Nipping, Biting and Mouthing

A lot of people think that nipping, mouthing and biting is a puppy behaviour that given the time their puppy will grow out of. This is not the case. Dog’s don’t have opposable thumbs which means that the only way they can grab, feel, move things, is with their mouths. Puppies learn through their mouth similar to a baby putting whatever is in front of it straight into their mouths. Puppies also play via their mouths and have done this with their litter mates before coming home to you so it is not surprising that when you try and play with them they use their mouths as that is all they know. Your puppy will also go through a teething stage which is uncomfortable/painful and it is natural for them to want to chew on things. Looking at the above nipping, mouthing and biting are actually very normal and healthy behaviours. We don’t want to suppress your puppy from doing them, we just need to teach your puppy the appropriate way to express themselves which does not involve your skin or inappropriate objects. 

  • Ensure you have plenty of chew toys, chew bones and enrichments for your puppy to get their teeth into and to tire them out mentally. 

  • If your puppy starts to chew on you or play too rough, immediately stop what you are doing and replace with an appropriate chew toy or enrichment - Ignore, redirect and reinforce. 

  • When they are teething get a towel, twist it into a rope-like shape or tie knots, soak it in low sodium chicken stock and freeze (always supervise to make sure your puppy doesn’t ingest the towel). Frozen carrots are also another handy teething relief trick. 

Create value in your puppy’s toys laying around the house. Puppy’s focus and rely on our interactions to create value in things. That is why a lot of the time your puppy will redirect their excitement and nip your skin or clothes and by doing so they generally get a reaction. You need to teach your puppy that their toy’s are the most amazing things in the world and that it is the toy that has the value to get your attention. We also want to condition your puppy to go and retrieve and interact with a toy when they are very excited and energetic which generally turns into nippy behaviours. The toys that you are creating value in must already be out for your puppy to play with. They need to already exist in the environment so that way they know how to find them when they need to.

Input mountain of mouthiness infestation here:

Biting in puppies is one of the main issues people come to me stressing about and for good reason. Unfortunately, there is no magic fix that stops a puppy from biting and you don't want them to stop biting in general (it is such a healthy natural dog-specific behavior + dog interact with the environment with their mouths + puppies are super curious and want to explore the world + the mouthing gives them pressure relief as they are teething and it hurts like it does for us), we just want them to not bite us or things that they aren't meant to.


The reason why the games aren't working yet is that they don't have enough positive reinforcement history yet of being worthwhile. You might have missed me in class but I expressed not to use the games until you have taught the puppy the foundations of them and that they have a solid reinforcement history of doing the game correctly - the value in the game is a lot higher (like a piggy bank). You still have quite a few weeks to build that solid history before you can introduce it into a situation where you are trying to deter behaviour or prevent it. Your puppy is dealing with so many emotions and feelings and because these games don't have enough history, the emotions and feelings override. Until they are also established and the piggy bank of positive, fun history is built in the games do not use it for negative behaviours as what starts to happen is the negative overrides the positive game and they learn not to listen to the game once they actually know the game.  What you are saying is "yep you are doing something I don't like, but come and do this and oops it didn't work so you can go back and do the unwanted behaviours" - there is no black and white but a lot of grey as they are getting a chance to practice the games in the wrong way incorrectly. Every time they do the game incorrectly, the value in the game actually goes down when right now we really need it to go up so later when you can use it for unwanted behaviours it means something to the puppies. I want you to spend a lot more time on making the games fun and making your puppies WANT to do them. You have to believe it and you have to be in the moment wholeheartedly.


For the time being instead we need to be smart and use lots of management and prevention techniques so they do not rehearse the undesired behaviour because every single time they do that piggy bank is getting stronger and more value goes into the undesired behaviour. The fact that they are getting really mouthy now makes sense with their age but it is also an indication that they are not exercising their jaw enough. Puppies have what we call a "mountain of mouthiness" scale meaning they have a minimum bite requirement per day that is not being met so they need to get rid of the need in other inappropriate ways.


Say your puppies minimum mountain of mouthiness count is 8 - it would mean that you would need to give them 8 yummy chew things a day to get rid of their need to mouth/bite. That is their minimum requirement to exercise their jaw adequately. If you don't meet their need, they still have that need and will meet it another way (e.g. usually on us). You might feel like you are giving them heaps of toys but two things happen with toys 1. rubber, rope etc. doesn't taste nice and the taste won't incentivise them to want to chew on it. Because rubber does not taste He might chew it enough to take the very edge of his chewing desire – the tip of the mountain – but not enough to wear down the entire mountain. This means they would rather turn to something that actually takes good for that, such as your hands. 2. The value in toys comes from us, not the toy itself e.g. the rope doesn't tug itself, the ball won't throw itself, so very rarely do dogs go and interact with the toys on their own accord, we usually have to encourage it for the dog to go and play with those toys (we have to interact some way). 


If you don’t want your puppy to target his mouthing/biting towards you, you need to give them plenty of opportunities to take down this mountain every day, with things for your puppy to chew on that taste really great. The more you can make it innate, the more eager they will be to eat and the longer they will stay engaged, grinding off more and more of their mountain of mouthiness. Think animal matter - bully sticks, pigs ears, cow hooves, yak milk chews, split antler or stuffed kongs, etc. When they are in their crazy biting moments (or ideally just before) I want you to remove them and put them in a great safe place (think a kids bedroom) with something to chew on. Ideally I would like them to have at least 20-30 minutes of chewing time before coming back out to interact with you guys. It is really important to remember that when your puppy gets into a crazy biting state it is like trying to reason with a drunk person.... impossible. You will not win so don't even bother trying. Instead, do what I just mentioned and give them space to have some "them time" to express the needs they have. The more you can also give them in the day the less likely you are going to get this extreme behaviour because you have worn down your mountain and have exhausted their jaw. 

I have attached pictures below to illustrate what I mean about the mountain of mouthiness so you can visualise it. If biting is really bad I would be visualising it with a minimum of 8 things to chew at the moment - we can decrease it when they settle down and we work out what their minimum requirement is per day. You can repeat a couple of things in the day to help meet 8. E.g. 2 x kong, Bully Stick, Pigs Ear, 2 x 20 minutes of chewing an antler, Cow Hoof, Frozen Carrot. 




How you work out what their threshold is - start by giving them a lot, say 8. Repeat for 1 week. If after the week you find they have settled next week trial giving 7. If they go back to being this ferocious vampire then you know your daily minimum requirement is 8. If after trialing 7, they still stay settled then you can trial 6 and so on. 

When a puppy looses teeth