Puppy Nipping & Mouthing

Puppies learn about the world with their mouths! While nipping and mouthing are normal puppy behaviors that help them to learn essential dog social skills and bite inhibition, we do not want our puppies to think it is okay to play roughly with, mouth, and nip at people. By showing your puppy how to engage with and play with you appropriately, you are setting her up to succeed so that as a larger adult she will know how to safely interact with humans.

Tools for Handling Puppy Nipping and Mouthing:

  • Crate – A crate is a wonderful tool for housetraining and confining your puppy when unsupervised.  Likewise, it is also a useful tool for mandating a nap time when puppy is overtired and prone to lots of mouthing and zoomies! Quiet time in her crate with a food project like a stuffed kong is the perfect solution for many undesirable puppy behaviors, and provides a much needed break for puppies and humans alike.
  • Tether/Pen – Actively supervising your puppy is essential to prevent accidents and inappropriate chewing. Like a crate, using a harness and training tether or a puppy play pen to limit her to a smaller space can make supervision easier while also allowing her to still be part of the action. This is especially helpful in a house with an open floor plan or a room with areas that are difficult to puppy proof. With mouthing, tethering or penning can also help prevent puppy from being able to chase and mouth, like excitable children or other pets. If puppy begins to mouth you while you are interacting or playing, you can simply move outside of the range of the tether or step outside of the pen. When tethered or penned, be sure to provide your pup with a bed, water, toys, and a food project like a stuffed kong or edible chew.
  • Exercise & Enrichment – A mentally and physically tired pup is a well-behaved pup. Try engaging your puppy in a game of tug with a flimsy fabric toy or throw a ball around in the yard. Inappropriate exercise, like chasing after the kids in their bunny slippers, should not be encouraged as this game often escalates to nipping or rough play that is not appropriate for kids of any age and will continue to happen when puppy is big! Mental “exercise” is just as important; food enrichment can be just as tiring as physical exercise because puppy needs to use their brain to get the tasty treats out!  Every time your pup is crated, or tethered, try filling a food-dispensing toy (such as a kong, kibble ball, or hollow bone) with her kibble, peanut butter, canned food or other delicious treats. Food toys will entertain your pup, exercise her jaws, and teach her what she should chew on all at the same time!
  • Play dates – Often your puppy is nipping and mouthing because they want to play like dogs do! It can be helpful to provide an outlet with other dogs to fulfill their need for social interaction and mouthy play. By scheduling play dates with friends’ puppies, enrolling in our Puppy Kindergarten class for some puppy play time in conjunction with training, or arranging a meet up with social and well-vaccinated adult dog, you are not only providing a mouthing outlet, you are helping your puppy develop important social skills!
  • Toys – Teach children and guests to offer a toy to your puppy as soon as they interact with her to discourage mouthing of hands and clothes, offer your puppy a toy for their mouth before petting or handling, and use toys to redirect your puppy when she is trying to play in an unacceptable way.  You can even trade a soft toy for an unacceptable item she has found to chew. Having a variety of toys for puppy handy will offer their mouth an alternative thing to grab other than you or your clothing!
  • Naptime – Like toddlers, puppies can get over-tired and begin throwing “tantrums,” too! This can include lots of nipping and mouthing. Young puppies need 18-20 hours of sleep per day! If your puppy is becoming more mouthy over the course of a long play session or outing, chances are they need a nap. If you also find your puppy is consistently engaging in mouthing behaviors at a particular time, like mid-afternoon or late at night, we recommend crating your puppy in a quiet place with a food project so that they can wind down and get some much-needed rest.

How to Manage or Interrupt Nipping and Mouthing

The floor may be littered with puppy toys and yet your shoelaces still get all the attention!  Because your puppy’s senses are not yet fully developed, people and their movements will still capture her attention most of the time.  Your pup may try to get you to engage in a game of wrestling by jumping on you, biting and pulling on clothes.  This is how she has played with her siblings so it is up to you to teach her how to play with people.

  • Ignore – Puppies jump up on and mouth people because they want attention, and often get it!  You might be inadvertently rewarding your puppy when you push her away or look at her and tell her to stop. Even a high-pitched yelp in the hopes of mimicking her sibling is likely to excite her more! Instead, fold your arms and turn away from your puppy.  Praise and reward your pup with a treat when she is sitting (if she already knows how to sit) or when all four feet are on the ground, or when she is not attempting to mouth.
  • Trade – When your puppy is tackling your feet/legs/hands, the first step is to try to redirect her focus t0 a toy.  Grab a nice fuzzy toy and shake it in front of her face.  Squeaky toys and other noisy toys are great for getting your puppy’s attention.  Engage her in a tug game or a mini-fetch game as soon as she notices the toy.  Reward her with attention whenever she chooses to play with a toy.
  • Remove Yourself – If ignoring or attempting to make trades with your puppy isn’t working and your puppy is mouthing your pant leg more than ever, step outside of your puppy’s pen or the reach of the tether, or simply step into another room for a moment. This will help your puppy to learn that if she becomes too rowdy, the fun with you ends!
  • Plan Ahead – If there are predictable times when your puppy is nippy or inappropriate, like when the kids come home from school, have them grab a toy before they say hello to the puppy or put the puppy in her crate until everyone settles down.  Place a bin of toys by the front door, stairwell, and kitchen so that they are always handy when you need them.  Always have several stuffed kongs available in the freezer to offer your puppy when you know you will be preoccupied with guests.