Play Biting and Mouthing
If you own a puppy or kitten, chances are you’ve been on the receiving end of some play biting. Play biting, or mouthing, is a normal part of your cat’s or dog’s development. Puppies and kittens tend to discover things with their mouths and may gently bite on your hand or clothing to let you know they’re feeling playful, overstimulated, or when they need something (e.g., to be let out or to be fed).
Mouthing is not the same as biting. If you have a pet that bites, it should be handled differently from mouthing. Check out our video on dog bite prevention for more information or enlist the help of a certified professional pet trainer.
While mouthing is normal and instinctive behaviour for young pets, it should be discouraged before your pet gets older. Adult pets that exhibit this behaviour may get carried away and accidentally cause injury or cause alarm to unsuspecting strangers, houseguests or young children.
Here are ways you can discourage your pet from play biting:
Let out a yelp
When young dogs play bite other dogs, they learn what’s too much pressure when the other dog lets out a yelp. You can apply the same teaching method by letting out a loud “ouch!” and stepping away. When your dog or cat resumes gentle play, reward your pet with praise and affection.
Toys can be a good way of redirecting your pet’s chewing away from you. Make sure you reserve time each day for exercise and playtime with your pet. You can direct your pet away from your body by tossing toys away from you or by purchasing toys that dangle. If your dog gets overly excited when playing or tries to grab at your hand, take a time out. Your pet will soon learn that playing gently will lead to more playtime, while playing too rough makes playtime stop.
If your dog tries to mouth your hand, you can communicate that this is an unwanted behaviour by using the “off” or “leave it” command. If you’ve used this command on your dog walks as a way of keeping your dog away from something, then your dog will know that this is another case where it’s not supposed to touch.
As with any training, consistency is important. At times you may find it cute when your pet gives you a playful nibble, while other times play biting can be unwanted or painful. It’s important to discourage all types of play biting, otherwise it can be confusing for your pet to know when it’s ok and when it’s unwelcome.
Keep at it and your pet will be out of the habit before you know it!
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