I often visit families with a puppy that is biting much too hard.  Puppies use their mouths to play, explore, taste and chew, so it is important that we teach them to use a soft mouth when they touch our human skin.  Giving your puppy feedback is essential, so tell your puppy when it hurts, “ouch!”, get up and walk away slowly.  Return and softly handle your pup, when his mouth is soft, reward him with verbal calm praise. Too much excitement can encourage the pup to play harder.

How about an older dog, can you teach an older dog a soft mouth? Absolutely!  For example, hold the treat or even kibble under your thumb and offer it to your dog, if you feel teeth, just wait, when your dog licks the treat, release it as a reward.  Repeat several times, rewarding for a soft mouth and not rewarding when you feel teeth.

Remy came to us as a rescue with a hard mouth, he learned to be gentle and also drop the toy for us to toss it again. Here he is playing a game of tug, using good manners!

Allowing your pup to play with other pups in a socialization class is a great way to teach a soft mouth.  Notice that I said play with other pups, not play with two and three year old adolescent dogs at the dog park as their mouths are unknown and can teach your pup a much harder mouth.

Playing tug is a great way to teach a puppy a soft mouth, if you feel teeth during play, “Ouch!”, drop the toy and leave the room.  Return and again reward with calm play as your dog learns the rules of the game!  Often saying “take it” “tug” and “leave it”.  These are the basic rules of tug and are a great way to tach a puppy a soft mouth.