(How Puppies Get In Trouble : biting, chewing, & barking)

Just as the real estate dictum says "location, location, location", with young dogs you must think "Mouth, mouth, mouth". The 3 most common ways for young dogs , especially those between 6 months and 18 months, to get into trouble when not adequately educated and supervised are by biting, by chewing, and by barking. This article is about raising your puppy in ways that minimize problems in these regards during puppyhood and that will result in an adult who does not have problems in these regards.



(How Puppies Get In Trouble : biting, chewing, & barking)

by Pam Green (copyright 1996)

Just as the real estate dictum says "location, location, location", with young dogs you must think "Mouth, mouth, mouth". The 3 most common ways for young dogs , especially those between 6 months and 18 months, to get into trouble when not adequately educated and supervised are with the mouth, with the mouth, and with the mouth. (The same could probably be said of human beings of all ages, but that's another topic.)


Most puppies use their mouths playfully upon each other, playing rough pseudo-fighting games of wrestling bodies and biting mouths. All puppies must be taught to inhibit the strength of their bite to suit the tolerance of other playful dogs and to inhibit it still further to suit the tolerance of human beings. Puppies teach this to each other by reacting to an excessively strong bite with a yelp of protest , which may be followed by a momentary withdrawal from the game. This is very effective, and the same strategy works for humans too : "if you can't play nice, I don't want to play with you." Providing your puppy with plenty of opportunities to play with other compatible puppies and young dogs will also drain off this form of need to play, reducing the need to exercise it on humans.

Some puppies as they get into the "teenage" phase (starting as early as 6 months and lasting as late as 24 months or longer) will discover the possibility of using the mouth on a human wrist to protest the human hand doing something the dog does not like, eg toenail cutting. This will start with grab at the wrist that is mostly playful but also somewhat protesting. Likewise some pups might grab at your wrist or your ankle to protest being made to lie down on command with compulsion from the leash. You must NEVER allow this to intimidate you or to cause you to stop doing whatever you were doing. If you can simply continue doing it while correcting with a snarled "no" or "get outta that" or other guttural phrase, this may well be sufficient to cause the pup to break off. If more correction is needed, grab either the pup's upper jaw or his lower jaw and pinch the upper lips or lower lips against his teeth hard enough that he finds it highly unpleasant or , if necessary, painful. This will usually get the message across that he cannot intimidate you with his mouth. If you do yield and allow him to succeed in intimidating you, I guarantee that you will regret it , maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow , but soon and for the rest of his life. You will regret it because the pup will escalate his use of his mouth to intimidate and dominate you. Eventually there will be a serious bite to you or someone else, and it will be completely your own fault for having allowed the process to begin and escalate. Too often the dog pays with his life for the owner's series of mistakes in this regard.


Most puppies use their mouths playfully upon various physical (inanimate) objects that they perceive as potential toys. They pick up and carry off a wide variety of items to play with and chew upon. Often the object is chewed to fragments. Now sooner or later this will result in destruction of something you value. Until the pup is at least 2 years old you must take various anti-chew measures.

As you puppy matures and seems to have absorbed the lessons of what items to keep his mouth off of, you can start allowing him more freedom and more opportunities. Each increase of freedom should at first be under your observation so you can continue to correct mistakes. I'd suggest that before you bring a valued item back into his reach, you first expose one or more similar but relatively valueless items to the puppy , first when you are supervising and later when you are not. Eg for a valued needle-point pillow, substitute a cheap pillow from the thrift store; for a valued pair of shoes, substitute cheap ones from the thrift store that you have worn just enough to get them stinky. If your puppy or teenager dog does chew up or destroy something valuable to you, you must acknowledge that it was your own fault for having given him the opportunity to do so. Hit yourself on the head three times with a rolled up newspaper while saying "Baad owner, baad owner : you shouldn't have left it where he could reach it!"

The amount of economic damage that an unsupervised 6 month old puppy can do in an hour or two when left alone in a non puppy proofed area is tremendous. Many dogs are sent to the Pound to be killed because the angry and frustrated owner could not understand the value of a closed door .

Never underestimate the dangers to the puppy from chewing on some objects normally found in the home. Not a few puppies have died from electocution from chewing on a plugged in electric cord. Not a few puppies have died from an intestinal blockage from swallowing chewed off pieces of just about anything indigestible. Not a few puppies have died by swallowing something with toxic properties. Never risk the life of your precious little puppy person by leaving dangerous chewables within reach !


Most very young puppies will use their mouths to scream for help if they find themselves alone , especially in any place that they do not consider a place of security. This is a survival behavior that would , in the wild, bring the adults in the pack running to protect the vulnerable puppy from larger predators. Usually puppies soon learn that their crate is a place of safety and that the interior of the home (especially your puppy proofed room) is a place of safety. However most must have their tolerance for being left alone built up more or less gradually, by a series of relatively short absences and returnings of the owner. Feelings of isolation anxiety and feelings of boredom likely to provoke barking are much stronger if the pup is left alone outdoors (yard or kennel run) with no opportunity to return to a safe place within the house (the puppy proofed room). If you absolutely must leave your puppy outdoors when no one is home, a kennel run with a snug dog house is usually safer and more emotionally comfortable for the pup than is the entire backyard, with or without a dog house. Barking can become a bad habit as a way to relieve loneliness and boredom. Smarter dogs may learn to use barking as a way to demand to be let out of the crate or back into the house; and you must never yield to this : NEVER reward a dog for brattish barking.

Unfortunately some breeds of dog are much more inclined to bark senselessly than others. (Ask any vet who does debarking surgery which breeds account for most requests. ) And some individuals are very impulsive in their barking : ie they bark reactively and without any thinking about what they are doing. If you have such a dog, be prepared to buy an anti-bark collar or have debarking surgery or move to very isolated location.

Because you canNOT know what your dog is doing when you are absent, it is almost essential that you take the initiative of asking your neighbors to report to you at the very first signs of prolonged barking (ie anything over a minute or two without an obvious and appropriate cause). Let them know that you do NOT want your dog to create a nuisance but that you canNOT know what is happening when you are gone unless they help you by reporting to you. This should make them your allies rather than you potential enemies if a barking problem begins. Another possible way to monitor would be to leave a voice activated tape recorder plugged in and turned on : when you come home, check to see whether there is only a little barking recorded or a whole lot of it. (Update note : with the availability of cheap security videocameras, you might use such a camera to check the puppy's activities within a certain range as well as his noise production, by fast foreward viewing the tape when you come home.)

Once a bad habit of barking has been established , it is very hard to cure. The most effective prevention and cure is an electronic anti-bark collar that automatically corrects the dog with mild shock each time he barks. This will soon cure a habit that is just beginning, and you may then be able to dispense with the collar. However if the barking habit is well established or if the dog is a very impulsive (non-thinking) barker who is provoked to bark by every falling leaf or passing butterfly, then it is quite possible that he will have to wear the anti-bark collar whenever he is home alone for many years or for the rest of his life. (Update note : the advent of citronella spray anti-bark collars provides an alternative method of prevention and cure. These collars work surprisingly well.) Your final alternative is de-barking surgery.

Recognize that if you don't shut him up , the rest of his life could be very brief. If your dog motor mouths and you don't cure it, your neighbors are likely to cure it with protests to Animal Control or with some poisoned meat tossed over the fence.


Now that I have covered the methods of preventing your dog from getting into trouble with its mouth, I wish you good diligence and good luck in employing these. I only wish it were as easy for us humans to prevent ourselves from getting into trouble with our own mouths.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 4/12/03 revised ?/?/03
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