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Mouthing and Play Biting
by Tracy Atkins
Complete Canine Training
The Woodlands, Texas
281-825-6404 www.YESPUP.com

Mouthing and play bitting are normal parts of puppy development.
While some puppies may do these behaviors more or less, all puppies will do them at least to some degree. In order to understand how to deal with these annoying and sometimes painful developmental issues, we must first understand what exactly they are and what causes them!

So, if they're different, what's mouthing?
Mouthing is when the puppy is being petted or held and it places it mouth on you and gnaws on you. It may be a gentle nibble or a hard chew, but it does not include snapping behavior.

Will my puppy out grow it?
Yes, most puppies do "outgrow" mouthing behavior because it is developmental. Puppies mouth because they are teething. As baby teeth come in, then fall out, then mature teeth grow in, the jaws of the puppy ache and burn, sometimes they even bleed. All you have to do is watch human children play with their teeth as they fall out or come in to get some idea of what your pup is going through! The difference is humans can use their fingers to wiggle out loose teeth or soothe aching gums, puppies only have whatever is in their mouth at the time, so if it's a toy, lucky you, but if it's your wrist, watch out! Remember final molars don't come in until eight months old in most puppies!
The other reason puppies teethe is also developmental. They are learning to communicate through touch. As they touch you with their mouth, they are communicating with you to "give me attention" or "I really like it when you pet me" or sometimes even "don't do that to me".

Oh my gosh! What can I do to save my hands until they outgrow it?
First off, even though it is developmental we don't want to simply excuse the behavior, or we'll have no fingers or toes left! If possible, with very young puppies (under ten weeks old) allow them to gently gnaw on you without and discipline. In this way, you are teaching the puppy to use his mouth gently, not harsh! However, there will be times, when you will need to implore other ways of dealing with mouthing. Below are some options for dealing with mouthing to curb the behavior.
Method 1.) The easiest way to teach your puppy not to mouth and bite at your hands is to never to let him start! Hold your puppy's collar on top of his head with one hand, while petting him with the other. This way, if he moves his head to mouth you, he can't reach your hands! You may need to apply a bitter product (like No More Chew® or Avon's Skin So Soft®) to your hands to discourage mouthing.
Method 2.) Teach your puppy what to chew on. Simply put a ball or toy in his mouth and encourage him to play with it, or toss the ball away from you so that he will chase it. Rope toys that have been soaked in water or chicken broth for thirty minutes, then frozen overnight work very well to soothe aching gums and the string can help to pull out loose teeth!
Method 3.) For a persistent puppy, you may need to fill a small water toy (it should fit into the palm of your hand) with water or a touch of lemon juice or white vinegar. Should the puppy continue to mouth, squirt a small amount into his mouth. Be sure to squirt in the mouth only.
Method 4.) FOR ADULT HUMANS ONLY! If the puppy bites when you are playing with him say "OUCH!" Stay Still! Then look away and wait for three seconds! Then offer to play again, this time giving the puppy a ball or toy to chew. This is how puppies teach other puppies to play. It means "If you bite too hard, I won't play with you!"

Well if that's mouthing, what do you call it when I discipline my puppy and he barks back at me?
Play bitting! It sounds silly, but his barking back at you is his way of saying "You're too serious! Don't be mad at me. Let's PLAY!" (Hence, PLAY bitting!) And in the doggie world, it works! We humans often miss-read this information as aggression, but it's really rather the opposite. It's your dogs way of trying to defuse you and get you to calm down. The best way to deal with this behavior is to give your pup a little time out. Calmly and quietly take him to a place to settle down, like his crate. Gently put him in his crate and let him settle down for one to five minutes.

So what is it when he chases and jumps on the kids?
That too, is play bitting. Just as it sounds - when the puppy is playing! It's really more of a snapping action or grabbing of clothes than mouthing is, making it much easier to identify!

Okay, so how do I discipline him for play bitting or should I use the mouthing methods?
If your puppy is under six months old and doing something "bad", you as the human must bear some responsibility. Allowing your puppy the opportunity to learn bad behavior is a human training issue! Instead, set your puppy up to succeed, but in the case your puppy does an unacceptable behavior, simply turn his attention elsewhere (like to a ball or chewy toy) and then clean up the mess or destruction with the knowledge that you set your puppy up to fail. After all, you would leave a three year old child unsupervised and alone, loose in your house without expecting some disarray would you?

But he always plays rough with my kids...
Puppies have a LOT of energy and if left with other puppies would play until exertion or until the other pup stopped playing back! Most dogs consider the movement and noises children make very inviting to play and roughhousing (so do most kids!), which makes dealing with play bitting more challenging.
Method 1.) Instead of disciplining, focus the puppy on what you want him to do, like chewing on a bone or tasty toy! Perhaps the only time the puppy gets the treat is when the kids are playing. This way he'll learn to focus his energy on chewing, not chasing! Set your puppy up to succeed, not fail!
Method 2.) Don't overexcite the puppy by allowing your children to encourage rough play or chasing of kids! Supervise and train your children how to behave (pet the pup, play ball, teach a trick) with the puppy. Do not allow children to play rough or encourage frequent "chase" games, because there may be a time when your child can't outrun the puppy!
Method 3.) Using treats for reward, train your puppy to sit or lay down and watch you, while you toss or drop toys, clothes (especially shuffling pant legs or dangling shirts). This should be a fun game for your puppy because you are actually teaching him to watch you, he'll be less likely to want to chase when things drop. Remember, we don't mind if he looks at the dropped item, but we do want him to not chase it, and instead look back up at us!
Method 4.) When walking with your pup teach him to avoid him chewing your pants or feet, tossing a ball or squeaky toy in the direction you are walking. This gets the puppy to chase the toy while you walk down the hall. When he returns with the ball or toy, toss it again, until you reach your destination. This helps the puppy learn to carry a toy with him as you walk, instead of your pant leg!

I think my puppy may really be aggressive. What should I do?
ALWAYS be certain to consult the trainer if you have any questions or concerns about your puppy's behavior. Occasionally, some puppies due to genetics, brain chemical imbalances, or early separation from their mother and litter mates do have serious aggression problems. However, these cases are very few and far between.

Sum it up for me!
What we hope to accomplish is to teach the puppies how to use their mouths by encouraging gentle mouthing behavior and eliminating play bitting behavior. Whether your puppy is mouthing or play bitting, ask yourself if you have time to play with, or train, puppy. If so, use the puppy's energy to do some puppy obedience or trick training or play fetch or find! If you don't have time, don't have guilt. Instead, put the puppy out, in his crate or on a tie down with a great chewie. Being sure to praise and reward him for good behavior!

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