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Puppy Mouthing and Chewing Too Much? Avoid Making This Big Mistake

Updated on September 6, 2015
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Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.

Puppy chewing and mouthing a lot
Puppy chewing and mouthing a lot | Source

Is Your Puppy Mouthing and Chewing A Lot? Don't Make this Big Mistake!

If your puppy is mouthing and chewing a lot, rest assured, it's totally normal behavior. Puppies just like toddlers, use their mouths a lot to explore the world around them. On top of that, puppies are teething and they like to chew so they can provide relief to those sore, achy gums. Regardless of the reasons why puppies chew, many trainers say that all that counts is that you train your puppy which items he can and cannot chew. This is good advice. Of course, you won't let your puppy chew the remote or chew your expensive plush pair of slippers! However, the main issue is not the fact the you must tell your puppy what he can or cannot chew, but the way you tell him.

From a puppy's perspective, anything he finds is up for being mouthed or chewed on. That's how the world goes from a canine's perspective. If something is readily available and nobody else has it, it's a green light that it's available to claim. In the dog world, if a dog gets up and leaves an item unattended behind, it's likely being surrendered. When dogs play and one gets up leaving a toy behind as he goes to do something else, you may notice how the others dogs will wait till he's out of sight to snatch the left-behind item. If a dog really cares about an item, he will often either stay nearby it, lie down and guard it, carry it along or hide it somewhere. So if you leave your shoes around, from your pup's perspective they're ready to take, and when you scold him for mouthing them, he'll likely appear startled the first times as he may have not expected that reaction from you over something that was readily available! So it takes some time for the puppy to understand and abide to the rules humans make which are different from the rules dogs may have.

If your reaction upon finding your pup chewing an item he's not supposed to stems from anger, frustration or shock, it will likely result in an angered "leave it!" said in an authoritarian tone, a frustrated: "No, no, no! Stop chewing the remote, you understand!" or a surprised and shocked: "Eek! my slippers! You have no idea how much they cost!" said in a high-pitched startling tone. Regardless, your puppy will likely startle and through trial and error should eventually learn not to touch certain "sacred" items. He will also learn that certain items are fine to pick up and chew because when he chews on them your response is either neutral or you give signs of approval: "Good choice Buddy!"

So now puppy has learned the rules of the household. "I can chew on my toys, but I cannot chew on the slippers or remote or mommy or daddy will get really, really mad." So now everybody is happy. Occasionally, you may still find your puppy chewing on something when you are not actively supervising. This may happen because the puppy may have learned to associate your presence with punishment or perhaps feels you no longer care about the item. If this is a new item he has never interacted with before, he may not be sure of if it's categorized under the "acceptable" to chew or "banned" group. In this case, he'll likely tentatively give it lick or two, to test the waters, but if you're not watching, he may think it's fine to chew on...until you get angry when you catch him in the act.

Regardless, if you think your continuous scolding has no effect on the puppy, think again. It may initially look that way, but you may stumble on problems as your puppy develops and this may have a strong, negative impact on his future training so read on to learn why.

Note: The impact is more relevant the more harsh you were in correcting your pup.

This dog has "claimed " the toy by lying down with it, while the pup tests the waters


Mouth behaviors are one of the first that owners tend to suppress. The majority of the time when a puppy picks something up, he gets yelled at. He learns to restrict his teeth to a small list of legal chew objects, knowing he could be in deep doo-doo for picking up anything not on the list.

— Pat Miller

Shy, tentative dogs needs lots of encouragement


The Effect of Punishment Can Last a Long Time

So after going through many months of being scolded for mouthing the wrong items, the puppy learns that certain items shouldn't be touched at all. He also learns that certain items are acceptable to chew on, but these are only a few. All may seem to go well for many months or years, until you decide to want to enroll your puppy in an obedience trial and have trouble getting him to pick up a dumbbell, or more likely, if you aren't into dog competition, you may encounter problems when you try to train your puppy to fetch or you want to train him to bring you the remote.

"Mouth behaviors are one of the first that owners tend to suppress. The majority of the time when a puppy picks something up, he gets yelled at. He learns to restrict his teeth to a small list of legal chew objects, knowing he could be in deep doo-doo for picking up anything not on the list," explains Pat Miller, reputable dog trainer and owner of Peaceable Paws.

So it's not surprising if your dog lacks enthusiasm or is very tentative when you try to train him to pick up an object he doesn't know much about, or worse, an item that he was banned from interacting with in the past, such as the remote. Overcoming this block may require time and patience, and most of all, the implementation of force-free methods. Getting frustrated would only makes matter worse as the dog gets conflicting information between being asked to interact with an object and your frustration which may be perceived similar to the frustration you may have felt in the past when you were telling your puppy not to interact with certain items.

A puppy or dog who is very tentative in picking up objects and interacting with them is often mistakenly chalked up to "my dog is missing the fetching genes" or "my dog doesn't like to play fetch" when in reality the puppy's mouthing behavior has been suppressed and he is simply intimidated by interacting with objects.

Fetching is a great rainy-day activity

Puppy mouthing too much? Avid this big mistake if you want to play fun games in the future
Puppy mouthing too much? Avid this big mistake if you want to play fun games in the future | Source

Preventing and Fixing the Problem

A puppy or dog who is tentative in interacting with objects and picking them up will miss a whole load of wonderful opportunities and it's not only about fetching. Lacking opposable thumbs, a dog can learn a whole lot of behaviors courtesy of his mouth such as bringing you the remote, collecting the mail for you, opening and closing doors, picking up his toys, pulling your socks off, picking up something you dropped and so much more. So how can we avoid suppressing mouthing behaviors yet, deal with a puppy who is mouthing and chewing too much? Here are some guidelines.

As with other problems, prevention is better than curing. First off, it's best to set a puppy for success by limiting exposure to things he shouldn't have. This is part of puppy proofing the house. This means, putting your shoes away, keeping the remote out of reach and putting away items that you care about or that can be harmful to your puppy.

But what should you do if no matter your effort, your puppy still gets a hang of something he shouldn't have? Pat Miller suggests to trade the item for a high-value treat or redirect the pup to a “legal” toy. She also suggests praising the puppy when he's carrying something he's allowed to have. This should encourage the puppy to interact with objects instead of suppressing this natural tendency.

What if your dog has grown tentative already? What can you do to remedy the situation? In such a case, it helps to train your dog that's it's OK to interact with his environment. This can be accomplished only through gentle, force-free techniques. With puppies and dogs who are tentative, I have found that targeting exercises, free shaping and shaping can be wonderful resources to help your growing puppy or adult dog come out of his shell and reap the rewards of interacting more with his environment. Once your puppy or dog has been gaining more confidence, if your goal is to get your dog to fetch or deliver a dumbbell, you can then train a strong retrieve using a method known as "backchaining."

Alexadry© all rights reserved, do not copy.


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