Mouthy dogs routinely grab at people while playing, using their mouths without causing injury. But while it looks like innocent play, for some people, it might be scary. Puppies under five months tend to explore the world with their mouths. But how to stop a dog from play biting?
Most pet parents do not enjoy dogs who bite, chew, and mouth their hands. And if you do not teach your puppy to play gently, that might transition to adulthood. And you definitely do not want an adult dog who bites while playing.
Why? Because the jaws of an adult dog can cause more pain, even injury.
Difference Between Playful Mouthing and Aggressive Behavior
This is one of the biggest challenges for owners, even those with more experience. Most mouthing is normal behavior. Yet, sometimes, out of fear or frustration, dogs can bite, indicating problems like aggression.
It is not easy to tell the difference between the two. Where does normal mouthing stop and aggressive biting begin?
Here is how to tell the difference. If your dog is playing, it should have a relaxed body and face. The muzzle might look wrinkled, but there will be no tension in his facial muscles. And most importantly, playful mouthing is less painful than more serious, aggressive biting.
When your dog is biting aggressively, the body will look stiff. Your dog might even wrinkle his muzzle and pull back his lips. That will expose his teeth, and it should be your number 1 tell sign.
If you suspect any aggressive behavior, I suggest consulting a qualified professional, be it a dog trainer or dog behaviorist.
Tips for Reducing Mouthing
Before we go more into bite inhibition and other strategies for how to stop a dog from play biting, let’s mention a few tips.
- Provide appropriate chew toys so that your dog has something to fill his urge for chewing and biting
- Withdraw attention if your dog gets mouthy, ignorance is often the best punishment for your puppy
- Avoid physical or verbal punishment, that will not stop aggression, instead, it might encourage it
- Make a trade, one toy for another
- Do not allow your dog to continue its problem behavior
- Provide plenty of exercise to make sure your dog is tired and happy
Teach Bite Inhibition
One of the best ways to prevent aggressive and painful mouthing is bite inhibition. This method teaches your dog that bites are painful. And it will help in many ways. It will also help your dog play gently with other animals without biting them.
How to teach bite inhibition? You can do it either with your hand or with a plush toy. Either way, it is a great way to prevent puppy nipping. Here is how you do it.
- Give your hand to your dog, and allow it to play with it
- The moment your dog begins to bite too hard, make a sharp noise, or say something like “bad dog”, “ouch”, “no” or anything else in a stern voice
- The moment your young puppy stops biting you, praise it
- Over time, gradually reduce the amount of pressure you are willing to accept from your puppy
- At the end of the training, your dog should only mouth you without using its teeth
If you are doing it with a chew toy or tug toy, the process is the same. Only do the activity in brief spurts. Do not let your dog nip more than three times in 10 to 15 minutes.
Best Way to Stop Mouthing
Another technique you can use is negative punishment. I don’t want to sound something hurtful to your dog. Nooo. Negative punishment is when you take away a desired stimulus. For example, if your dog wants to bite while playing, you stop the game.
This teaches the puppy that biting means game over. It will reduce the frequency at which your dog shows the undesired behavior. Over time, your dog learns that if he does something bad, the game will stop.
Negative punishment is also a type of reward. It teaches your puppy that biting gets a response from you. But more importantly, it teaches them that bad behavior leads to game finishing, and you ignoring them.
Dogs crave attention, and they will try to do anything to get it back.
What Are Some General Precautions?
Now let’s talk about some general precautions you can take to prevent your dog from aggressive biting. Sometimes, you might do something unknowingly and cause a problem. Here are some precautions:
- Do not wave your fingers or toes in front of your dog’s face
- Do not slap the sides of your dog’s face to entice him to play
- Avoid jerking your hands or feet away from your dog when he mouths. Jerky movements might seem like another game to your dog and encourage him to continue, maybe even jump forward
- Do not discourage your dog from playing with you in general. Yes, you can ignore him or stop the game but do not avoid playing completely. Play builds a strong bond between dogs and their dog owner
- Do not slap or hit your dog for playful mouthing, as it might encourage them to bite harder
What Are Some Alternatives To Filling The Urge For Chewing?
We mentioned some of these tips when your dog doesn’t show acceptable behavior. It is your job as a dog owner to satisfy your dog’s need for chewing. If you do not provide enough exercise, your dog will have to find ways to entertain himself. And sometimes, that might lead to destructive behavior like chewing on furniture.
One alternative is providing enough chew toys. When your puppy is entering the nipping phase, get him a chew toy. You can even go a step further and get a KONG toy, which also adds some mental stimulation.
But, I have to warn you, do not use a chew toy as a substitute for biting. That might teach your dog that biting gives him a reward.
The second alternative is to encourage non-contact play. It is normal for your dog to do playful mouthing when you are playing games like chasing and wrestling. Instead, you should focus on games like fetch, find the toy, playing with a tug toy(LINK TUG TOYS DOGS), and similar games.