Why is My Puppy Attacking Me?! A Guide to Mouthiness

You bring home a puppy and you are so excited! All you want to do is cuddle, play and pet them; and, all they want to do is eat you!


But, they're just so cute! So, you keep petting them, and they keep trying to bite your hand. You keep playing with them and they keep eating your feet.


What is going on?! You didn't sign up for a puppy that eats you!


When a puppy comes into your home, he is going to continue to explore the world through his mouth. The mouth is how dogs communicate and learn, so them biting on everything is totally normal. It is our responsibility to teach them appropriate behavior and how we expect them to live in our world.


When your puppy is 2-5 months, one of your main goals as a dog owner is to control their mouthiness. During that time, you have three options to teach your dog proper behavior: Teething, Training, Management


Teething

The reality is dogs are teething during this time and they need to soothe the feeling in their mouth. Biting down on things helps them feel better.


Here are some ideas for helping your dog feel better while teething:

- ice cubes: one at a time, a bunch in a bowl, Cheerios or treats frozen in them

- anything frozen: carrots, cheese sticks

- bully sticks: I like soft digestible ones for this age


Training

You have two goals while training:

  1. Teach them how to behave with people

  2. Teach them what is ok to chew

Behaving with People

I use the command "gentle" to teach appropriate behavior when interacting with people. When a dog is doing a behavior we do not like - mouthing, we need to teach them a behavior that we do like - being gentle. We communicate that we like that gentle behavior, motivate them to keep doing that gentle behavior, and pair the gentle behavior with a command so we can ask for "gentle" and they know what behavior to do.


How to Teach Gentle

Step 1: put a treat into the palm of your hand

Step 2: close your hand into a fist

Step 3: show your dog your fist and say "gentle"

Step 4: when your dog interacts with your fist gently, i.e. licking or nudging, say "yes" and open your hand; while he is eating the treat say "good gentle"

Step 5: if your dog interacts with your fist with his teeth, then take away your hand and show your first to your dog again

Step 6: when your dog interacts with your first gently, i.e. licking or nudging, say "yes" and open your hand; while he is eating the treat say "good gentle"

Note: if your dog is being mouthy with your first, try to find the good behavior quickly. The longer you keep your hand in a fist, the more it looks like a game. We are looking for the good behavior quickly.


You will find it easier to teach gentle when your dog is calm. That way you can teach the behavior over and over again and your dog will understand what behavior earns him that treat.


Teaching them What is Theirs to Chew

A general rule is if your dog has something in their mouth that they should not eat, replace it with something they can chew on. When introducing them to new rooms, have some treats with you and when they start chewing on something that they shouldn't eat (such as a couch), lure them away using a treat, and then give them something they can play with.


Management

The reality is that you can't always train - because you have other things to do, you need to diffuse the situation quickly, etc. - and you can't always appease the teething with frozen treats. Furthermore, you are dealing with a puppy who has a lot of energy and can turn it on at the drop of a pin! There are going to be times when management is appropriate.


The goal of management is to not reinforce unwanted behaviors. If we continue to let our dogs mouth us, then they are learning it is ok to use their mouths on people.

Common Scenarios:

The dog is "attacking" someone

When the dog is mouthing Charlie, it is ideal for Mary to separate the dog from Charlie. I'll say that again: the dog is mouthing Charlie and someone else comes to help!


Charlie should stand perfectly still - this communicates to the dog that Charlie is not playing and will not play when the dog is mouthing. Any movement looks like play!


Mary should separate the dog and if the dog goes back over to Charlie, Mary should get the dog again. If the dog keeps going over to Charlie, then Mary should get a toy to distract the dog from Charlie, or separate the dog completely.


The dog is "attacking" you and you're alone!

Prevent patterns: If your dog bites your feet every time you wash dishes, then before you wash dishes and before he starts biting your leg, give him something to do and put him behind a gate or in a pen. I love the idea of preventing unwanted behaviors from ever happening and patterns help us prepare.


Manage their excitement: You're prone to see unwanted behaviors when your dog is overly excited so try and control the situation and prevent your dog from getting too excited. For example, if you're playing and he starts to open his mouth, take the opportunity then to stop the play; don't wait until they are overly excited, hard to control and you have to separate completely.


Don't give treats: Again, you are in management mode, not training mode. Your main objective is to communicate that you will not engage and reinforce this unwanted behavior.


Reinforce good behavior: If you have trained gentle, then you can start to use it to reinforce good behavior. Let's say you are washing dishes at the sink and he comes up to your feet and starts to nudge them. At that time, you can say "good gentle" and take the time to move him to a new place instead of waiting for him to start attacking your feet while your hands are covered in soap.


Three months is a long time to be teaching them proper manners with their mouth. Use all three techniques and be patient. It is better to put the work in when they are younger than be dealing with mouthiness when they have adult teeth in. I know the razor teeth hurt, but adult teeth hurt more! As always, feel free to reach out for training if you are dealing with a mouthy puppy and need some help teaching them good behavior.


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