Friendly and feisty, little puppies nip for a few reasons; they are teething, playing or they want to get your attention. My Uncle Jimmy nips from a bottle, but that is a completely different story. If you have acquired yourself a nipper, not to worry, in time most puppies will grow out of this behavior on their own. Other dogs, such as some of those bred for herding, nip as a herding instinct. They use this behavior to round up their animal charges, other animals, family members, including those who are human.

While your dog is working through the nipping stage, you will want to avoid punishing or correcting your dog because this could eventually result in a strained relationship down the road. However, you will want to teach your puppy how delicate human skin is. Let your dog test it out and give him feedback. You can simply indicate your discomfort when he bites too hard, by using and exclamation, such as, “yipe!”,youch!”, or “Bowie!” This in addition to a physical display of your pain by pulling back your hand, calf or ankle, will usually be enough for your dog to understand that it is not an acceptable behavior.

After this action, it is important to cease offering any further attention towards your dog, because this offers the possibility that the added attention will reinforce the negative behavior. If you act increasingly more sensitive to the nips, he will begin to understand that we humans are very sensitive, and will quickly respond with a sudden vocal and physical display of discomfort.

This is a very easy behavior to modify because we know the motivation behind it. The puppy wants to play and chew, and who is to blame him for this? Remember, it is important to give your dog access to a variety of chew-toys, and when he nips, respond accordingly, then immediately walk away and ignore him. If he follows you, and nips at your heels, give your dog a time out. Afterward, when your dog is relaxed, calm and in a gentle disposition, stay and play with him. Use the utmost patience with your puppy during this time, and keep in mind that this behavior will eventually pass.

Herding dogs will not so easily be dissuaded, though. For these breeds, it is not always possible to curb this behavior entirely, but you can certainly limit or soften it, eventually making them understand that nipping humans is a no-no, and very painful. To address this more thoroughly, between the ages of four to five months herding dogs can be enrolled in behavioral classes. This will reinforce your training and boost what you are training at home.

Preventing the “Nippage”

– Always have a chew toy in your hand when you are playing with your puppy. This way he learns that the right thing to bite and chew is the toy, and is not your hands, or any other part of your body.

– Get rid of your puppy’s excess energy by exercising him at least an hour each day. As a result, he will have no energy remaining to nip.

– Make sure he is getting adequate rest and that he is not cranky from lack of sleep. Twelve hours per day is good for dogs, and it seems for teenagers as well.

– Always have lots of interesting chew toys available to help your puppy to cope during the teething process.

– Teach your kids not to run away screaming from nipping puppies. They should walk away quietly, or simply stay still. Children should never be left unsupervised when around dogs.

– Play with your puppy in his gated puppy area. This makes it easier to walk away if he will not stop biting or mouthing you. This quickly reinforces his understanding that hard bites end play sessions.

– As a last resort, when the other interventions and methods discussed above are not working, you should increase the frequency of your use of a tieback to hold your dog in place, within a gated or time out area. If your dog is out of control with nipping or biting, and you have not yet trained him that biting is an unacceptable behavior, you may have to use this method until he is fully trained. For example, you may want to use this when guests are over, or if you simply need a break. Always use a tieback while your dog is under supervision, and never leave him tied up alone. The tieback is a useful method and can be utilized as a tool of intervention when addressing other attention getting behaviors like jumping, barking, and the dreaded leg humping.

The best option during this time, early in his training, is to place him in a room with a baby gate in the doorway.

Instructing Around the “Nippage”

– Play with your dog and praise him for being gentle. When he nips say, “yipe!” mimicking the sound of an injured puppy, and then immediately walk away. After the nipping, wait one minute and then return to give him another chance at play, or simply remain in your presence without nipping. Practice this for two or three minutes, remembering to give everyone present or those who will have daily contact with him a chance to train him through play. It is crucial that puppies do not receive any reward for nipping. After an inappropriate bite or nip, all physical contact needs to be abruptly stopped, and quick and complete separation needs to take place so that your puppy receives a clear message. 

– After your puppy begins to understand that bites hurt, and if he begins to give you a softer bite, continue to act hurt, even if it doesn’t. In time, your dog will understand that only the slightest pressures by mouth are permissible during play sessions. Continue practicing this until your puppy is only using the softest of mouths, and placing limited tension upon your skin.

– Next, the goal is to decrease the frequency of mouthing. You can use the verbal cues of quit or off to signal that his mouth needs to release your appendage. Insist that the amount of time your puppy uses his mouth on you needs to decrease in duration, as well as the severity of pressure needs to decrease. If you need incentive, use kibble or liver to reward after you command and he obeys. Another reward for your puppy when releasing you from his mouth grasp is to give him a chew or chew-toy stuffed with food.

– The desired outcome of this training is for your puppy to understand that mouthing any human, if done at all, should be executed with the utmost care, and in such a manner, that without question the pressure will not inflict pain or damage.

– Continue the training using the verbal cue of quit, until quit becomes a well-understood command, and your dog consistently complies when it is used. Interject breaks every 20-30 seconds when playing and any type of mouthing is occurring. The calm moments will allow excitement to wane, and will help to reduce the chances of your dog excitably clamping down. Practice this frequently, and as a part of your regular training practice schedule. The result from successful training and knowing that your dog will release upon command will give you piece of mind.

– If you have children, or are worried about the potential for injury due to biting, you can continue training in a way that your dog knows that mouthing is not permitted under any circumstance. This level of training permits you from having to instruct a permissible mouthing pressure. This will result in a reduction of your anxiety whenever your dog is engaged in playing with your family or friends. This of course nearly eliminates the potential for biting accidents to occur.

Remain vigilant when visitors are playing with your dog. Monitor the play, and be especially attentive to the quality of the interaction, being alert that the session is not escalating into a rough and potentially forceful situation in which your dog might choose to use his mouth in an aggressive or harmful way.

You will need to decide the rules of engagement, and it will be your responsibility that others understand these rules. To avoid harm or injury it will be necessary for you to instruct visitors and family prior to play.

~ Paws On – Paws Off ~