Understanding Mouthing and Play­ Biting Behaviour

A puppy will want to investigate his/her owners’ clothing, fingers or hair using its mouth


A puppy will want to investigate his/her owners’ clothing, fingers or hair using its mouth and, to begin with, many owners will find this cute. However, there will come a time when their needle­like teeth will become painful, causing bruising and in severe cases breaking the skin, and the behaviour will become harder to change. This is a particular problem in hand reared puppies that have not had their mother/ siblings to learn bite inhibition from.

What is mouthing/play­biting?

● Mouthing and play­biting is a common behaviour that naturally occurs in puppies. It is an important developmental behaviour because they use their mouths to interact and investigate the world

● Play bites are part of exaggerated play and are a normal dog­to­dog interaction. Puppies

usually learn the rules of play with other puppies and dogs; they learn that the play stops if

they bite their playmates too hard and this teaches them to bite with a soft mouth. Sometimes dogs and puppies direct excited play­biting towards their owners/carers.

● Puppies also find chewing hard objects useful in relieving the discomfort of teething and chew

toys should always be available during this time. Dogs also find chewing enriching and should

always be provided with safe, suitable objects to chew for this reason too. Quite often, mouthing and play­biting behaviour is mistaken for aggression, particularly in adult dogs, so it is very important that other behaviour signs are taken into account. A dog that is just displaying mouthing behaviour will usually have a more relaxed body posture than an aggressive dog. Mouthing will often occur when the dog is excitable; for example, when the dog is expecting to play. In many cases, the dog may start jumping up and will begin to grab at arms and sleeves of clothes. Sometimes they may even manage to grab hold of a sleeve and try to engage in a game of tug­of­war. In these situations, the dog may accidentally grab too hard, which may cause bruising or broken skin. Modifying inappropriate mouthing/play biting behaviour Below are a few tips for managing mouthing/play biting behaviour but if you have any concerns or need support then please speak to the right professional.

● Mouthing and play­biting should always be redirected onto a suitable toy. Make sure you

always have a toy in your hand when playing with a puppy or any dog who tends to mouth or

play bite. If your puppy or dog makes contact with your hands or any part of your body or

clothing keep that part of your body still and distract them at once by offering a toy instead.

Keep the toy interesting by moving it around, wiggling it or rolling it along the ground; the aim

is to teach them that toys are more fun than your hands or clothing.

● It is very important that the dog does not think that mouthing/play biting is a game. Don’t smile

or laugh when a puppy or dog displays this behaviour as he/she may think that this is what

you want him/her to do.

● Be very consistent in training. This will help your dog learn more quickly.

● Never play rough and tumble games without toys with dogs displaying this behaviour as this

may encourage them to play using your clothing or body parts! Always use a toy for games.