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Tips for managing mouthiness in dogs

And the reasons why your dog is biting.

It’s normal for kids to be mouthy (or talk back) to other kids or adults. But did you know that puppies can be mouthy, too? While they don't use words, they can express a range of emotions by using their mouth. 

"Mouthiness is when a dog puts their mouth on their people's arms, legs, clothes or hands and makes loose chewing motions but doesn't fully bite down, although it can still be painful or cause bruising," Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch's on-staff veterinarian, explains. 

It's understandable to want to curb your pup's mouthy ways — especially while they're young and haven’t formed habits. So here's what could be behind your dog's biting and how to train them to stop. 

Why does my dog nibble on me?

Puppies often get mouthy as a reaction to teething (usually until around 6 months old) and when experiencing strong emotions, like excitement or frustration — it’s up to you to teach your pet how to express themselves in other ways.

"Mouthiness may be a way to communicate that a dog doesn't like a particular activity," she adds. "For example, if you're petting them and they start mouthing you they may want the petting to end."

You should also check in with your veterinarian to ensure the mouthy behavior doesn't stem from an underlying condition, like anxiety. If your dog is anxious, they may use their mouth to let people around them know, Dr. McCullough explains. Veterinarians or veterinary behaviorists can recommend the proper way to manage your dog's anxiety. 

RELATED: New puppy checklist — everything you need to know about bringing your dog home

How to stop a dog from biting

One of the first steps in limiting this behavior is identifying what the trigger is, Dr. McCullough says. First, try to note what causes your dog to start being mouthy. If the mouthiness happens when playing with them, calmly tell them "no," stand up and face away from your pup. Doing this will show them that the behavior is wrong and that playtime won't continue when they start biting you. Repeat this process until your dog understands. You may need to take longer breaks in between playtimes if your pup is too excited, Dr. McCullough says. 

When mouthy behavior happens because of excitement, ensure that your pup gets enough exercise and mental stimulation during the day so they don’t get over hyper. And when the nibbles happen, redirect the behavior from you onto a safe chew toy so your dog learns what’s OK to reach towards when happy.

Never punish your pup while training their mouthiness. Yelling, punishing or quickly pulling away from a dog during playtime may cause more frustration or make them think it's a game. And if you can’t quite get to the bottom of your dog’s mouthiness, talk to your veterinarian, as your dog may require a specialized training or treatment plan. 

What toys are best for mouthiness? 

Toys (specifically cloth and rope toys for pups that enjoy mouthing fabric or furniture) are great for redirecting a dog’s mouthy behavior. Dr. McCullough recommends looking into a flirt pole (which is like a wand with toys at the end) to distract dogs, too.

"I used one with my puppy, and it's a good way to engage in fun play. It tired her out without tiring me out, and she was able to bite and chew the toy on the end without mouthing my hands or any other part of my body," she shares. 

Training your pup to stop being mouthy will ensure they're their best selves in every situation. Patience and consistency are key, Dr. McCullough says. And if your dog doesn't understand your cues, she recommends reaching out to your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist for extra support.

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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