AKC GoodDog! Helpline (GDH) is our telephone and video dog training consultation service. We offer live, personalized assistance with your questions about training your puppy or dog. To celebrate GDH’s 10th anniversary in 2023, we’ve rounded up the most common questions that our dog trainers hear from owners just like you. A common question is, “How do I stop my puppy from mouthing me?”
Puppies explore the world with their mouths, so it’s completely natural for puppies to mouth your hands, feet, and anything else they can get between their teeth. Mouthing and play-biting are also normal parts of puppy play. Plus, teething (which can last for up to six months) is painful, and mouthing things helps to relieve the pain.
But those razor-sharp puppy teeth hurt, and you don’t want your dog to continue mouthing you into adulthood. An important step for any new puppy owner is teaching your puppy not to mouth humans. It takes patience and consistency, but there are ways to make it easier for both of you!
These 10 tips will help stop your puppy from mouthing you, so you can both spend more time learning the fun stuff.
1. When They’re Mouthing, Stop All Play and Movement
Attention of any kind is a strong reward, but it’s important not to reward your puppy for mouthing or play-biting. Whenever your puppy bites or mouths you, stop all interaction with them. That will teach your puppy that mouthing or biting stops the fun. You can even tuck your hands away and turn your back to your puppy for a few seconds to really emphasize the lesson.
To help teach bite inhibition (the use of a gentle mouth), say “ouch!” or “yip” in a high-pitched voice whenever your puppy bites you. This mimics the behavior their mother and littermates used when the puppy bit too hard, and it will help them understand the importance of a gentle mouth. However, this noise can overexcite some pups, so if it doesn’t settle your puppy down, walk away or calmly place them in their crate instead.
2. Minimize Jerky Movements While Practicing Calm Handling
Waving hands, running feet, and other sudden, jerky movements will encourage your puppy to play bite. That’s because these types of actions tap into your puppy’s instinct to chase and capture prey. It wouldn’t be fair to rile up the puppy, then get upset when they mouth or bite as a natural response.
Instead, set up your puppy for success by using calm, smooth movements. When you handle your puppy (for example, when you are grooming or petting them), do so gently and slowly.
3. Avoid Playing in a Way That Triggers Reflexive Biting
When you play with your pup, it’s tempting to wrestle and gently push them about. After all, it’s how they play with other dogs, and many puppies love that kind of interaction.
But if you roughhouse with your new pet, you might encourage them to play-bite and mouth you. They won’t understand where to draw the line, and you could end up looking like a pin cushion. Instead, try to find ways to play with your puppy that don’t trigger those instincts.
4. Engage in Noncontact Play
There are all kinds of exciting games you can play with your puppy that will keep their teeth away from your skin. For example, teaching your dog to play fetch is a great way to bond, provide exercise and have fun. You can also train your puppy to drop the ball so you don’t have to remove it from their mouth or chase them to get it back.
Tug-of-war is another game that allows you to interact with your puppy while keeping their mouth at arm’s length. It’s a wonderful way to teach the cues for “take it” and “drop it.” It also encourages impulse control and makes a perfect training reward in place of treats.
5. Play With Large Toys Away From Your Body
As anybody who has had their pants legs bitten understands, puppies will nip at anything that moves. When playing with puppy toys, choose larger options and keep them away from your body. That way, when your puppy mouths or bites the toy, you won’t be caught in the crossfire and get nipped.
Encourage your puppy to focus on the toy rather than on your hands, legs, or feet. Save smaller toys, like chew toys, for your puppy’s solo play.
6. Schedule Crate and Nap Time
Just like human infants get cranky, puppies can get mouthy when they’re tired or overly stimulated. To prevent that, schedule time every day for your puppy to nap or wind down in their crate.
Remember that puppies need a lot of sleep — up to 18 hours a day! Plus, dogs love routine. Put your puppy on a regular schedule that includes quiet time, and don’t disturb your pup while they’re sleeping.
7. Use Up Their Physical and Mental Energy
Between naps, your puppy will be bursting with energy. Find ways to tire your pup, both physically and mentally, so they are less likely to mouth and nip. Plus, stimulation and exercise are great ways to keep your puppy out of trouble. Consider puzzle toys, training sessions for cues like “sit” or “down,” romps in the backyard, or structured play.
Teach your puppy to play appropriately. After playing calmly, you can then ask for a sit. When your pup responds correctly, reward them with more playtime. As they catch on to the rules, increase the enthusiasm of your play sessions. Soon, you will be able to tire them out (yet also be able to ask them to calm down when needed).
8. Have a Plan to Direct Your Puppy’s Energy
Plan for puppy energy bursts so you aren’t caught unprepared. For example, have toys in every room or a pouch full of treats. The faster you can redirect a mouthy pup to a more appropriate behavior, the faster they will learn what you expect of them.
Even better, anticipate your puppy’s periods of high activity, so you can prevent mouthing in the first place. If you know your pup gets mouthy after being released from their crate, have a toy ready to distract them as soon as you open the door.
9. Distract Them With Treats
If you need to have your hands near your puppy when they’re feeling mouthy, such as when you’re petting or grooming them, it’s helpful to use small treats as a distraction. If your puppy is focused on eating, they won’t have time to mouth or nip.
For example, if you’re petting your dog with one hand, feed them small treats with the opposite hand. This will also help your puppy get used to your touch and learn to associate it with the reward of delicious food.
10. Teach Children How to Interact and Handle Puppies
As already mentioned, fast, jerky movements encourage mouthing and nipping in dogs. Children tend to move that way. They can inadvertently also be rough with dogs, another activity that riles up a mouthy pup.
But you don’t want your puppy hurting a child, even by accident, and you don’t want your dog to practice mouthing humans. It’s important to teach children how to interact safely with your dog. For example, don’t let them chase or harass your puppy. Encourage children to move slowly and calmly, be gentle, and keep loud noises to a minimum. And always supervise all interactions between children and your new pet.
If you need expert advice from experienced trainers or have additional dog training questions, visit the AKC GoodDog Helpline webpage for an online chat or to register for the GDH program.
AKC GoodDog! Helpline is celebrating ten years of supporting dog owners. If you need support, experts at AKC GoodDog! Helpline are available by phone or video to answer any training questions that come up, from housetraining your puppy to unwanted behaviors in senior dogs. Join the nearly one million dog owners who trust AKC GoodDog! Helpline today.