As a puppy, your dog relied on their mouth as a way to explore the world.
Whether they were trying to herd, fetch, help, or simply discover their surroundings, for the puppy, the mouth is an excellent tool.
As an adolescent, this mouthy behavior can become an issue.
At around 6 months old, a dog should start moving beyond nipping and biting, but it isn’t unusual for the behavior to linger, and it isn’t necessarily a sign of aggression.
However, there are steps you should take to limit mouthy behavior in adolescent dogs. In this guide, we’ve looked at common causes of mouthiness and how to respond.
Is There Enough Enrichment?
Biting is a great way to use up energy and get some attention — your dog learns this from a very young age!
And although you’ve tried to curb the behavior during those early months, your adolescent dog is aware that biting is a way to expend energy and emotion.
Your adolescent dog might show mouthy behavior because their needs aren’t being met.
This is a time in your dog’s life when everything is changing. You need to make sure you’re keeping up!
Is your dog getting enough food? Is your dog getting enough attention and love? Is your dog getting enough exercise? And is your dog getting enough mental stimulation?
If you aren’t meeting these needs, then your dog might compensate by biting. It could be a way of getting attention or an outlet for some built-up energy.
The first thing you need to do when trying to curb mouthy behavior is to consider your dog’s basic needs.
As they’re growing a lot at this age, it can be hard to keep up with the changes! From time to time, take a step back to assess what you should be doing.
- Reconsider your dog’s diet. Up until they’re a year old, you should be feeding your dog 3 times a day. Particularly large breeds will need more meals for longer. Speak to your vet before you make any dietary changes.
- Add training sessions and challenges to your daily routine. Spend around 5 to 10 minutes a day working through some tricks and practicing obedience.
- If you leave the dog alone during the day, offer them some enriching toys to play with. Stuffing some treats into a Kong toy is an easy solution.
- Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise. A few circles of the yard might have been enough for a puppy, but your adolescent dog will need more. Find a way to exercise that you both enjoy.
Are You Reinforcing The Behavior?
Dogs don’t see the world in quite the same way as us. Behaviors that we consider negative, dogs can see as positive, because it means they’re getting attention.
Yelling at your dog or pushing your dog away might seem like a clear sign that you aren’t happy with their behavior. After all, if someone did that to you, you’d understand it as a punishment.
But to a dog, these reactions give them just what they were looking for — attention.
As a puppy, a dog quickly learns it can use its mouth to get some attention.
This instinct doesn’t immediately fade with adolescence, particularly if you’re reinforcing the attention-seeking behavior (even if it is accidental).
In addition to reinforcement, this behavior can become a punishment that scares the dog. Using too much force or acting in anger could completely break the trust you’ve fostered in your dog.
- When mouthy behavior starts, simply ignore your dog. Turn away, don’t talk to them, and don’t look at them.
- Keep your arms crossed. Don’t wave them about — this will look a lot like playing.
- Stand up and walk away calmly. Monitor your dog’s reaction. Some dogs see you leaving the situation as part of the game. They think you’re asking them to chase. If your dog seems enthused by you turning away, then choose another solution.
- Gently lift your leg to form a barrier between you and the dog.
- Persevere with these methods. At first, they might seem to be encouraging the behavior. As your dog was ignored, they’ll come back harder next time to demand attention. But keep it up, and they’ll soon find another method of entertainment.
Is It Normal For The Breed?
Some dogs are always going to be a bit mouthy. These dog breeds have often been bred for hard work.
To them, biting isn’t necessarily a sign of aggression (see also “Puppy Biting: See What Is Normal, What Isn’t Normal, And How You Can Curb It“). Instead, it’s a way of having fun when they’re energetic.
If you’ve tried everything else and you can’t seem to stop playful biting, then there’s a good chance it is part of your dog’s personality.
As long as the biting isn’t causing harm, you don’t need to start on a fruitless quest to train out this normal behavior.
You’ll quite often see mouthy behavior from terriers and herding dogs. But consider your pet on an individual basis, instead of just a breed.
Have you made the changes we’ve recommended, but the biting persists? Do they enjoy tugging and chasing?
No matter how hard you try, there are some instincts that you can never train out of a dog.
However, that doesn’t mean you have to put up with endless nips. Instead, try to find some healthy outlets for the behavior.
- Introduce games of tug to your daily exercise, but with a few additional rules. If the dog goes for your hands instead of the toy, stop the game. Make sure the tug toy is very sturdy and your dog can really engage. Practice obedience before playing, so the dog knows to drop the toy when asked.
- User a flirt toy or tail teaser during playtime. This provides a fun and safe way for your dog to unleash their chasing and nipping instincts. Again, teach them to drop the toy at the end of the game.
It isn’t unusual to see mouthy behavior extend into adolescence, but it’s important to respond in a way that teaches the dog healthier habits.
Begin by ensuring their needs are met. If the nipping continues, avoid reinforcement by refusing to engage.
And if the trait seems inherent to the dog, find methods that offer a suitable outlet while teaching dogs it isn’t appropriate to bite people.
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