My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

Managing Mouthing


Mouthing is a playful behavior most pups indulge in, which involves their mouth on your flesh. It is generalized (meaning they mouth everyone equally), some breeds mouth more than others and the beginning of teething (around four months of age) can bring it to a crescendo. It also can be painful and annoying, and it is always something we want to stop.


Pet him with long, slow strokes. Fast petting and “roughing” his face can cause him to mouth.

Make sure no one is roughhousing with your puppy, as that often leads to a mouthy puppy.

Make sure he is sleeping enough. Growing pups need lots of sleep during the first six months. If he consistently gets mouthy after a lot of time awake, he may need a nap more than he needs ”training.”

Make sure he’s getting enough physical exercise. Pups, like kids, go a little wonky if they can’t run around and let the youngness out every day. A bored, pent up puppy is an obnoxious puppy, so, no matter the weather or the reason, get that puppy out to play!

Make sure he’s getting enough mental exercise. Space games and self-control games help teach your pup to make the right choices and demand that he think and choose. Thinking tires, so make him think!

Get him around canine playmates. Ideally older sensible dogs who will explain the rules of mouth use to him in ways only canines can.

Freeze when his mouth goes on you and “yelp” loudly – try to be as startling as possible. If he removes his mouth, great. Now, don’t try to pet him right away – just calmly praise him verbally.

If you were playing, stop the game. Mouthing = no more play.

Reach under his jaw, take his collar in hand and gently pull him toward the arm or leg he is mouthing – then hold steady. Most pups will, after a few seconds, try to pull away. Good, release and let him pull away. This is called the oppositional reflex (which is one of the reasons walking on leash is such a challenge). You might was well reap the benefits of it.

Leave a leash on him in the house when you are home. This allows you to deal with him calmly and effectively without having to put a hand near the jaws.

Do the “calm=release” exercises in My Smart Puppy. These can help with mouthing issues.

Supply good chew toys at the right times. When raising pups, we keep large compressed rawhides in the house. We recommend and use Castor and Pollux brand – don’t bother buying cheap versions as they are thin layers over scrap bits in the middle. Good quality brands are sheets of thick rawhide layered together, making a long lasting chew toy.

First thing in the AM and again in the evening, I rub the toy in my hand and blow on it (meaning I put my scent on it) and then I hand it to the pup. Usually this leads to 20-30 minutes of intense chewing. Perfect. We all get a break and the pup gets to use those jaws for good. Oh, and remove the toy after ½ an hour, that way they stay excited each time they get it.

Tether the puppy. Tie the leash to something sturdy then clip it to the pup’s flat buckle collar. Tether him nearby so he can be in the room but not under foot and not grabbing your shoelaces, chomping your pant legs, etc.

Binaca (a breath spray in a small canister that fits in the palm of your hand). Tuck it into your palm so it is out of sight. When your pup latches on, go very still and calmly tell him, “Stop it” or “No Bite” then, right after you say that, give a quick spray downward toward where your puppy’s mouth is – should be delivered from above and toward your body. The moment your pup releases, calmly praise him but do not try to pet him.

Separate, leash, tether or crate your pup when any young children in your life start to get loud and active. Few pups can resist joining in and the only way they really can join in is with mouth open. Nothing good will come of it. Save puppy and child time for calmer moments when success, for all, is easier to create and reward.


Don’t grab or hit his muzzle. Too often this teaches pups to either target the hands for intense mouth contact (not exactly a bite but no longer “playful” mouthing either) or it makes your puppy hand shy. Either way, there are more effective and less problematic choices.

Don’t squeal and run away. Doing that makes you one giant squeaky toy, and very few pups of any breed or age will be able to resist giving chase.

Don’t link mouthing with toys. Meaning if every time his mouth goes on you, you get a toy to “distract him,” you are actually teaching him that mouthing is rewarded with play. Instead – do a Guided Down or a Simple Sit and, once he is momentarily calm, THEN give the toy. That way calm and self-control = reward. That’s a step in the right direction!

Don’t spray into his face or up his nose with breath spray. Spray down toward where he is mouthing on you.

Don’t show him the breath spray canister to get him to stop, because then you will have a puppy who respects the canister and not your words.

Don’t mistake serious intent with mouthing. And yes, pups can have serious intent. In general, if pups protest something specific, grab and hold on, grab and shake, or puncture skin you need to seek qualified professional help right away.

by Sarah Wilson,

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