Why do some puppies and adult dogs mouth excessively?
Mouthing or the act of using the mouth to explore something often becomes a problem when a dog already has a fully developed set of teeth and it still uses its mouth to explore every little thing (including your palm and fingers).
In the wild, the domestic dog’s close cousins such as the wild dogs and hyenas all exhibit the same type of behavior. Puppies begin to mouth the moment they are born as this instinctual behavior will also allow them to suckle milk.
When an adult dog continues to mouth excessively, there is a risk of being accidentally bitten and this is an unacceptable risk especially if there are children around the house.
What is the function of mouthing?
Despite this behavior’s negative reputation as a cause of injury while interacting with dogs, it is actually very natural behavior. Dogs in general perform this activity for the following reasons:
- Expression – Dogs express themselves through a variety of nonverbal signals, including mouthing. Young dogs and puppies tend to resort to mouthing more than adult dogs because they have limited channels of self-expression.
Older dogs that have already been formally trained are more accustomed to their owners and have better ways of telling their owners when they need something.
When a small puppy mouths your foot or hand, it is likely that it needs something. It may be hungry, thirsty or it may simply be playful. Instead of punishing your pup, try to find out why it is mouthing in the first place. Mouthing usually stops when the need is fulfilled.
- Exploration – Dogs instinctively use their snouts and mouths to explore their environments. “Exploring” sometimes includes nipping or chewing on things. If your dog is indoors most of the time, it may decide to “explore” your living room by chewing on the carpeting.
This type of behavior is not only destructive; it can also put your beloved pet in harm’s way. Countless dogs are sent to surgery each year because they have ingested inedible objects such as clothespins, pacifiers, marbles, children’s toys and even safety pins!
The most sustainable way of quenching your pet’s need to chew and explore with its mouth is by providing it with a variety of chew toys that have different textures and hardness. You can effectively redirect a dog’s mouthing by offering it an alternative object to chew on.
- Teething – If you have a puppy at home that is younger than six months, you may encounter mouthing behavior associated with teething.
Teething will naturally cause discomfort in a puppy’s mouth and the animal will seek comfort by attempting to chew on your hand. Again, giving your pet a chew toy usually solves this problem. If the behavior persists then your puppy may be trying to tell you something else.
- Pent-up Energy – There will be instances when your dog would have so much unspent energy that it begins showing signs of negative behavior (mouthing included).
If this is the case for your own pet then I recommend a daily walk lasting at least 30 minutes on most days. Be sure to lead your dog during the walk and do not tolerate any tugging on the leash to enforce your position as the alpha dog.
What’s the simplest way to redirect mouthing behavior?
Expert trainers never scold or reprimand dogs that are exhibiting mouthing behavior because it’s pointless to do so.
Reprimanding a dog for mouthing is like being angry with another person for using hands to reach for something. The behavior is natural but it needs to be modified, preferably through redirection.
There are many ways to redirect mouthing behavior.
Giving a chew toy or stick to a dog is just one technique. When giving your dog a chew toy does not produce good results, try redirecting the animal’s behavior by commanding it to sit.
If you haven’t trained your dog to sit on command yet, you can begin doing so by gently stroking its lower back until it relaxes and sits down. Do not continue rubbing or stroking the dog’s fur after it has already sat down. Praise the dog and just let it calm down while it is still in a seated position.
Handling a dog too much when it is in an excitable state can actually magnify bad behavior because of the heightened stimulation. Touch is so powerful that it can trigger different behaviors in animals.