Puppies explore with their mouths. They don’t have fingers or opposable thumbs to investigate items, so everything goes in the mouth. Most of the time, if the environment is enriched enough with appropriate items for the puppy to play with and chew on, including novel items to maintain interest, they will choose to interact with these objects or return to them quickly after investigating other things. If we respond to them putting items in their mouth or stealing things either verbally or by trying to take the item from them/remove it from their mouths, we risk creating problems. The puppy is likely to start off by running away with the item as soon as it perceives someone else is interested in it. This may be an attempt to maintain access to it (because our interest has automatically increased the value of that item, so it must be worth keeping!) or because the game of being chased is super fun! Persistently taking items from a puppy can also cause them to start guarding their treasure using more obvious signals. My advice is:
– Keep items unsuitable for puppy out of reach.
– Provide loads of appropriate items of various textures, sounds, shapes, taste etc for them to explore, play with and chew on. Novelty is important. Give them loads of attention when they choose to interact with these!
– Observe your pup. If they put something (non-valuable to you or not dangerous to them) in their mouths, they might move on quickly of their own accord. Showing no interest is the ideal response.
– If the item is valuable or potentially dangerous, young puppies are very easy to distract away onto a more appropriate item.
If they start eating something inappropriate:
1. Try not to make a big deal of it – don’t run towards them and create a game of chase or make a lot of verbal commotion. Accept that dogs do explore things with their mouths and scavenging is a normal dog behaviour…
2. Keep an eye on them and reward them if they make the choice to investigate and move away of their own accord
If they start tucking in, a solid recall comes in super handy. After all, you’re just recalling away from a distraction. They might bring the item with them – that’s ok…
Reinforce the super duper recall with something super duper and they will spit the item out anticipating their reward.