Mouthing or play biting can be cute to watch when your dog is just a pup, but when it continues into adulthood it can be anywhere from annoying or inappropriate to downright dangerous. Nipping the problem in the bud by teaching a dog bite inhibition is the best route, but if your adult dog is already in the habit of mouthing/play biting when riled up, it’s time to change your approach. #1. Don’t reward the behavior: many things can be interpreted as a reward to a dog. Continuing to play with the dog is the worst thing you can do – you’re telling him/her that it’s okay to use their teeth on your skin. Even talking to or yelling at the dog can reinforce the behavior, because you’re giving the dog attention, which is usually a reward. Take your hands away, stop playing, and ignore the dog (i.e. take the rewards away) when your dog mouths.
#2. Redirect the dog to a better behavior: you don’t have to stop playing and having fun with your dog. Redirect the dog’s mouthing to something harmless – perhaps a stuffed toy, ball, or any number of tug-toys and rope toys you can buy at most any pet store.
#3. Praise the dog for appropriate play: if your dog is playing nicely, i.e. without touching their teeth to your skin; or with a toy, praise them. Calmly tell them they’re a good dog, or give them a treat. Or just calm down and give them a good rub. These all tell the dog it’s doing the right thing and reinforces the behavior you want!
#4. In tough situations, be a puppy: if the dog isn't responding to you ignoring the bad behavior, make a loud startling “yelp” noise and get up and leave the room. Go do something else for a few minutes away from the dog, and then come back and resume play if the dog is calm. This will usually work if other methods don't, and vice versa. For some dogs, this will just rile them up more; so use caution.
By giving the dog good things to do, and avoiding giving them the opportunity to perform a behavior you don’t like, you’re setting your dog up for success! You’re on the way to having a more rewarding relationship with your canine companion.