By Debby Kay ©2018 all rights reserved
Ask any breeder, but especially those who breed retrievers, about storied they can tell of things puppies put in their mouths and you will be in for an ear full. It’s not a bad thing as far the dogs are concerned. It is just something they do. Dogs can’t use their hands like we do so they use their mouths and many of the annoying (to people that is) habits or behaviors seen are best viewed from that perspective. I would like to talk about three of the most common complaints I get from people about their puppies “mouthing’ habits.
The first issue many people experience regardless of breed, is the one that technically is called bite inhibition. Until a puppy learns not to bite down on everything in sight including your feet, hands, pants leg and any other body part that is handy, they think it is perfectly okay to it. Watch a litter of puppies about 6 weeks old playing and you will see them grab each other’s ears, paws or tails as if it were a peanut butter treat. The recipient of the attack will scream loudly when this happens and the attacker will usually back off. They are teaching each other bite inhibition. When they go after adults, at first mom, in a likewise fashion, one of several things will happen. Many adults will just walk off and ignore the bad behavior. This is a great idea for people to follow too, since is opposite of what the pup wants-attention and someone to play with. They learn quickly you are more likely to stay and play with them if they bring you a toy rather than grab your barefoot and chomp down. Another thing is the mom will usually put her mouth around their muzzle and gently but firmly clamp down, the pup will squeal more from surprise than anything and the mom releases her grip and moves on. It is quick and without any further comment. To mimic the pup’s mom, I have learned to very quickly grip the muzzle in the same way and gently pinch their lip against their own teeth for a nanosecond and release. I don’t shout or say a word, like their mom, I just do it and they stop. I will then go and get one of their authorized play toys and redirect their attention to that. I praise for the play.
I rarely have to do this more than once and the pups stop biting my hands and feet. Where I see many people fail is they are always offering their fingers to the puppy to chew on. When I point that out to people to they rarely realize they are doing it. So try to be aware of this in yourself and others around the puppy, since we don’t want to set the puppy up for failure.
What about the nervous chewer? This is the dog that must grab things and shred everything they put in their mouths. This behavior can have complex origins which make writing a simple solution for this blog a bit complicated. But for the most part what I see with puppies is chewing such as this from not knowing what to do with themselves. That indicates to me there is a lack of clear direction from the person in the dog’s life as to what the role of the dog is all about. Setting clear rules, boundaries, and engaging with the dog when you are present is the best way to control this habit. Right now I am working with 4 young puppies who at 16 weeks already are figuring out when it is work time, play time and rest time and where to do each of these things. If the people are consistent the pups are more likely to pick up on things and learn quickly what works and what does not work.
The final mouthy dog problem I see which is really dangerous is the dog that will eat anything it can get its mouth on. I have the vet bills to prove my experience with this issue and can vouch for how expensive this can be, so it is best to stop it before it starts. Substitution is most effective way I have found to stop unwanted eating of things. Please don’t’ ask me why a dog would eat rocks, swallow socks, or cell phones, I have no idea but they do. In fact, if you do a quick google of things dogs have swallowed you would be surprised at the list. So when I see a pup that likes to eat what it has in its mouth, I get them to swap it out for a more interesting toy or treat. So instead of swallowing the rock bring it to me and I will exchange it for a nice treat. Not a bad deal as far as the dog is concerned. That works most of the time. I also teach them self-control using a game that Susan Garrett has written about called Its Your Choice. The game basically is presenting food to the dog who only gets it when they back away from it, not go for it. Even with some really hard cases it rarely takes more than 10 minutes to get a dog showing great self-control and not going after what it wants but waiting until you tell them it is OK. This behavior of swallowing everything in sight is not an easy one to deal with but should you see a puppy developing the habit try these two things and stay on top of the pup and hopefully you can get them past it.