My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

Is this Mouthing or Aggression?

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Many people are concerned about whether their pup’s behavior is normal or a sign of “dominance” or “aggression.” The good news is the majority of mouthing is 100% normal. Obnoxious maybe but normal.

Below you will find a listing of several sorts of mouthing, comments about whether they are normal or not, as well as some guidance as to what to do when faced with them.

Exploration

Clues: Puppy mouths everything and everyone. When faced with something new, he puts his mouth on it.

Normal or Worrisome? Normal. Some pups have a worse case of this than others and some breeds – such as the retrievers – have been selected for this very behavior. A Labrador pup who doesn’t do this would be the exception.

What helps? Directing him to what you want him to be chewing. Protecting your home through this stage by using strict supervision, safe confinement and by supplying appropriate toys.

Tired and Cranky

Clues: Your pup’s been up for a few hours. He is getting more active, more obnoxious and, when you attempt to stop him from mouthing, he can start whipping his open jaws back and forth like a baby T-Rex.

Normal or Worrisome? Usually normal. Like children (and let’s face it, adults as well) pups can get cranky when overtired. Pups need a lot of sleep, usually eighteen hours or more a day. Giant breeds may need much more than that for the first six months or so.

What helps? A nap. A nap in a crate where he can’t be jostled or woken up. House rules? Let sleeping dogs lie. Most overtired pups will protest for a few moments and then be out like a light for a few hours.

Teething

Clues: It starts in earnest at around sixteen-weeks-old, though some pups can start as young as twelve-weeks-old. You may find blood on his toys. He chews in earnest, trying to get items to the back of his jaw to really work on them.

Normal or Worrisome? Normal. Every puppy goes through this though some are more mouthy than others.

What helps? Time. Some people give the pup ice cubes, or wet down a rope toy then freeze it. This is a good time for Benebones, USA-sourced bully sticks and USA-sourced antlers, . Anything your puppy can really chew on hard.

F.R.A.P.

Clues: Happens in the evening and, with some pups, in the morning as well. Pup becomes a “wild child” and races around the house in loops, grabbing things as he goes. Why? Because F.R.A.P. happens.

Normal or Worrisome? Normal. Most pups grow out of this but this is standard puppy behavior.

What helps? Save an extra special toy for this time period – maybe a nice compressed rawhide – and, after rubbing it in your hands and blowing on it, hand it to your whirlwind. See if that doesn’t get him focused on something useful

Possessive

Clues: You approach your puppy when he is chewing on a toy or eating a meal. He freezes, leaning slightly over the item and staring at you hard or he eats faster or he grabs the item and tries to run off with it. When you approach him then he shifts the item so it is in the back of his jaws.

Normal or Worrisome? Worrisome. A puppy shouldn’t be thinking this way. There are various levels of this problem and we cannot know just how serious it may be with your puppy. Please seek qualified hands on help ASAP.

What helps? Help helps. This is not a do-it-yourself project. Some of these situations can be easily resolved with some qualified hands-on help but time is of the essence. Please do not delay.

Protest

Clues: You go to move your puppy off his sleeping spot, take him by the collar, or do anything he’s not “in the mood” to do. His response? To whip his head around and nip you, grab you or worse, grab and hold on.

Normal or Worrisome? Worrisome. This is similar to a child attempting to hit you in the face when you take him by the hand. There are various levels of this problem that range from normal “cranky” to serious protest. We cannot know just how serious it may be with your puppy. Please seek qualified hands on help ASAP.

What helps? Help helps. This is not a do-it-yourself project. Some of these situations can be easily resolved with some qualified hands-on help but time is of the essence. Please do not delay.

Serious Threat

Clues: This is very, very rare. In this situation a puppy will square off with a human – doesn’t matter over what. The puppy stands his ground, faces the human, may lower his head slightly, may growl deeply.

Normal or Worrisome? WORRISOME! No puppy, regardless of background, should threaten a human like this over anything. Please seek qualified hands on help ASAP.

What helps? Prognosis is guarded at best. This is an extremely abnormal behavior in a puppy toward a human. Please take this seriously and seek immediate help from everyone you can – your veterinarian, an experienced trainer, a qualified behaviorist.

We hope you’ve found this useful in sorting out normal mouthing from aggression.

by Sarah Wilson

Author of MySmartPuppy.com handbooks: My Smart Puppy (book with DVD) and Childproofing Your Dog

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