Most puppies under 6 months of age will use their mouths and teeth to explore their world. Puppies just naturally bite and mouth one another when playing. In fact, play biting is an important way that puppies learn to inhibit their bite as adults, and for this reason, as well as many others, puppies need to stay with their mother and litter mates until at least 7 or 8 weeks of age. Some breeds tend to be more mouthy than others; retrievers, for example. Herding breeds may tend to chase and bite at feet and pants.
Remember that mouthing and biting is a developmental stage that most pups will go through, and it won’t last. But we still want to encourage good habits in the puppy, and those puppy teeth can do some damage! Prevention is sometimes the best way to handle the mouthing problem in young pups. Try to keep your hands away from your puppy’s face, muzzle, or mouth. Just touching your pup in these areas will often elicit a turn and mouth reaction. Pet your pup on the back or tummy instead. And keep it brief; don’t “over pet” or stroke continually. If you want to pet a mouthy puppy, hold a chew toy for him in one hand and pet him with the other. No, it’s not cheating . . . you are just channeling the mouthing to an appropriate object; not your hand. Some pups will respond to a verbal reprimand. . . “AHH AHH” or a similar sound. When your pup stops mouthing, give him a chew toy.
Some pups will be discouraged from puppy mouthing and biting if you press your thumb hard on his tongue as you say “AHH AHH.” Bitter apple sprayed on your hands may cause him to think twice about mouthing as well. I DO NOT advocate hitting, swatting, grabbing the muzzle, or slapping the pup under the chin. Many times this will make the problem worse, particularly in assertive puppies.
Puppies can easily be over stimulated by play; put the pup in his crate or in the backyard if he gets over-excited. Children often can get pups “wired” just because they are kids! And you may not want to play tug-o-war or rough-house games with a mouthy pup. In obedience class we teach the “leave it” command, which means let go of anything in your mouth . . . chicken bones, dead birds, or my hands. Even young pups can start to learn this command.
As with any puppy training, you must be consistent and patient!