Mouthing is one of the most common behaviours puppy owners struggle with & it can really hurt!
As with all behaviours we want to prevent it happening, not just address once it has started. To do this we need to understand why puppies mouth:
Mouthing is a natural, acceptable behaviour puppies display during excited play together. Therefore, when they are playing with you, and get excited, they may start to mouth/nip, as they do not understand it is not acceptable, and it can hurt.
When teaching puppies, this behaviour is not acceptable, it must be done in a simple clear way, they fully understand. Consistency is key, if people react differently towards them, when they do mouth, this will just confuse them even more resulting in lack of results.
They may have learnt from previous interactions with you, that when they mouth (part of your body or clothing), this gets your attention (even negative), which they wanted. Dogs love attention so if they have received this, they quickly learn that this behaviour gets your attention and it will keep happening.
Make sure you give your puppy regular attention. This only needs to be for a couple of minutes, a quick play or a cuddle with praise, but will help satisfy their craving for interactions.
When a dog’s excitement levels rise, it will not just go away on their own, so they will find some way to channel this emotion. Managing and/or redirecting their excitement levels will reduce the risk of mouthing.
By the age of 6-8 months, your puppy should have all their adult teeth. Up until then, they may get some discomfort in their mouth, chewing certain objects, including parts of your body or clothing may ease this.
Make sure your puppy has sufficient, and appropriate, toys to help.
Puppies which have not had a sufficient amount of sleep, will easily become restless and quickly become over aroused/excited. Make sure your puppy gets the required amount of daily sleep (approximately 18 hours).
It will require several consistent repetitions for your puppy to learn that mouthing/nipping stops all fun/play/attention is not appropriate.
Be patient, do not change what you are doing. Allow them the time to learn.
Play sessions should always be kept short and often, especially playing tuggy, which your puppy will enjoy. This will help stop their excitement levels escalating preventing any mouthing.
Initiate and stop play. If your puppy initiates play, they will expect you to always play when they want, and not understand when you may not have the time. This may result in them trying even harder and can cause them to mouth.
When playing, always use a toy, never your hands, arms or any part of your body. When your puppy plays with their toys/other dogs, they will use their teeth, and this is fine. It is important to teach them that their teeth should never be in contact with our skin, no matter what! Your hands are not for play.
Watch your puppy for signs they are becoming over excited. This may be when mouthing will start, so this is the time to give them an alternative behaviour.
Teaching fun impulse control games will help them learn some self-control & help lower their excitement levels, calming them down.
Keeping a diary can help. Many puppies want to play, get over excited and therefore mouth at specific times, such as when you sit down or come home. Writing this down will make you aware of their habits, making it easier for you to prevent.
Your puppy will regularly get all excited and hyped up, and they will not yet have the ability to just switch off. Therefore, if you have not been able to prevent this excitement escalating, giving them something else to do will help minimise the risk of mouthing to start.
Anything your puppy loves and finds fun will do the trick. You could give them an interactive game/toy, maybe scatter some of their daily food/treats for them to find or even do a quick training game, even teaching them that settling down can be fun!
When they mouth, never shout at them, wave your arms around, do not push them away or correct in any way. Doing this may initially interrupt them but it is not teaching them. Responding in any way, even negatively, can encourage them to repeat their behaviour. Correcting your puppy may result in them stopping but this will only be through fear, which I am sure you do not want your puppy to feel & it is not teaching them anything.
As soon as any mouthing starts, instantly stop giving your puppy any attention, no words, noises or even eye contact.
Stand completely still and turn your back on them, if sitting down you may need to stand. Place your hands either in your pockets or under your armpits so they do not become a temptation for your puppy to play with. If necessary, calmly move away.
When they have stopped mouthing, wait a few seconds then reward.
There may be times, especially with children or visitors, when ignoring them will be difficult. At these time, attaching a training line will help.This will allow you to calmly take the line and guide them away without physical intervention, then redirect.
If they are mouthing you, then you can attach their lead to somewhere secure away from you (but ideally somewhere they can still see you).
Be patient & consistent.
Set your puppy up for success!