Addressing Puppy Mouthiness

blue heeler puppy sitting and being fed a treat
Dear Fellow Puppy Parents…

Yes! I hear you! I am blown away by the number of inquiries I have received the last month asking me all about puppy biting and nipping. Every puppy owner (and many dog owners) deals with this behavior at some point. Picture the most well-behaved adult dog you know. At some point, that dog was also a mouthy little puppy with razor sharp teeth!

Here is my take on puppy mouthiness… Puppies use their mouths to explore the world. What you are going through is completely natural! It is our job to teach a puppy what is appropriate versus not. There are various ways to do this, but it boils down to management and providing alternative behaviors.

Step 1: Management

Management means to prevent the behavior you do not want. It looks different for every pup and family. It is a combination of using confinement tools (ie. crate, pen, leash) as well as learning to read the situation.


Utilize your puppy’s crate for nap times and calmness training. Young puppies need frequent naps, just like human toddlers. Keep the crate a positive place by luring your puppy into the crate with a treat, small handful of kibble, or a food dispensing toy!

A popular option is to use a baby or puppy pen to create a safe place for puppies to have room to play. This is especially critical when you have young children! It helps to start building up your puppy’s ability to be loose in the house without giving him/her free range AND while keeping the kids away from those sharp puppy teeth. Check out this article for great tips and examples!

Read Your Pup

Puppies do not yet know how to manage their energy. They often become over excited, over stimulated, and over tired. It is important for you to learn how to read your puppy’s cues as well as to read the energy level of a situation. A puppy will become mouthier in exciting, high energy situations as well as when he/she is over tired. For example, you may notice that your puppy ignores your kids when they are reading a book but will chase and nip when they are running around.

Take mental note (or better yet, keep notes in your phone or notebook!) of what situations or events appear to cause your puppy to be more mouthy. Once you find the pattern, you can identify what currently triggers your puppy’s mouthy behavior. From there, you can plan to manage those situations and determine what alternative behaviors to promote.

For example.. Jesse, like any herding puppy, loves to nip and chase feet. I know that if we are walking alone or inside the house, she will not chase my feet. After training class, she is over tired and becomes very mouthy! Therefore, after we get home she goes outside for a potty break and then into her crate with a frozen kong for a nap.

If she is at daycare playing with lots of other high energy puppies, she is more likely to chase the feet of the dog handler. To combat this, we use alternative behaviors! See the next step!

Step 2: Provide Alternatives

Providing alternative behaviors also varies from pup to pup! 

Promote Appropriate Chewing

Chewing is a completely natural behavior and a physical need for puppies. A key component of addressing mouthiness is to provide appropriate outlets. Popular ideas include frozen kongs, carrots, bully sticks, or dental chews. These are great things to provide your puppy inside his/her crate or pen! Honestly.. it’s the easiest way to multitask – addressing mouthiness, promoting calmness, and crate training all in one!

In addition to passive chewing, you also can promote chasing and biting in appropriate ways. If you have toys laying around the house, that’s great… but they won’t tempt your puppy by just existing. When you notice your puppy is about to pounce on something he/she shouldn’t, grab a toy and wiggle it around! I recommend having an assortment of large, dangly dog toys as they are the easiest to grab and play with while keeping your fingers safely out of harms way. If you have a higher energy dog like a German Shepherd or Border Collie, a flirt pole is a great option for satisfying the need to chase and mouth while also working on impulse control. Check out this video for more info.

Teach a Replacement Behavior

Dogs are more likely to do what they practice more. Currently, your puppy is practicing mouthing and nipping! While management and opportunities to chew appropriately will make a difference, your puppy still needs to learn what to do in those situations. An alternative behavior can be anything that suits your lifestyle – “sit”, “leave it”, sniffing, and playing with toys are the most common. 

Review your notes on the situations where your puppy is more mouthy, and brain storm what behaviors you can encourage instead!

Jesse’s alternative behavior is to sit or stand while making eye contact. Every single day for a week, I used the kibble she eats at dinner time to work on “sit” and eye contact.

Once she had that down, I began to take her outside and feed her as we walked around. She would be fed kibble for simply having all four feet on the ground and not nipping at my feet. 

At daycare, they can now use the word “sit” to break her of her mouthiness and help her regain focus. She needed to know the word “sit” and have lots of practice under her belt before it would work in such an exciting situation!

Bonus Step: Use Meals to Your Advantage!

Opting to use your pup’s daily kibble to work on these alternative behaviors is incredibly helpful! When your puppy needs to be calm or distracted, use food dispensing toys (such as kong or sodapup) that are pleasant to chew on. Spend a few minutes each meal time to work on specific commands like “sit” and “leave it” so that your puppy learns the command, giving you another tool to use against inappropriate mouthiness. You can even use kibble to work on calmness or impulse control exercises, both of which help to rewire your pup’s brain! All of these small changes add up and work together! Check out Ditch the Bowl for more info on how to use meal time!

Jesse’s daily food intake involves a couple training sessions, a dental chew or carrot, a frozen kong, and at least one food dispensing toy.  My future self thanks me!

Again… do not fret! This is all a normal and natural part of your puppy’s development. While the specific details vary from home to home, you now have the recipe for addressing puppy mouthing (and any behavior really!). 

  1. Prevention and Management
  2. Providing Alternatives
  3. Using Meals to Your Advantage


Share this post


Share this post

Katie Large

Katie Large

I'm a canine enthusiast, mom to eight beautiful pups, and foster parent to over a hundred other amazing dogs.

I enjoy helping dogs and their families learn to understand each other, live a safe and enriched life, and reach their full potential.

Learn more