Most owners don’t enjoy dogs who bite, chew and mouth their hands, limbs or clothing during play and interaction. The jaws of an adult dog can cause significantly more pain than puppy teeth, and adult dogs can inadvertently cause injury. Mouthing is often more difficult to suppress in adult dogs because adults aren’t as sensitive to our reactions as puppies are, and they’re usually more difficult to control physically because of their size.
Adult dogs who mouth people probably never learned not to do so during puppyhood. It’s likely that their human parents didn’t teach them how to be gentle or to chew toys instead.
Most mouthing is normal dog behaviour. But some dogs bite out of fear or frustration, and this type of biting can indicate problems with aggression. It’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between normal play mouthing and mouthing that precedes aggressive behaviour. In most cases, a playful dog will have a relaxed body and face. His muzzle might look wrinkled, but you won’t see a lot of tension in his facial muscles. Playful mouthing is usually less painful than more serious, aggressive biting. Most of the time, an aggressive dog’s body will look stiff. He may wrinkle his muzzle and pull back his lips to expose his teeth. Serious, aggressive bites are usually quicker and more painful than those delivered during play.
If you suspect that your dog’s biting fits the description of aggressive behavior, please give us a call.
Dogs spend a great deal of time playing, chewing and investigating objects. They also enjoy playing with people, of course. Puppies chew on our fingers and toes, and they investigate people’s bodies with their mouths and teeth. This kind of behaviour may seem cute when your dog is seven weeks old, but it’s not so endearing when he’s two or three years old—and much bigger!
It’s important to help your dog learn to curb his mouthy behaviour. There are various ways to teach this lesson, some better than others. The ultimate goal is to train your dog to stop mouthing and biting people altogether. However, the first and most important objective is to teach him that people have very sensitive skin, so he must be very gentle when using his mouth during play.
Bite inhibition refers to a dog’s ability to control the force of his mouthing. A puppy or dog who hasn’t learned bite inhibition with people doesn’t recognize the sensitivity of human skin, so he bites too hard, even in play. Some behaviourists and trainers believe that a dog who has learned to use his mouth gently when interacting with people will be less likely to bite hard and break skin if he ever bites someone in a situation apart from play—like when he’s afraid or in pain.
Young dogs usually learn bite inhibition during play with other dogs. If you watch a group of dogs playing, you’ll see plenty of chasing, pouncing and wrestling. Dogs also bite each other all over. Every now and then, a dog will bite his playmate too hard. The victim of the painful bite yelps and usually stops playing. The offender is often taken aback by the yelp and also stops playing for a moment. However, pretty soon both playmates are back in the game. Through this kind of interaction, dogs learn to control the intensity of their bites so that no one gets hurt and the play can continue without interruption. If dogs can learn from each other how to be gentle, they can learn the same lesson from people.
- Avoid waving your fingers or toes in your dog’s face or slapping the sides of his face to entice him to play. Doing these things can actually encourage your dog to bite your hands and feet.
- Do not discourage your dog from playing with you in general. Play builds a strong bond between a dog and his human family. You want to teach your dog to play gently rather than not at all.
- Avoid jerking your hands or feet away from your dog when he mouths. Jerky movements might seem like a game to your dog and encourage him to jump forward and grab at you. It’s much more effective to let your hands or feet go limp so that they aren’t much fun to play with.
- Slapping or hitting dogs for playful mouthing can cause them to bite harder. They usually react by playing more aggressively. Physical punishment can also make your dog afraid of you—and it can even cause real aggression.