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Nip "Nipping" in the Bud

Behavior and Training  •   Jasey Day  •   Dec 07, 2015


“Shark teeth! Ouch!” Ok, so not really shark teeth…but a puppy’s teeth may feel like sharp little shark teeth! Puppy nipping, or teeth on human skin or clothing, is a behavior that we need to train our pups not to do.

Dogs have amazing control of their jaw muscles. They must learn this “bite inhibition” at a young age. We see other dogs teaching each other this muscle coordination – how to be gentle with their mouths – during puppy play. If a puppy is too rough with another puppy (the “friend” puppy) during play, the “friend” will yelp and run away. The puppy learns that he must play softer and calmer if he wants to keep playing with his friend.

Let’s use this same concept to teach our dogs how to interact with us humans. I recommend teaching your pup that teeth on human skin or clothing is never okay. To do this, you must yelp (like a dog! Yes, really!) or say “ouch!” the moment the puppy puts his teeth on skin or clothing. Then leave the room for 10 seconds - just 10 seconds, not 10 minutes! Thus, the puppy learns that he loses his best friend (you!) if he plays too rough. The puppy thinks, “Wow, humans are so sensitive. I need to be gentler if I want to keep playing!”

Some additional tips include the following:

  1. Yelp or say “ouch” even if the dog accidentally nipped you.

  2. Do not allow the dog to nip you several times and then leave the room; you must leave the room after the first nip!

  3. To leave the room, you may need to step over a baby gate so the puppy cannot follow you.

  4. If the puppy chases you out of the room and nips at your heels, you may want your dog to be on leash and have another family member smoothly catch the leash so your dog cannot follow you. (Please never leave a dog dragging a leash unattended – the dog could get dangerously tangled!)

  5. Have all humans who interact with your puppy follow this method of “ouch and leave the room.”

And don’t forget - a tired puppy is a good puppy! Puppies offer fewer behaviors that we deem undesirable when they tired and content. Be sure to provide lots of stimulation, such as:

  1. Physical exercise. This includes walks and play time, such as fetch, tug, doggie camp or play dates with other dogs.

  2. Mental exercise. This includes training sessions and brain games like doggie puzzles. Consider taking your dog to a puppy or family pet obedience class!

  3. Appropriate and safe things to chew. Always supervise your dog when you first give him a new type of toy or chewy. Some examples of safe toys for some dogs may include Nylabones and Kong toys. Some dogs do well with green dental chewies or chewies that are treated with enzymes to reduce the risk of a blockage if ingested in large pieces; both of these types of chewies are often sold at veterinary clinics. Ask your veterinarian for other safe chewing options.

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