In my 7 years of working as paid and volunteer staff in dog and cat kennels, I have been part of a training team in helping a dozen dogs from being "mouthy." Now I am not a certified dog trainer, but I was called a trainer and followed instructions from a dog trainer professional. If you are experiencing problems with mouthy dog(s), call your veterinarian or professional dog trainer for help. This article serves as a first step in helping YOU and YOUR DOG, because you both need help with the mouthy animal.
FIRST, what I have found out, is that most of these dogs are quite dysfunctional and are adults but behaving as puppies. They never had instruction in "NO" or "STOP." They lacked simple obedience training and alpha leadership in the home. Lots of times the dogs are hyper and out of control, mirroring the dog owners themselves.
I have seen a man working as a volunteer in the shelter, with NO EXPERIENCE except an hour of volunteer training and some simple rules with dogs, as he entered a cage with a 150 pound American Bulldog. This dog was excessive mouthy. The dog grabbed at hands, would bite your shirt, jumped up and was a hassle to everyone. His size intimidated most onlookers, but those with even small poodles that knew how to correct behavior were not afraid of him.
The man was told by a dog trainer to "not make eye contact" and ignore him, just walk around the cage until you can see a change in behavior. It was AMAZING, as the man entered the cage. At first, he was very uncomfortable as the dog nipped at his hands, but the man held his hands close to his chest as instructed. The dog kept bothering the man, snapping at his shirt. The man yelled, "NO" and pushed the dog's head down several times when the dog snapped. The man just kept walking slowly around the cage ignoring the dog.
Most amazing, the dog stopped snapping and begged for attention and stopped being mouthy, but this was not a permanent cure, it had to be done by every worker in the kennel. I was astounded because I observed the man (as my trainer) and got the courage up to enter the cage myself and copy the man's behavior. It was very uncomfortable at first, as the dog snapped at my hands and I got some red marks, but I held them up near my chest. I kept telling the dog, "NO" when he snapped and did not make eye contact with him. After several minutes of walking around the cage, and stopping and starting, the dog stopped being mouthy.
On another occasion, I helped an American Bulldog and a Beagle with the same behaviors using similar techniques. However, in this training situation, the dog instructor had us use dog treats and drop them on the floor. Our goal was to keep them close to the floor so they would not jump up and "snap." Eventually you could go in the cage and not have to use food, but just verbal commands pointing to the floor. The American Bulldog when I first met him bit me on the stomach and grabbed my belt. It too, was uncomfortable at first, but this is not bite aggression, so I knew I was not going to die in the cage with this huge animal! ALL these dogs were not displaying any aggression at all. They were friendly, they just needed help with their jaws. The American Bulldog became a "floor dog" and waited for his treat or verbal command when people would enter his cage; something here was working.
I would say, what we have here is "gaining control over the dog." All we are doing is simple obedience training. The more we got the dogs to SIT and STAY as we entered the cage, the more the dog mouthiness was reduced. It is like they first began to follow instructions for the first time in their lives.
On Tug-o-War games, I would not use this game if playing outside or in the cage. Especially with Pit Bull Terriers or Boxers, or Bulldogs; strong dogs that like to pull on ropes. On a few games with strong dogs, I was challenged by the dogs and saw the fire in their eyes. They were growling and wanted the rope and it became a little dangerous. On the puppies, some of them would pull so hard, their baby teeth would come out-- so I stopped altogether in any Tug-o-War game with dogs.
It even got challenging on several times when strong dogs grabbed the leash and would not let go, trying to back out of their collars. On a dog walk, I had a Pit Bull that was determined to have the leash and my hand was pretty close to the leash near his mouth. It got to where a neighbor came out (during a walk) and we had to rope him up around his neck and chest to get him back to the kennel. So I have seen a lot of mouthy dogs go for the leash.
With the leash grabbing, I made a small leash with nothing more than a handle and about 3 inches of leash; the dog was being walked by a handle (from an old leash). This kept the dog from grabbing the leash and trying to get it from me. The change of behavior on this dog was amazing. He got the message, and we walked close, side by side. I was very confident and not afraid he was going to get the leash, because there was no leash to grab. Now, this may not be a permanent solution, but it was the best we had at the time. You have to get creative in working with animals.
In conclusion, if you have mouthy dogs I would talk to a professional dog trainer or veterinarian. You can also read many dog training books and talk to obedience trainers. Probably the best bet, is to get the dogs at an early age, to dog school. BUT if they are adult dogs and grabbing and being mouthy, better get the professional help immediately.
The moral of the story is... I saw miracles with the dogs in a few minutes of dog obedience training. Even the ignoring of the dog's mouthy behavior inside the cage, I could see an improvement. It seems that just a little goes a long way when working with animals. It would be wise to become the alpha leader of the dog in the home and have control over the dog(s). Obedience training can be helpful. Someone has to step up and be the leader, or the dog will rule over the master.
About Author / Additional Info:
I have worked with dogs for 7 years as a dog walker, bather, grooming assistant, and other kennel duties.