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Why Do German Shepherds Mouth? (a.k.a. Play Biting)

Mouthing is a natural behavior in canines. They will mouth your hand and other dogs when playing, but have you ever wondered why your German Shepherd seems to be over the top when using their mouth and play biting?

German Shepherds are a mouthy breed due to their breeding purpose – which was to herd sheep and other livestock. That instinct has continued through the years. They would use their mouths to herd the sheep in the right direction, so when they mouth you, they are mimicking that behavior.

My German Shepherd is exceptionally mouthy, especially when playing with other dogs. She will place her mouth around the other dog’s neck during rough play and will also gently nibble their ears. She will also mouth my heels during playtimes.

However, genetics is only one reason for your doggos mouthiness. If you want to know more about why German Shepherds mouth and are struggling to correct this behavior, continue reading for tips that will help you. 

Two GSD Puppies mouthing during play. Are German Shepherds Mouthy?
Two GSD puppies being mouthy during playtime

Why Are German Shepherds Mouthy? 

As mentioned above, there is more than one factor as to why German Shepherds are mouthy. GSDs will put your hand in their mouth because they:

  • Are genetically predisposed
  • Have a strong prey drive
  • Are naturally explorative
  • Have been insufficiently socialized and trained
  • Are inadequetly exercised and are bored
  • Are going through the puppy biting phase

Let’s look at these in more detail to help you understand play-biting behavior.

Factor One: What Was The German Shepherd’s Original Purpose? 

As with most dogs, German Shepherds were bred for a purpose. These magnificent dogs were bred and trained to herd and protect various herds of livestock. 

When an animal was wandering away from the herd, the German Shepherds were trained to nip them on certain parts of their body as a warning to get back with the others. 

They were trained to do this in a way that gets the drifter’s attention without doing physical harm to the animal.  

My German Shepherd will sometimes nip at my heels during playtime, mainly when walking away. Essentially she is herding me by mimicking the behavior of her ancestors. She tends to do this when she wants me to play for longer.

Factor Two: Natural Prey Instinct of a German Shepherd

As a result of their herding heritage, German Shepherds have a somewhat overly developed sense of prey. They can’t help it; it’s in their blood. 

They want to chase, hunt, herd and investigate. They are constantly observing and ready to pounce. GSDs are incredibly observant dogs who are typically easy to train when given the correct instruction and care. 

My GSD has a strong prey drive – especially when the squirrels and deer are nearby. There’s no way she isn’t chasing a squirrel if she has one in her sight!

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Factor Three: GSDs are Naturally Explorative with Their Mouth

Although puppies of all breeds are mouthy and like to explore and play with their mouths, the German Shepherd takes that behavior to a whole new level. 

Through their natural drive to play and explore with their mouths, they can become over-excited when stimulated. Excessive stimulation can strengthen their desire and habit of mouthing and play biting if it’s not controlled and dealt with early on. 

Always have an interesting selection of toys available such as KONG toys as these are multi-purpose and provide a range of functions. You can check out this article to see my German Shepherd’s favorites, 5 Best Kong Toys for German Shepherds.

A GSD Mouthing its Owners Hand. Why Do German Shepherds Mouth?

Factor Four: Poor Genetics or Subpar Breeders

Sometimes a dog is bred for its appearance rather than its intelligence. In these cases, the bloodline may not be as pure and, therefore, can affect the dog’s behavior. 

Other times a German Shepherd may be mouthy simply because they came from a breeder who does not correctly socialize and work with their puppies before sending them to their forever homes. 

This is not the case for all breeders. However, some simply see the puppies as a source of income and do not put in the necessary time needed to turn an average puppy into a well-trained dog with a purpose. 

If pups are removed too early from their mother and littermates, they haven’t learned their bite inhibition adequately. They are also at risk of poor behavior, insecurity, and anxiety and, therefore, should not be removed until at least 8-weeks old – more on bite inhibition later in the article.

Factor Five: Insufficient Exercise or Boredom

A GSD who is insufficiently exercised or bored will be extra mouthy. These dogs need a job to do and thrive off lots of physical and mental stimulation.

An adult German Shepherd requires 1.5 to 2 hours of exercise a day. This should be ideally split into two sessions and be a combination of walking, off-leash running, frisbee, agility, and fetch. If boredom sets in, your dog will develop behavior problems such as destructive chewing, digging, excessive barking, and separation anxiety.

If you’re looking for a great way to stimulate your doggos brain, check out the Outward Hound Interactive Puzzle Toy from Amazon. I love this toy as it keeps your GSD interested as he tries to find the treats. It’s the ideal boredom buster, and this toy is very trendy as it gets over 55,000 positive reviews.

Factor Six: Puppy Teething Phase

The final reason why your German Shepherd may be extra mouthy is due to the dreaded teething stage. From around 12 weeks of age, your pup will start to lose his “baby” teeth, and his adult teeth will come through. Teething is generally complete by around six months.

During this phase, your pup’s play biting can become extra annoying if you don’t redirect the behavior and provide a good selection of chew toys that allow your puppy to relieve the soreness of his gums. Check out this article for some cool ideas, 15 Best Chew Toys For German Shepherds.

How do I Stop My German Shepherd from Mouthing? 

Generally, when a German Shepherd is mouthing your hand, it’s an act of affection or a signal that they want some attention and playtime. This is okay if you are in the mood for that sort of activity. However, there are times when the behavior may not be welcomed. 

This is where proper training comes into play. There is a time and place for everything, and your dog must know the difference and be able to follow your commands.  

Although challenging at times, it is possible to stop a German Shepherd from mouthing and play biting. To correct this behavior, you must:

  • Teach bite inhibition
  • Be consistent
  • Use patience
  • Ensure he is well exercised
  • Learn proper training techniques

A recent study confirmed that owners need to primarily understand why their dog is mouthing in the first place before implementing reward-based interventions. In this case, the rewards of attention and treats (edible or toys) successfully reduced mouthing.

When executed correctly, these steps will help you stop your GSD from exhibiting behaviors that you find unfavorable. 

Let’s investigate some of the things you can do to help in your attempt to break your pup’s mouthy behavior

Teach Bite Inhibition

A puppy must learn to control the intensity of his bite – known as bite inhibition.

All young puppies interact with their littermates and mother with their mouths. If they bite too hard during play, their sibling may yelp and suddenly stop playing, sending the message that the play bite was too hard and painful. This usually causes the “offender” to temporarily stop playing, too, as he is surprised by the yelp.

Dogs learn to manage the intensity of their bites through this type of contact, ensuring that no one is hurt, and the game can then continue.

Watch This Amazing Video on Bite Inhibition Training…

Puppy Biting? Learn Bite Inhibition Training!

It’s your job to continue teaching your pup his bite inhibition. When he bites too hard, let out a yelp and immediately stop playing with him to teach him about bite intensity. When he comes to a complete stop, quickly praise him, and reward him with a treat.

When your puppy bites too forcefully, he will learn that you react negatively. When he stops mouthing, he knows that good things will happen.

To learn more on this topic, head over to this article; Disciplining a German Shepherd for Biting: The Do’s & Dont’s.

Consistency Renders Faster Training Results

It is essential to be consistent when training your German Shepherd. If you reward for something one time but not another, it can be confusing. Likewise, if you discipline your GSD for a particular behavior, such as mouthing, do not continue to let him be mouthy a few moments later. 

You need to make it clear that you are in charge, and when you give a command, it must be obeyed and rewarded accordingly. As puppies, rewards need to be delivered consistently to teach them what behavior is acceptable. 

Eventually, you will slowly wean them from food rewards and verbally confirm that you are pleased with their actions. 

Over time the behaviors you desire will become a habit, and you will not have to “bribe” them to do as you wish. That is not to say that the occasional treat is not appreciated. 

Ensure Your German Shepherd Gets Plenty of Exercise

Exercise is an essential part of a German Shepherd’s existence. If you allow a dog to become sedentary, he will get bored. 

A bored dog is not good as boredom leads to destruction and other negative behaviors, including mouthing. 

Read more: 7 Fun Ways to Exercise a German Shepherd Puppy

Patience and Time are Required to Have the Best Relationship

It is super important to know that if you plan on being a German Shepherd owner, you must be able to commit the time that they require to be the awesomely loyal companions that they have the potential to be. 

Along with time, you will need to have a lot of patience. These dogs are highly intelligent, but you must remember that all dogs learn at their own pace, and you must be patient if yours does not pick up as quickly as you would like. 

Remember that age does not always reflect maturity in this breed and many other larger breed dogs. They tend to stay in the “pup stage” a little longer if not appropriately handled at a young age. 

Professional Training Classes to Avoid Picking Up Bad Habits

If you are inexperienced with training a dog and need a helping hand, the best thing is to take at least a few obedience training classes. You will learn how to teach your pup so that you can practice the techniques at home.

If you can do this while your German Shepherd is a puppy, it will help your dog bond and learn good behavior that will last a lifetime. 

Consistency, Patience, and Proper Techniques Get the Job Done

The key to training a German Shepherd is to be consistent and patient, using proper training techniques. When disciplining your German Shepherd, never use physical punishment, yell, or use other aversive methods as this will only cause aggression, fear, and mistrust.

If you prefer, enlist the help of a trainer, and you and your companion will have a much better and calmer existence. 

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