Mouthing and chewing on hands and feet is typically associated with teething puppies. But for some dogs, this behavior continues into adulthood. In this month’ s installment of “Why Does My Dog Do That?” we will explore mouthing behavior in adult dogs to understand both why it happens and what can be done to address it.
First of all, it is important to distinguish between mouthing behavior and aggression. Mouthing is not the same as biting or nipping. Typically, mouthing behavior occurs during moments when your dog is feeling playful or excited. There are no signs of aggression such as growling, baring of teeth or stiff body language. If you think your dog is exhibiting any signs of aggressive behavior with mouthing or chewing, you need to have your dog evaluated by a professional animal behaviorist and trainer to properly and safely address it.
So if it’s not aggression what does lead your dog to chew on people? For the most part, dogs mouth as a way to either explore their world or interact with people and other dogs during playtime. It is also a way for them to release feelings of excitement, such as when they are enjoying a good belly rub or ear scratch. A lot of people find it cute when a puppy chews on their fingers and may even encourage it by grabbing and playing with their muzzle. But if this is not addressed early on, what is cute in puppyhood can quickly become an issue in adulthood and can lead to unintended injury to human family and friends. The good news is that it is never too late to help curb this particular habit.
Just like human children, furry kids rely on their parents to teach them “manners” including acceptable play behavior. There are a couple simple ways you can address this behavior. The first is a redirection. If you have a habitual mouther that chews on hands and fingers during play, start by directing that behavior toward appropriate objects. To do this, keep a toy or chew bone hidden in a pocket or behind you. When your dog starts chewing on you, pull out the toy for them to chew on instead and praise them when they do. Remember dogs understand “always” and “never”, they do not understand “sometimes”, so be sure you, and other family members, are consistent so your dog will clearly understand that toys, not people, are suitable for play.
Sometimes your dog will use mouthing and chewing behavior as a way to get you to play or otherwise interact with them. If you notice that your dog grabs at your clothing or starts chewing on your hands as a way to get a play session started the best way to address this is to ignore this behavior. Fold your arms and turn your back on them. If you are sitting down, stand up and don’t reward them with eye contact or interaction. Only engage them when they have stopped the mouthing behavior. Even just a few seconds between them stopping the behavior and the reward (attention and/or playtime) will send your dog the message that mouthing won’t get them what they want.
If you find that your dog continues this behavior in spite of everything you’ve tried, it is time to seek help from a certified trainer. At Smart Dogs, we can give you the tools you need to change this behavior and strengthen the bond with your four-legged best friend. For more information, check out our page all about how we can help your little chomper!