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Canine Library: Puppies

Mouthing or Biting?

Most little puppies are all mouth.

Mouthing and biting are forms of play-learning that all pups should experience within the litter. Some owners get their puppies before they learn the essentials.

Babies put everything into their mouths for what doctors call oral satisfaction. Puppies have even more reasons to use their mouths because they have no hands, because they are teething, and because they have spent their brief lives receiving comfort from nursing and their reward from being groomed by their mother's tongue. It's easy to see why, to a puppy, the mouthing becomes a source of pleasure.

In play with its littermates, as its teeth erupt, a pup learns to differentiate between holding, gripping and biting. Hard bites elicit screams from the littermate or mom, and the culprit is either kicked out of the game or set upon by the others. Most puppies learn these lessons by the time they are 10 to 12 weeks of age (there are always exceptions).

Mouthing is a form of puppy play that easily transfers to toys, but biting must be modified to teach a pup to inhibit its bite. A fully grown dog that has not learned these lessons will no doubt be labeled "aggressive" when its intended hold results in a hard bite.

Don't allow your puppy to mouth at your arms or hands. When your dog displays undesirable behavior, divert it with a toy tossed in the other direction or with any obedience command that comes to mind. Eliminate as many "no's" as possible. A prompt sit brings a "good dog" reward; so does "give it" for the pup that brings back the toy.

Puppies that are removed from the litter before learning their ABCs (Acceptable Biting Control), the orphan pup and the solitary pup that didn't learn from its mom must be taught their ABCs.

One way to teach such a pup how to suppress its bite is for the owner to become a puppy stand-in. Let the pup mouth your arm or your hand as you play and wait until you feel teeth testing your flesh. Then don't wait another second--scream! As you yell, pin the pup to the floor. Look angry, but don't say anything more. When the pup submits to your higher authority by relaxing, walk away.

It's the old "if you don't play by my rules, I won't play" routine, and it works because dogs understand this format. If you observe closely, you can predict when the pup is about to test its teeth. There is usually a steady, far-off stare that accompanies the testing of jaw pressure.

When the dog has had ample opportunity to learn about biting, and you've had enough of the mouthing, apply a safe repellent like Grannick's Bitter Apple or Chew Ban on your hands at a time when the unwanted behavior is likely to take place. As the pup gets a mouthful of horrible taste say, ''No!" separate yourself from the dog, then ignore it for several minutes. Be consistent and have a supply of toys around to satisfy the dog's need to chew.

Hard rubber toys (Kong, for instance), rope toys, soft sheepskin-like toys or knotted terrycloth allow your dog to exercise its gums and its mind.

Author(s): McLennan, Bardi
Publication: Dog Fancy
Issue Date: February 1993

Canine Library: Puppies