Puppies use each other as chew toys, so when they move away from their littermates and start hanging out with humans, it is only natural that they should continue their mouthy ways. Trouble is, we humans have skin that is so very delicate. In fact, it breaks when our puppies chew on it, and that is no good for anybody.
There are many suggestions for stopping puppy mouthing, and only some work for each puppy. My favorite, which I consider the standard technique for stopping puppy mouthing, is the startle and redirect method. This strategy consists of making a high-pitched sound that is best written as “AWRP!” This sound startles most puppies enough to make them release their hold on you. Then, you redirect your puppy’s mouth to something appropriate to chew on, such as a chew toy or other toy. Many people are really good about remembering to startle but then forget to redirect their puppy to something that can be chewed. The result of this mistake is that the puppy goes back to mouthing the person’s hands or clothing and the person thinks the technique doesn’t work.
There are other effective ways of dealing with puppy mouthing, but I advise against any aversive methods, even if they are commonly advised. For example, don’t hold the puppy’s mouth shut or stick your fingers in it, yell, or use physical force to stop the dog. Basically, anything that frightens or hurts the dog is not an option.
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.