Puppy Mouthing & Nipping

Nipping and mouthing are the normal means by which puppies explore their world. Developmentally, this behavior is similar to a human toddler’s habit of putting objects in his or her mouth. The puppy doesn’t mean to harm you or cause you pain. He’s simply exploring, and learning about his surroundings. 

Mouthing is not only normal puppy behavior, but also essential the development of bite inhibition in the adult dog. The responses a puppy receives to his nipping and mouthing give him valuable feedback as to the proper control of his mouth. Mouthing and nipping usually ends with the arrival of your puppy’s permanent teeth between 5 and 8 months.

Suggestions for working through this behavior include:

1.Teach an acceptable behavior, rather than focusing on the bad behavior. Give your puppy a chew toy or stuffed Kong to occupy him while you pet or groom him. Keep handling sessions short to accomodate his shortened attention span.

2. Pet and groom your puppy when your puppy is somewhat sleepy, such as at the end of the day.

3. For grooming, place the puppy on a high surface, such as a grooming table or picnic table covered in a non-skid bath rug. His uncertainty about being on the table will most likely inhibit his nipping. If you have access to a grooming table with a grooming arm, smear peanut butter on the arm. Licking the peanut butter not only occupies his mouth, but creates a pleasant association with handling and grooming. A smear of peanut butter on an easily cleaned surface such as the refrigerator door works well for large breed puppies or for those without access to a table.

4. Get up, cross your arms, and walk away when your puppy starts using his teeth. Your puppy craves attention and companionship, so your sudden exit and the end of play is a very effective form of punishment.

5. Say “OUCH!” loudly or yelp like a puppy to startle your puppy whenever he tries to nip.

6. Utilize a drag line so that you can simply step on or pick up the line to interrupt mouthy or nippy behavior.

7. Use a short, 2 minute time-out in the crate for continued nipping when all other strategies have failed.

8. Praise your puppy for appropriate behavior.

9. Be consistent—do not allow some nipping while discouraging it at other times.

We do not recommend any of the following:

1. Punishing your puppy by grabbing his muzzle, shaking his scruff or spanking. Hands must be used only for praise and pleasant things. Grabbing your puppy’s muzzle will teach him to dislike your touch—a definite disadvantage for future tooth brushings or veterinary visits.

2. Don’t laugh at your puppy or play with him when he uses his teeth. Your puppy may view your amusement as approval.

3. Don’t encourage your puppy to grab at your hands, feet, or clothing during play.

4. Don’t play tug of war games with a mouthy puppy. Substitute games of fetch (using two balls to encourage your puppy to drop the ball) or fun training periods instead.

Remember, puppies are not born knowing what to bite and what not to bite. It’s our responsibility to teach them good manners around their human companions. Be patient with your puppy as he learns the rules. You’ll be rewarded with a well-mannered companion for years to come.