puppy knows those teeth are sharp! Even if your puppy is gentle and sweet, you never want him to think it’s acceptable to nibble or bite on people. How can you prevent the totally normal puppy behavior of mouthing from escalating? By teaching bite inhibition.

During playtime, let your dog mouth you until he starts to bite more firmly. When he bites down, let out a puppy-style yelp: loud and short. Stop playing immediately. Let your hand go limp. This reaction may startle your dog, which is all right, and should certainly make him stop. The instant he stops, praise him and resume playing. Repetition over several play session should teach your dog not to bite.

If your dog is undeterred by this training regimen, introduce short time-outs. After you yelp, stop playing all together and walk away. After 20 seconds of calm behavior from your puppy, return and resume playing.

The trick is to teach your dog that any kind of painful play is “bad,” while gentle play is always “good.” Gentle play leads to more playtime, while painful play ends it. After you teach your dog to be gentle with his mouth, you can move on to training him not to mouth at all. This is how positive reinforcement of good behavior leads to a happy, well-adjusted, cooperative dog.