Anyone who’s ever been nipped by a playful puppy can tell you how sharp those little pointy teeth can be. As if the pain of a puppy bite weren’t bad enough, one of the problems with puppies who nip is that they often grow up into big dogs that bite. That’s why it’s so important to teach your dog not to nip from a very young age.
Remember that there’s a big difference between gnawing and nipping. Gnawing occurs primarily because your puppy is teething. The pressure of something rubbing against the dog’s gums helps the new teeth work their way through. Gnawing can help ease the pain associated with teething and shouldn’t be discouraged.
Nipping, on the other hand, occurs when a puppy gets overly excited while playing and bites the person on the other end of the toy. Sometimes playing with a toy isn’t even a factor. Puppies have been known to just gallop across a room and bite someone because it looks like fun.
Some puppies eventually grow out of the nipping stage, but biting dogs are too serious a problem to leave this to chance. You need to be proactive to assure you don’t end up with a dog who will be a danger to your family and neighbors.
It will take patience and consistency on your part to convince your dog that nipping isn’t as much fun as he or she thinks it is. The basic idea is that you want your puppy to develop what is known as a “soft” mouth. What that means is that it’s okay for the puppy to take things in their mouths – after all, it’s what dogs do – but, he or she needs to learn not to use the teeth.
There are several methods you can use, so if one doesn’t work after a few weeks, try another until you find out what works well for your little crocodile-mouthed puppy.
If you’ve ever watched puppies play together, they will often bite each other as they wrestle, until the point when one puppy yelps in pain. If you can replicate this cycle, your puppy will soon learn that his or her biting hurts! If your puppy nips at you, immediately withdraw your hand and say “Oww” very loudly and in a high-pitched voice.
Refusing to play with the puppy for a short time, a sort of puppy time-out, will help the dog learn you are serious. They want nothing more than to please you and to play with you, so they will try to get you involved in the game again, but you must take a break for a few minutes before you start up again. Repeat this process every time the puppy puts his or her mouth on you.
While your puppy is in time-out, it is sufficient to just avoid engaging with him or her. There is no need to spank the dog, nor should you put the animal in his or her crate. You don’t want your puppy to associate the crate with punishment, as it should be a place of safety where the dog can go to get away from it all.
As part of your training and socialization process with the puppy, you should be teaching the “leave it” command. This is important for whatever your puppy decides to pick up, so you can use it when he or she picks up your hand or your toe, as well.
Check out our doggies den for more advice on socializing your dog.
A second method is to substitute appropriate things to chew whenever your dog bites something inappropriate. If your dog bites at your hand, say “No” and hand him or her a chew toy. When the dog bites down on the toy, praise and reward the behavior. Whenever you catch your dog choosing an appropriate chew toy without your directing him or her to it, make sure you also praise and reward the animal.
Although most training should be positive, there are some aversive methods you can use if the puppy isn’t responding to your positive efforts.
One technique is to wear gloves that you have coated with something like bitter apple whenever you play with the puppy. Biting into the glove will produce a foul taste in the puppy’s mouth, and he or she will soon learn that biting is not a good thing.
You might also try keeping a spray bottle handy and spraying the dog’s face with a stream of water whenever nipping occurs. Alternatively, you can place several pennies in an aluminum can and shake the can whenever the puppy bites. Most dogs don’t like this noise and will usually stop whatever they are doing when they hear it.
Using one or more of these methods consistently should help you extinguish your puppy’s nipping behaviors, leaving you with a much safer adult dog in the end. For more information on this important topic, go to the Humane Society’s article on puppy nipping, or see what Drs. Daniel Estep and Suzanne Hetts of Animal Behavior Associates have to say about it.
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