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Q. My dog gently "mouths" on me and other people whenever he greets someone. He’s friendly but this is annoying. What can I do?
A. Greeting people can be one of the most exciting things a dog does. Unfortunately, the ways in which dogs cope with excitement, such as jumping up, barking or — in your dog's case — mouthing, are often at odds with our ideas of good canine behavior.
Mouthing is when a dog puts his teeth and mouth over a person’s skin while using little or no pressure from his jaw. It’s not to be mistaken for aggressive biting, which is done out of fear or frustration. Although mouthing is most common in puppies, adult dogs may also engage in this behavior in order to release stress or excitement.
In order to stop your dog from mouthing people, it is essential to give him a different go-to greeting behavior that will be equally rewarding.
One way to help your dog manage the excitement of greeting people is to give him a toy to hold in his mouth; the toy will function as a pacifier and can be an acceptable alternative to gnawing on your guests' hands. Keep a box of toys near the front door and hand one to your dog before he greets a new person. This is one of the easiest ways to stop your dog’s mouthing.
While a toy is a useful way to redirect your dog’s energy, it’s also important to teach your dog to cope with the excitement of greeting people even when he doesn't have something to put in his mouth. In order to successfully break the mouthing behavior, teach your pet an alternative greeting sequence.
Recently I had a Golden Retriever named Maggie in class who would mouth her pet parents and people around her whenever she was excited, especially when greeting someone new. We chose three acceptable behaviors that were incompatible with mouthing to train Maggie to do when greeting someone: heel, sit for greeting, and hand targeting.
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