why does my dog mouth my hands? and what can I do about it?

I have a canine client, Quincy,* whom I love to pieces. He's fun and sweet, and I've been caring for him for quite a few years, now. Last week when I was hanging with him, I gave some thought to one aspect of his behavior that I've not seen in other adult dogs very often. He mouths. Mouthing, or play-biting, is more commonly seen in puppies, but Quincy, an adult dog, does it frequently. It doesn't bother me at all because he's quite gentle, but it got me to thinking about why he does it, so I did some research.

Why does my dog mouth my hands? And what can I do about it?

Why does my dog mouth my hands? And what can I do about it?

what is "mouthing?"

"Mouthing," a.k.a. "play-biting" is a natural, instinctive way dogs play with each other. They explore the world with their mouths like we do with our hands. Mouthing is not aggressive, but can be irritating to humans, especially guests in the home of a dog that mouths. It can be misinterpreted as aggression.

why do dogs mouth?

Puppies learn how to play by mouthing their littermates and their parents. They explore with their mouths, and they use their mouths to play with each other. The ASPCA outlines that

Young dogs usually learn bite inhibition during play with other dogs. If you watch a group of dogs playing, you'll see plenty of chasing, pouncing and wrestling. Dogs also bite each other all over. Every now and then, a dog will bite his playmate too hard. The victim of the painful bite yelps and usually stops playing. The offender is often taken aback by the yelp and also stops playing for a moment. However, pretty soon both playmates are back in the game. Through this kind of interaction, dogs learn to control the intensity of their bites so that no one gets hurt and the play can continue without interruption. 

In contrast to aggressive biting, mouthing is playful and not ill-intended. It can, however, be an unwanted behavior as far as humans are concerned.

Puppies typically learn to control the intensity of their play bites by their littermates, but puppies taken from their littermates too soon may need to learn this from their human families. Typically, humans teach their puppies that no form of mouthing is acceptable, but that is not always the case, as is the situation with Quincy. It's likely that since his mouthing is so gentle, he was never taught to behave otherwise. 

playful mouthing vs. aggressive behavior

There is a huge difference between playful mouthing and aggressive behavior. While you may or may not train your dog to quit mouthing you, no degree of aggressive behavior should be tolerated. How can you tell the difference?


• playful stance

• relaxed body and face

• slower and gentler

• does not inflict pain


• aggressive or fearful stance

• tension in the body and face

• quick and hard

• inflicts pain

how can I teach my puppy or dog not to mouth? 

You can teach your puppy or dog not to mouth just like his littermates would. Note that it is much more difficult to teach an adult dog not to mouth, as they are not as sensitive to our reactions as puppies are. Teaching your pooch not to mouth is a process.

1. Teach your puppy about bite intensity by yelping and pausing play when he bites too hard. Praise him when he stops, and repeat this a few times per play period. Your puppy will learn that you have a negative reaction when he bites too hard.

2. Mouthing is natural, so you want to teach your dog what is appropriate to mouth and what is not. If you wish (as most humans do), teach your puppy that no mouthing of you is acceptable. Once your puppy has eased up on the intensity, practice the same steps whenever the puppy mouths your hand (or ankle...or whatever his favored body part is). Provide him with an alternative, such as a chew toy or ball. Your puppy will learn to mouth appropriate items rather then your hands or the hands of your visitors.

additional tips

• Avoid wiggling your fingers in front of your dog's face, and avoid play-slapping his muzzle. These actions will likely encourage your dog to mouth and play more aggressively.

• Don't discourage play and mouthing all together, as it's a great way to bond and it provides your pooch with mental and physical stimulation. Allow your dog to mouth a toy you are holding rather than your hand.

• Don't physically punish your dog for mouthing–or for anything–as it will likely cause more aggression, and your dog may become fearful of you.

• If your puppy or dog mouths you, don't pull away. Pulling away will be considered a game by your dog and will encourage him to play harder. Kind-of like tug-of-war.

• Always provide appropriate chew toys for your dog.

• Provide your dog with plenty of exercise and entertainment. Excessive mouthing can be a sign of boredom. 

• If your dog is biting aggressively, seek the help of a certified, professional dog trainer immediately.

Does your dog mouth? Have you taught your dog not to mouth? Please share your experience!

*All names have been changed in the interest of privacy.

our @wisdompanel 3.0 canine dna test experience (and a discount for you!) #sponsored

I've speculated about our dog, N.A.S.H.A.'s, breed makeup since we adopted her in 2005. I call her a "mixed terrier" because a majority of her physical and behavioral traits seem terrier-ish to me, but I'm not certain. The only way to really be sure is to have her DNA tested. Yep, doggie DNA. I'm beyond excited that we are finally doing just that. We received a Canine DNA Test from Wisdom Panel. The process was super easy, and I can't wait to find out how accurate my assessment of N.A.S.H.A.'s ancestry is. Wisdom Panel reports that visual identification of a dog's breed(s) is only accurate about 25% of the time. So there's a good chance we'll be surprised!

a canine dna test in 3 easy steps

I am being compensated for helping to spread the word about Mars Veterinary Wisdom Panel 3.0. Well Minded only shares information we feel is relevant to our readers. All opinions are my own. Mars Veterinary Wisdom Panel 3.0 is not responsible for the content of this article.

The Wisdom Panel 3.0 Canine DNA Test takes just three simple steps.

1. Collect dog's DNA. N.A.S.H.A. is fairly easy-going, but I was surprised that she didn't put up any sort of fight. All I had to do was place the collection swabs between her gum and her cheek and swab for a few seconds. There were two cheek swabs, and she didn't seem to mind at all.

It just took a gentle touch–no duct tape required ;)–to swab N.A.S.H.A.'s cheek.

It just took a gentle touch–no duct tape required ;)–to swab N.A.S.H.A.'s cheek.

2. Activate online. While I waited for the test swabs to dry completely, I went online and activated our kit by answering just a few basic questions. It only took about three minutes.

You can see the simple instructions behind our drying swabs.

You can see the simple instructions behind our drying swabs.

3. Mail test. On my way to pick the kids up at school, I dropped by the post office and mailed the kit off. Easy!

The report will come in 2-3 weeks, but in the meantime, I can track the test on the Wisdom Panel web site, just like I can track my UPS package! 

what are the benefits to testing my dog's dna with wisdom panel 3.0?

I wanted to have N.A.S.H.A.'s DNA tested simply because it's fun and I'm curious about her, but there are lots of reasons to have your dog tested:

• Create a better health plan for your pooch. Certain breeds are at higher risk for certain conditions and diseases. Knowing your dog's breed(s) can help you plan and prepare for those possibilities and can provide potentially life-saving information. 

• Determine if your dog has the MDR1 (Multi-Drug Resistance 1) genetic mutation. It is found in some hearing and sighthound breeds, as well as many mixed-breed dogs. The MDR1 gene produces a protein, P-glycoprotien, that is a drug transport pump, playing an important role in limiting drug absorption and distribution. It enhances the excretion of drugs commonly used in dogs, and most often affects the brain. Dogs with the MDR1 mutation may suffer adverse reactions to common drugs. Armed with this knowledge, you can provide a better, safer veterinary experience for your dog.

• Create a behavior plan. If you haven't already botched things up in the pet parenting department (wink), knowing your dog's breed(s) can help create a behavior plan that can reduce or eliminate unwanted behaviors and play to your dog's strengths and instincts. There is a reason why English Bulldogs don't make good jogging partners and why your Border Collie must be mentally challenged to stay out of trouble. 

• Create a nutrition plan. Just as humans have individual dietary needs, dogs do, as well (is your dog jumping on the gluten-free train?). Knowing your dog's genetic background can help determine the best nutrition plan for your pooch, which may improve quality of life and longevity.

• Determine the size of your puppy or appropriate weight of your adult dog. By having your puppy tested, you'll be able to determine the approximate size he'll be as an adult. In addition, knowing your dog's genetic background can help determine your pet's ideal weight.

And to think I just wanted to do it for fun!

where can I get wisdom panel 3.0?

I can't wait to see the Wisdom Panel folks this Saturday, December 5th, at the upcoming Holiday Pet Festival in nearby Scottsdale, Arizona. If you'll be attending, you can have your dog swabbed on-site for the discounted price of $39.99. Or you can purchase a kit to take home for the discounted price of $49.99. That is a sweet deal, as the MSRP is $84.99. If you're not local, you can still get $10 off your online purchase on the Wisdom Panel web site by using code Holidays2015. Perhaps you're looking for that unusual gift to give your dog or dog lover?

Stay tuned to hear about our experience at the Holiday Pet Festival and to find out what N.A.S.H.A.'s mutt make-up is. I can't wait! Maybe she's a pure-bred Saint Bernard!

Visit Wisdom Panel on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Have you had your dog's DNA tested? Were you surprised with the results?


doggie dna analysis: ava's story

the dogs of tulum

My family and I just returned from the vacation of a lifetime. We traveled to Tulum, Mexico for a special wedding of friends who are family (you know the kind). We saw beautiful beaches, sailed on a catamaran, jumped off a cliff into a cenote, explored ancient costal ruins, and ate exquisite foods. We spent time with each other and met new friends, and my junior pet sitters were ring bearer and flower girl on the big day. 

All the while, I was checking out the dogs. 

I didn't miss out on any of the human fun, mind you, but I just couldn't get enough of the special canines of Tulum.

The Dogs of Tulum–Well Minded

The Dogs of Tulum–Well Minded

If you're wrinkling your brow about where Tulum is, it's about a two-hour drive south of Cancun on the Caribbean side of Mexico.  Map source: kateschelter.com

If you're wrinkling your brow about where Tulum is, it's about a two-hour drive south of Cancun on the Caribbean side of Mexico. Map source: kateschelter.com

I've advocated before about the importance of leashes, and I'm a firm believer that dogs should be leashed unless in a designated off-leash area. Basically all of Tulum is off-leash, and dogs roam free. And it's fine. They all get along and behave themselves, and their local owners have them under complete control. The dogs are friendly and fun and free, which is basically the definition of the place. We didn't wear shoes for five days. That's just how it is. 

Meet some of my favorite dogs of Tulum.

the ones with the coconuts

We saw these two roaming the beach frequently. They always stuck together, and though they had a lot of room to walk the beach freely, they never strayed too far from their owners, a nice couple just enjoying the beach and their cocktails. The light brown shaggy one reminded me of an over sized N.A.S.H.A. She liked to munch coconut husks, while her brother, the brindle bully mix, loved to play fetch with them. He would bark at tourists walking by, and we'd all pitch in to keep the game going. 

the one at the docks

We walked in as a group, pumped up for our catamaran cruise, and there lay an adorable Scottish Terrier. He didn't pay any attention to us, at first. In fact, we had to step over and around him to get through the entry and onto our boat, but he eventually came around and gave us some love.

the wedding crashers

We kept seeing this pair of yellow labs on the beach with their man. They were playful and casual and friendly, and just a joy to be around. I guess they figured they were part of our group, because they decided to attend the wedding, invite or not. Thankfully, they restrained themselves until the vows were said.

The end.

find quality and nostalgia with vera™ premium pet treats #sponsored

If you know me, you know how selective I am about the dog treats I offer for my dog, N.A.S.H.A. and the furry friends I pet sit. You also know that N.A.S.H.A. is even pickier than I am. I have learned to embrace her judgmental tendencies and now consider them an asset for us and for you. We're only bringing you the best of the best when we recommend dog treats. We've recently discovered Vera™ premium dog treats. They are crafted with quality ingredients and evoke the timeless tradition of your local deli, even down to the paper wrap and twine-printed packaging. 

I am being compensated for helping to spread the word about Vera. Well Minded only shares information we feel is relevant to our readers. All opinions are my own. Vera is not responsible for the content of this article.

what's so great about vera premium dog treats?

Vera claims to provide the "flavor experience of a lifetime," and, according to N.A.S.H.A., that's very true. She can't get enough. But before I even let her smell a new treat, I make sure it's of the highest quality (I'm still teaching her how to do thorough research). I believe that what's not in our dog treats is as important as what is in them. What's so great about Vera premium dog treats?

• crafted with quality, wholesome, healthy ingredients

• 95% meat

• no artificial colors or preservatives

• no animal by-products

• no fillers, wheat, corn, or soy

• made in Ireland

what we thought

N.A.S.H.A. was a bit too excited about the Vera treats. We tried the chicken fillets and the beef fillets, and she just about lost her marbles over both of them. When I opened the package, she immediately started cycling through her repertoire of tricks in hopes that one would trigger my hand to open and release the goods.  

N.A.S.H.A. eagerly shows off "up" without being asked. This is a whole treat, but they are easily broken apart for smaller dogs like ours.

N.A.S.H.A. eagerly shows off "up" without being asked. This is a whole treat, but they are easily broken apart for smaller dogs like ours.

The treats are pretty big for N.A.S.H.A., but they are easily broken in whatever size. Being only eleven pounds, we get about five breaks out of one treat. A whole piece would be great for larger dogs.

what, where, and how

Vera treats are available at PetCo, and they come in 12- and 22-ounce packages in the following varieties:

• chicken fillets

• beef fillets

• duck fillets

• sausage links

• burger patties

• joint care chicken fillets

• skin & coat chicken & salmon fillets

We're thrilled to have discovered Vera Premium Pet Treats! Have you tried these healthy, wholesome delights?

Visit Vera on Facebook and Twitter.