Phew, I am so tired. I had forgotten how exhausting having a puppy is. The first few weeks home for your new dog is such an intense time. There is so much to teach them and you really need to be on your toes to develop good habits in your dog. I am only just getting to know Ben and have already discovered that Ben is a chewer!
Ben mouths everything, if I let him wander around the house I would find all sorts of holes in my belongings, and he would also terrorise my daughter trying to bite her (that’s why I crate train). Ben is what I would call a ‘mouthy’ dog. He loves to chew- anything! Before getting him I knew I was choosing a ‘mouthy’ breed. Irish Setters are hunting dogs bred to carry dead/dying birds in their mouths. They typically love to hold things in their mouths when they are excited or play. I know this and prepare for it by having toys close by all the time.
Your dogs’ mouthing behaviour is perfectly normal, they don’t have the dexterity that we do, so they use their mouths for most activities. Unfortunately, they do not realise how sharp those puppy teeth are, and how sensitive our skin is. Mouthing should not be something you need to worry too much about. You simply need to know how to redirect it.
Set your self and your dog up for success by being prepared. Each time I interact with Ben I make sure my full attention is on him, and I watch for his mouthing to start. I always have something near me to put into his mouth to redirect this mouthing.
Sometimes I will let him ‘chew’ on my hand and if he bites too hard I would give a loud, high pitched yelp and walk away from him for a few seconds (although I have not had to do this yet). I avoid playing with him with my hands, we always play with a toy. I also avoid patting or cuddling him when he is excited- you’re sure to get a bite then. Save the pets and cuddles for when your dog is calm.
You know your dog better than anyone, think about what you are setting up before you get bitten. Otherwise, you will end up frustrated and so will your dog. If your dog bites you first thing when you greet them, then be prepared for it. Take a toy with you, or some treats and just hand feed them or throw some food on the ground as a distraction.
Tug is another great game for mouthy dogs. I am a big advocate for tug games, and I only have one rule attached when I play tug. I must be able to finish the game without my dog jumping all over me and biting me. You can have any rules you like, just be consistent. Tug increases play drive in dogs and means that you have another tool in your belt for getting their attention. It is also a game that relies on you being actively playful, increasing your bond, and making you so much more interesting to your dog.
Mouthing is normal puppy behaviour, and it is one of the reasons why the first few weeks/months of adopting a dog is hard work. However, if you are prepared, think about the consequences of your actions, and redirect early, you will lay a strong foundation for great future behaviour. It’s always better to do something right from the beginning than to have to fix it later.