Dogs can present mouthy behavior for many reasons. Some of the most common include puppy teething (only up until about 6 months of age!), frustration, overexcitement or simply because they’ve never been taught that the behavior is inappropriate. Some dogs are only mouthy when they are excited or in play. . . other dogs seem to use their mouths almost constantly. Mouthy dogs come in all shapes and sizes, but owners of ‘orally fixated’ breeds like retrievers, border collies, or pit bull terriers tend to report mouthy dogs more often than others.
So what do you do if you’ve got a mouthy dog?
First, identify why your dog is being mouthy and what triggers the mouthiness. Is your dog mouthy when you play? He’s probably very excited. Does he become mouthy when you pet him? He might be in pain. Does the mouthiness happen when you are trying to take something away? Your dog could be guarding his stuff. If you aren’t sure why your dog is being mouthy, check with your vet or a trusted trainer, because treatment for each issue could be very different.
Let’s assume that you have determined that your dog is of the ‘excited mouthy’ type (which is most common). How do you stop it? Here are some tips:
Take away attention when the dog is being mouthy. If the mouthiness happens during play or petting, one of the best tactics to employ is to simply remove all attention from your dog when he puts his mouth on you. For example; if you are sitting on the floor petting your puppy, and puppy puts his mouth on you, tell him “Wrong” or “No Bite” in a calm tone of voice (no yelling – it will only make puppy more excitable!). Next, stand up immediately, cross your arms against your chest, and turn your back on puppy. Once puppy is calm again, sit back down and resume play. Repeat as many times as necessary (it may take a few times!). This will teach your dog that when teeth touches skin, the fun ends immediately.
Don’t punish for mouthiness. Especially if your dog is of the ‘frustration mouthiness’ variety, punishing, yelling or trying to pull away quickly may elicit even more frustration behavior – or even condition your dog to think that being mouthy is a fun game.
Give your dog something else to do with his mouth! My 3-year-old dog, Porterhouse, is half border collie and half golden retriever. . . the perfect mix for a mouthy dog! But we’ve trained him successfully to grab one of his toys if he needs to put his mouth on something. To do this, every time Porterhouse would put his mouth on my husband, myself or one of our friends, we would give him a no reward marker “No Bite” and stuff a ball or toy into his mouth. After a few reps, you could see Porterhouse thinking, “Man, I’m excited and need to put my mouth on this guy’s arm. . . Oh wait!!! Let me just grab this ball!” Now every time Porterhouse gets excited he runs around the house looking for his ball. But if he can’t find his ball or a toy, he’ll grab whatever’s convenient, from his bed to a blanket, to one of our slippers and he will bring it to us. We call it the peace offering. Every time we get home, we get some sort of peace offering. . . and we think it’s adorable!
Up the exercise!!! Some dogs are mouthy because they are bored and have too much energy. Many times, just getting them out for a good run will tone down the mouthiness and shape up their behavior all around. I always tell my clients, ‘A tired dog is a good dog!’. . . so get out there for a good run!