Is It Mouthing Or Biting?

Taking steps to train puppies on what is OK to chew is essential.

The difference between mouthing and biting

It is not at all uncommon for puppies to use their mouths in nearly everything they do. This behavior is called 'mouthing' and is a completely normal part of development. Though this is very similar to biting, the intention is different. Distinguishing between the two is very important. 

Why do puppies mouth?

Mouthing is a behavior that happens for multiple reasons. Puppies are naturally inclined to explore the world using their mouths. Their lack of opposable thumbs makes the mouths their most nimble tool. Because of this puppies will mouth everything from chew toys, to table legs, or even your arms and legs! This can be a troubling behavior but it is not unusual.

Bite Inhibition

By putting something in their mouths, a puppy is both learning about the objects they grab and about their own mouths. In the first few weeks of life, a puppy learns how and why to control the pressure of his teeth. If he bites too hard while nursing, mom might just get up and walk away. If he bites too hard while playing, his siblings are likely to quit playing with him or let him know he is hurting them. 

Learning bite inhibition from the mother and litter is crucial early on, as it starts to lay the foundation. Puppies who are pulled from their mom and litter too early may not learn how to control the pressure of their mouths which can sometimes cause some behavior issues, especially as the puppy grows up.

Learning bite inhibition is an important part of socializing a puppy. Because of this, it is essential that puppies start the socializing process at the right time.

Growing Pains

Teething is another reason that puppies tend to be so active with their mouths. Young puppies are typically mouthy because they are in the teething process. Their mouths may be hurting because their puppy teeth will eventually fall out, making way for their adult teeth! Once those adult teeth start coming in, you may find your puppy is a bit more mouthy. This can be because it is uncomfortable.

Making the Distinction

It is important to understand the difference between a puppy mouthing versus biting. I look at mouthing as more of a soft and playful type of behavior where the puppy is investigating, exploring and probably teething. The puppy acts in a social way towards people without chomping down on you or being excessive in his behavior. Typically, when a puppy is mouthing the puppy might start doing a little chewing. They may play by grabbing and letting go of you quickly. (This is what I mean by being social.) Puppies that are teething tend to be mouthy because their mouths hurt as their adult teeth are coming in. It is normal that a puppy wants to mouth as it provides comfort and relief.

I look at biting differently. (Please keep in mind I am NOT saying what your puppy is and isn’t doing. I am simply trying to distinguish the difference between mouthing versus biting behaviors.) To me biting is more forceful than mouthing. Just because a puppy may not break or puncture someone’s skin, does not mean it isn’t a bite. If your puppy is approaching in a pushy and/or confident way, grabs with his entire mouth, and holds on in a forceful manner, this is considered biting behavior. Now, does this mean there should be a cause for concern? Well, that depends! I am not saying that this is an issue. However, this depends on a variety of factors and depends on the individual puppy. Your training & behavior professional would need to determine what would be appropriate and what could be concerning.

Dealing with Mouthing

Though mouthing is natural, it is a behavior that needs to be watched and managed. Taking steps to train puppies on what is OK to chew is essential. This can be done by providing puppies with plenty of chew toys, food dispensing toys and rewarding good behavior. Encouraging your puppies positive behaviors, rather than penalizing their negative behaviors is the best way to make progress.

Mouthing is a behavior that is best addressed through good training! Finding a certified professional who practices positive reinforcement training techniques is a great first step to managing this behavior. Read more about managing and understanding puppy mouthing at my blog

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Positively Expert: Anthony De Marinis

Anthony De Marinis is a graduate of Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior. He is also a Fear Free Certified Animal Trainer. Anthony runs his dog training business, De Marinis Dog Training & Behavior based in Long Island, NY.


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