Nipping is one of the top behavioral issues that puppy owners request help with. What is up with those
sharp puppy teeth?
Nipping is a normal canine behavior; dogs use their mouths the way we use our hands. Puppies are especially mouthy as they explore their new world using their mouths. One of the most important things a puppy needs to learn is bite inhibition, which is the agility to mouth without hurting or causing damage. Puppies begin learning bite inhibition by playing with their littermates, which is why it is critically important that they not leave the litter too early. Once they get placed in a human home, it’s up to us to continue this training.
The suggested method to deal with a puppy sharply biting your hand while reaching or petting him is to immediately and firmly say “ouch,” remove your hand and turn away and ignore your puppy for a few seconds. This teaches the puppy that biting too sharply makes you – his playmate – go away.
But what if your puppy decides to nip and bite at your legs instead?
Puppy biting/nipping your feet and ankles
The first basic obedience cue your puppy should learn is “sit.” (Click here for help on teaching this cue.)
Get into the habit of carrying a tug toy in your pocket or have a tug toy close by in each room your puppy occupies. If your puppy nips your ankles, stand perfectly still until your puppy stops mouthing you. The second he stops, redirect your puppy by asking him to sit – if your puppy is sitting, he can’t nip. Immediately give your puppy something appropriate to chew on.
If the biting escalates, leave the room for 30 seconds and when you return, calmly continue your interaction with your puppy. If you have a puppy pen, you could also step inside the pen or quickly pick the puppy up and place him into the pen for a short “time out.” Be sure to give your puppy something to chew on (like a stuffed Kong, bully stick, deer antler or other favorite chew). This teaches your puppy what items are OK to chew. Chewing also helps calm your puppy to calm down.
Another option is to attach a lightweight leash on your puppies’ collar to drag around. If need be, you can grab the leash and lead him to a quiet area for a short “time out.”
Pre-empt the nipping by playing the “find it” game
First, teach your puppy the “find it” game. Toss a treat to the right, close by at first so it’s very obvious to the puppy where the treat went and say the cue “FIND IT.” Once he finds the treat (and eats it), he will probably look back at you in anticipation. Now toss a treat off to the left, close by so it’s obvious to the puppy where the treat went and repeat the cue “find it.” Repeat, tossing treats to the left and right, further and further away until the puppy gets good at locating the treat.
Once your dog knows the “find it” game, always have treats handy in your pocket. If it looks like he is going to nip/bite your legs, IMMEDIATELY say “find it” and toss the treat to redirect his attention away from your legs to playing the game.
Train your dog to get used to movement
Most puppies find movement irresistible. Try these games to get your dog used to movement.
Hand feed your puppy part of his meal. Ask your dog to sit and directly feed your dog hand to mouth. Mix it up by moving your hand around, slowly at first, before feeding. If your dog breaks the sit, ask him to sit again and try again with less movement.
Touch. Teach your dog the “touch” cue. This teaches your dog to “punch” your (moving) hand with his nose instead of nipping at it. Click here to learn how to teach your dog the "touch" cue.
Accept reaching hands. Reach towards your dog with one hand while you treat out of the other hand. Mix up actually touching parts of your dog’s head with just moving your hand/arm near your dog.
Impulse control. Put your puppy behind a gate so he can see you but not get to you. (If you don’t have a puppy gate, try tethering your dog to a heavy piece of furniture.) The goal is that your puppy stays in a sit and gets rewarded for not breaking the sit. Approach your puppy and if he jumps, turn around and walk away. Repeat until the puppy can remain seated and take a treat. Gradually start adding more movement, rewarding your dog for staying seated or putting him back in a sit while you try again with less movement.
Walking inside. Grab a handful of treats in your right hand (or place in a pocket.) Pat your left leg to get your dog in “heel” position on your left and then start walking briskly thru the house, rewarding your dog with treats out of your left hand. Not only does this exercise teach your dog not to nip at your feet while you’re walking, it also teaches him to walk nicely next to you in heel position.
Walking outside. In addition to teaching your dog a walking cue (like “let’s go”), also teach him a cue that gives him permission to sniff (free dog). Sniffing puts your puppies’ brain in gear! If your puppy starts nipping at your legs while walking, first try walking faster and vary the pace. Be unpredictable by doing several U-turns in a row. If this doesn’t work, hold the leash out and away from your body to keep him from being able to get to your pants legs. Try putting a short section of PVC pipe near the bottom of the leash to help keep the puppy a short distance away from you.
Structured tug. The key with tug is to break up your game into multiple short 5-10 second sessions. If at ANY TIME, the puppies mouth misses and bites your hand, game over! Firmly remove the tug and put it away.
Games to tire your puppy out without getting him aroused
Nose works. Another great way to make your puppy “think” is doing some nose works with him. Search YouTube for “nose work for your dog” to get to this link: https://youtu.be/otPCbMG_ElQ
Work for food. Consider making your puppy work for his food; feed your puppy his meals in a stuffed Kong or using a “snuffle mat.” (Go to CHEWY.COM or AMAZON and search on “snuffle mat” to see what this looks like and how it works.)
Dog puzzles. Search on AMAZON for dog puzzles; these puzzles are a GREAT way to entertain your puppy. If he starts to get nippy, pull one of these out to redirect him.
Dog play dates. Setting up a play date with an older dog can help teach a puppy not to bite too hard 😊. If you set up a play date with another puppy, be sure to monitor the play and break the sessions up into small play intervals.