Mouthing is a common dog behavior many owners have to deal with.
From the dog’s perspective, it’s a natural way to greet someone, interact with other dogs or investigate their environment. It’s more often seen in puppies, but an adult dog may grab your hand when he’s excited, wants to play or feels stressed out. Unfortunately, others may not appreciate this unique greeting from your pet, and he could accidentally bite or scrape the skin if someone jerks their hand away. There are, however, commands you can teach your dog to curb his mouthing.
Why Mouthing Occurs
Dogs explore the world with their nose and mouth. Think of the canine mouth as a multi-function tool used not only to eat their CANIDAE meals, but during social play and when meeting other dogs or people. Grabbing your hand or arm in the mouth is one way that the dog can get our attention. There’s generally very little to no pressure applied with the teeth, but many people don’t like having their hand grabbed by a dog.
Mouthing begins early in puppyhood and continues throughout the life of a dog. When you allow your pup to pull at clothes, play tug-of-war with your socks or mouth your hands, the puppy is learning a bad habit that can become a problem. When puppies mature they have stronger jaws with the muscle to back them up. An excited dog who didn’t learn bite inhibition as a puppy can cause harm when mouthing someone’s hand or arm and biting down too hard.
What may seem like cute behavior in a puppy isn’t so amusing when he becomes an adult. Letting a puppy mouth your hands, skin, hair or clothing teaches him it’s OK to use us or our clothing as chew toys.
How to Prevent Mouthing
One of the simplest methods of teaching your dog to stop mouthing is to ignore his unwanted behavior. Most people react to a dog jumping up and grabbing their hand by pulling back or trying to push the dog away, which only increases the intensity of an already excited dog wanting to greet guests. To a dog, that reaction is a signal you want to play, and pushing him away will only encourage him to continue the unwanted behavior. Instead, stand still, fold your arms and pull your hands up so your dog can’t grab them. Avoid looking at him or talking to him. With no hands to latch onto and no attention, most dogs will soon lose interest.
Another way to curb mouthing is to teach your dog how to do a proper greeting when guests arrive. Train him to sit someplace near the door and wait while people walk inside, then teach him to shake hands or touch the visitor’s hand with his nose. This way, he can satisfy his desire to touch your guests, which is one reason why some dogs mouth people.
Not all people are animal lovers and asking your dog to sit and wait instead of rushing to greet them is not as intimidating, especially if your dog is large. Having your dog sit is also a good way to help him calm down when he is excited. Keep a package of CANIDAE dog treats close by when you begin training, to reinforce the behaviors you want him to learn. Also remember to give happy praise each time for a job well done. After he understands what is expected of him, you won’t need to give him a treat every time. As with any training, be consistent, patient, calm and dedicated. Most dogs can learn how to sit in a short period of time. Teaching him to wait may take a little longer, but if you stick with it and reinforce his good behavior with lots of treats and praise, he will eventually learn.
Mouthing could be a sign of separation anxiety, noise phobia, or other emotional issues. It could also be a sign that your dog needs more mental stimulation, and teaching basic commands is a good way to provide it. If your dog shows any kind of aggression when mouthing, have your vet examine him to make sure there are no medical issues.
You can stop an excited dog from mouthing with time and patience. Dogs don’t intuitively understand how we want them to behave. It’s our job to teach them, and it’s well worth the effort because a well mannered canine is much easier to control and more enjoyable to be around.
By Linda Cole