Is your dog mouthing your hands, arms, and legs to death? No matter how special our canine companions may be, they lack the dexterity that you and I have to explore the world around us. Unable to use their paws to grasp onto passing objects, they rely on their mouth to cure their curiosity!
While many dogs will grow out of this habit as they get older, some dogs continue this behavior into their adulthood. It can be quite annoying, and sometimes downright distracting. So why are some dogs so mouthy?
There are several different reasons that your canine companion may be mouthing you all the time. In this article, we’ll discuss the possible reasons as to why your canine companion is mouthing you, and help you put an end to this canine behavior for good!
- 1 Understanding Mouthing Behavior
- 2 Seven Reasons Your Dog is Mouthy
- 3 Is This A Bad Canine Behavior?
- 4 How To Stop Mouthing
- 5 Frequently Asked Questions
- 6 Final Thoughts
Understanding Mouthing Behavior
Before we discuss the possible reasons why your dog is mouthing you, it’s important that we understand the behavior of biting and mouthing in itself. A dog’s lack of thumbs fuels their need to explore the world with their mouth, leading to mouthing and teething in many cases.
The need to chew on things out of curiosity is created during the puppy stage, and can stick around into adulthood for some furry friends. Not only is mouthing a dog’s way to investigate their surroundings, but it can also be one of many different ways they communicate. Puppies develop communication skills by biting and playing with their siblings, and this can transfer into other aspects of their life.
Since this behavior is a huge part of their development, it can be challenging for some dogs to shake this habit. While mouthing is a normal dog behavior, it doesn’t mean it has to be tolerated by pet owners. In order to end this behavior for good, it’s important to understand what Fido could be trying to tell you each time their mouthing occurs.
Seven Reasons Your Dog is Mouthy
While the below reasons are not all-inclusive, generally mouthing behavior has logic behind it. Many times it’s because the behavior has been tolerated or even encouraged in the past. Mouthing, in general, is fairly normal behavior for a dog. This is how they explore their world, especially as puppies. Below are the most common reasons your pup may be mouthing you more than normal.
They Are Playful
One of the most common reasons why dogs mouth their owner is because they want to play. When our dogs were puppies, they relied on biting and mouthing to incite play sessions with their siblings. If a dog has not completely grown out of this habit, they may mouth us when they are feeling especially playful. While this may not be a serious issue for all dogs, some dogs take the behavior too far and may accidentally break the skin.
Not only is this a common sign that our dogs want to play, but they may also see our hands and feet as fun moving targets. A passing hand can be extremely enticing for a dog that is still learning their manners, and they may nip at them as you pass by. While this behavior typically fades as dogs get older, some dogs struggle to let this habit go if their owners have not taught them how to direct the behavior.
They Are Teething
Young canines, especially puppies around 4 months old, are notorious for using their mouths to explore their world. They use their mouth to lick and nibble on things that are of interest to them. When they are around 3-4 months old, your puppy will be teething. Pressure on their teeth and gums as they lose their puppy teeth can be soothing.
During this time, it’s a good idea to have a wide variety of different toys to redirect the behavior to. If you start encouraging mouthing behavior at this age, it’s likely to continue. Consider a variety of different puppy chew toys to help keep your arms and legs free of teeth marks and potential puncture wounds.
They Are Attention Seeking
Another possible reason as to why a dog is mouthing their owner is because they want attention. Our furry friends are extremely smart, leading them to catch on quickly to any behavior that causes us to look their way. They may realize that a quick nip warrants a reaction from their owner.
When you give them attention, it causes them to continue this behavior going forward. Even if the mouthing behavior results in a negative reaction, it still counts as attention for our furry friends. If this behavior is reinforced with a constant reaction, it may be hard for a dog to resist.
They Have A High Prey Drive
As we mentioned above, some dogs see their owners as giant chew toys. A dog with a high prey drive may feel a need to chase everything that moves, often nipping and mouthing these objects when they are in reach. Certain dog breeds are more prone to having a higher prey drive.
A swinging hand or passing foot can be tempting enough to mouth, but even more so for a dog with a high prey drive. If it seems like your dog only mouths you when you are walking past them, it may be due to their ingrained desire to chase you.
They Are Grooming You
Does your dog gently nibble on you when you are relaxing together? If so, they may be showering you with grooming nibbles. Animals groom objects and other furry friends that they love, and their humans often fall into this category as well.
A grooming nibble may begin with light biting on your arm or leg, and may even be accompanied by licking. This is generally an affectionate behavior and does not result in any discomfort. You’ll often see this behavior with younger dogs and older dogs when they are around one another.
They Are Trying To Herd You
Similar to a prey drive in dogs, some breeds are ingrained with the need to herd. Some breeds of dogs come from a long line of working canines, and have an overpowering need to bring order to their home.
Herding is an effort to control those around them and may reflect in their mouthing behavior. If your pup is always nipping and mouthing at your ankles, they may be attempting to herd you. This is more prevalent with herding breeds, like an Australian Shepherd or a Border Collie. It’s important to stop this behavior at an early age.
We Reinforced The Behavior
No matter the initial cause of their mouthing, it is almost always due to their owners reinforcing the behavior. This is extremely easy to do, as we are not often aware of how our actions can impact our dog’s habits.
Our dogs thrive on attention, and we almost always offer it when our dogs mouth us. The impulse reaction to pull our arms away or even give into a quick play session can be enough to promote this behavior going forward. some owners even go as far as to encourage the behavior during playtimes.
Is This A Bad Canine Behavior?
Mouthing in dogs is not necessarily a bad behavior, but rather an annoying one. Mouthing is not linked to aggression or any type of dominant behavior, but it can certainly be bothersome to some dog owners.
Nobody wants a slobbery mouth on them each time they walk in the door, leading many dog owners to look for a solution to this problem. The good news is that the behavior doesn’t need to continue and can be redirected. In the next section, we’ll talk about how you can put an end to this behavior in several steps.
How To Stop Mouthing
If you have a mouthy pup on your hands, you’re likely looking for any way to end the behavior. While these nips may not be painful, it does not mean that they should be tolerated in your home. So how do you banish this behavior for good? Let’s dive in!
Redirect The Mouthing Behavior
One of the best ways to end mouthing is by redirecting the behavior. Many dogs will mouth their owners when they are overwhelmed with excitement, making it so important to turn their excitement to something else. This is a wonderful way to end the behavior without punishment and offer your pup some fun at the same time.
The next time your dog is nipping or mouthing, pull out their favorite toy. A fun distraction can redirect their need to mouth you, and cause them to take out their extra energy on the toy instead. By repeating this behavior each time your pup tries to mouth you, they will soon learn to grab the toy each time they feel the urge to nip.
Do Not Give Them Attention
While this can be challenging, it’s so important to refrain from offering attention of any kind. Even negative attention can reinforce the mouthing behavior, making it essential to understand the best way to react. The next time your dog begins to mouth you, it’s best to not engage and just walk away. You can even make your hand go limp, and refrain from pulling it away in an instant.
Taking reactions off the table will show your dog that this is not the way to gain your attention. They will soon understand that mouthing causes you to walk away, and that is the last thing they want to happen.
Offer Them Plenty Of Distractions
One of the best ways to prevent mouthing in your pup is by offering them plenty of physical and mental stimulation. Mouthing is often a result of pent up energy, making it so important to ensure that they are releasing that extra energy in a healthy way.
You can do this by offering plenty of chew toys, engaging in daily exercise with your dog, giving them one-on-one attention at least once a day, and even providing mentally stimulating games.
Interrupt Their Mouthing
Sometimes a sharp and sudden sound can do the trick in ending the mouthing behavior in your dog. By offering a quick interruption word (eek, ouch, yip, etc), you may be able to pull your pup out of this bad habit and redirect their attention.
While you want this sound to immediately pull your dog’s attention, you don’t want this to come off as a punishment. Negative reinforcement does not work in solving this problem, and may only feed into the behavior. The next time your furry friend begins to mouth you, let out a sharp “ouch” and give them their favorite toy to chew instead.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is mouthing a normal behavior for puppies?
Mouthing is so normal for puppies that it should be expected! Puppies are still learning appropriate behaviors each day, and may still rely on mouthing and nipping to communicate. While it is a normal behavior, it should be addressed from the moment they enter your home.
The earlier you teach your puppy that mouthing is not okay, the less likely it is for them to bring this behavior into their adulthood. You can implement the methods we discussed above, along with making sure your puppy has constant access to chew toys!
Is canine mouthing tied to aggression?
When it comes to mouthing, many dog owners are worried that it may be tied to aggression. While some dogs will become so excited that their mouthing can hurt, it is rarely a sign of actual canine aggression.
If you are worried that your dog’s mouthing is tied to aggression, be sure to keep an eye out for any behaviors such as snarling, growling, showing their teeth, snapping, stiff posture, intense staring, biting with pressure, and any other alarming behaviors. If your dog is not displaying any aggressive signs, it’s best to attempt the methods that we discussed above.
When should I seek additional training?
While most dogs are simply mouthing in search of attention, there are some dogs that struggle with moving on from the behavior. Mouthing can become troublesome if you are unable to resolve the behavior, and can lead to injury in dogs that do not understand proper boundaries.
If you are unable to limit or end the behavior after 6 weeks of attempting the methods we discussed above, it may be time to seek professional training. Some dogs need an extra push, and may have underlying reasons behind their undesirable behaviors.
You should also contact a trainer if your dog is displaying any signs of aggression. Aggressive dogs benefit greatly from experienced dog trainers, and will be less of a risk the sooner you address the issue.
As you can see, mouthing in dogs is a behavior with many potential causes. The good news is that it can be addressed by reinforcing the behavior that you do want out of your canine companion. By walking through the steps that we’ve discussed above, and you can be one step closer to banishing this behavior in your home for good!