All canines see the world through their mouths and noses but wolfdogs seem to surpass all dog breeds in the use of their mouths. It is important to understand that mouthing is a normal, natural behavior and your cute little wolfdog really isn’t out to eat you limb by limb and it probably isn’t going to lead to some kind of awful aggressiveness. The wolf and the wolfdog are highly social animals with complex ways of communicating to one another and to us. They use their mouths to solicit attention, beg for food, communicate excitement and affection and to show dislike or discomfort. So mouthing is an unavoidable part of puppy development and comes with the territory when we bring a wolfdog home.
Mouthing is not the same as nipping or biting. It is an attention seeking behavior. The wolfdog will take your hands, fingers, arms, toes or head in his mouth and either hold you or gum you to death. The trouble is when it is done by a puppy their little needle teeth and jaws haven’t quite learned how to mouth gently or in an inhibited bite. So it often tears our thin skin or bruises us.
We receive a lot of desperate calls from unsuspecting new wolfdog owners when the pup turns about 4 months old and the puppy teeth begin to fall out and the adult teeth begin to cut through the gums. It seems at this stage of development the usual mouthing becomes a whole new game and many wolfdogs wind up being tossed aside during this period. Mouthing can escalate again between 8-9 months when the adult molars begin to set in the jaw and they want to chew on everything in sight. So, early bite inhibition training is essential long before these phases kick in.
The early bonding requirements for wolfdogs have often dictated that puppies are pulled from their dam and the litter early to avoid socialization problems. The trouble with being pulled early is the puppy has difficulty learning the proper use of their mouths and they do not receive the crucial discipline for mouthing too hard or excessively from the dam. This leaves us to find the right method that will instill in the wolfdog that heavy mouthing is not ok. Some wolfdog owners take a hard line and do not allow any teeth on skin. Since this seems to be such a vital communication for wolfdogs we take a slightly different stance. We allow them to mouth, but they have to learn to do it in a gentle manner.
When you watch a litter of puppies jaw sparring and mouthing one another you will often hear one let out a loud yelp when it has been bitten too hard. This is the signal for the other to let up or stop and quickly establishes what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. The dam will often reprimand the puppy who bites too hard or just doesn’t know when to quit. We can learn a lot by watching what goes on during this early puppy development and put it to use to teach the wolfdog how to be gentle and how much jaw pressure is acceptable.
To learn some of the techniques we use to teach gentle mouthing please visit the bite inhibition page.