Nipping, also called play biting or mouthing, is a puppy’s instinct to take a quick, sharp bite without any intention to harm. Although you may feel a pinch from puppy teeth, it’s not a symptom of aggressive behavior. Because of their young age, puppies are still teething and may lack self-control.
Like human babies, puppies learn about the world around them by jawing at objects or playing too rough. But often, they are not aware that their teeth and strength can harm people.
Why do puppies nip?
According to the American Kennel Club, young puppies learn bite inhibition from their mothers and littermates. If puppies bite while nursing, the mom nips them and leaves. When they bite a sibling too hard, the other puppy will jump up and yelp. This way, puppies learn that there are consequences for biting.
If they continue to nip after leaving the litter, it is now up to you to teach bite inhibition to your puppy. First, you must teach your pup that people and puppies have different skins. When opening his mouth, he must be very gentle.
One goal of puppy training is to keep your pup from biting people.
The ASPCA recommends this method:
- During puppy training, if your puppy plays with your hand using his mouth and starts to bear down, you must correct him.
- When he bites, make a loud yelp or verbal interrupter and let your hand go limp – imitating the behavior of puppies who are biting too hard during play.
- Praise your puppy once he stops biting.
- Then, it is important to redirect your puppy to a more appropriate object to bite such as a toy.
Another tactic is to be proactive to give the chew toy while praising the biting on the toy so that your puppy knows that is the best behavior. However, if your pup reaches back for your hand while you are playing, you must replace your hand with a toy. Over time, pups will learn that it’s acceptable to bite a toy but not your hand.
Teach your puppy to be gentle
If you watch a litter of puppies playing you will notice a lot of pouncing, chasing, wrestling and biting. When a puppy bites a sibling too hard, the other puppy will let out a loud yelp and stop playing. This should be enough to stop the offender.
After a while, the playmates will start pouncing and biting again. Through this interaction, puppies learn how to control the intensity of their bites so as not to hurt someone else. If puppies can teach each other how to be gentle, humans can teach them too.
Some behaviorists and trainers believe that a dog who has learned bite inhibition will be less likely to bite people.
Divert your puppy’s attention when he bites
Puppies tend to put their mouth on your hands when you stroke, pat or scratch them. When your puppy starts to chew your fingers or toes, give him a toy or chew bone to redirect this behavior after interrupting the nipping.
If your puppy gets too excited when you pet him, you can briefly remove your hands and stop petting. Once he calms down, continue the petting. This will teach your puppy to accept touching without responding with its mouth.
Instead of rough play, encourage noncontact forms of exercise such as fetch or tug-of-war. If your pup starts to play-bite, correct him and redirect him to the tug toy. Eventually, he will learn to look for a toy when he feels like mouthing.
Carry his favorite toys with you while you are training them. For example, if your puppy ambushes you and bites your feet and ankles, stop moving. Before you give him his toy, it is important for you to interrupt the behavior with a yelp or verbal interrupter before giving him the toy. You do not want your puppy to think that he is being rewarded with the toy for biting too hard on you.
If you do not have his toy with you, you can always give your puppy a better behavior to do after you interrupt the biting. For example, when your puppy stops the nipping, tell him to sit. Then, praise him when he does!
Repeat until your pooch stops mouthing your feet or ankles.
The key is to provide plenty of toys and other interesting things for him to play with so he does not go after your skin or your clothes.
When he is old enough to socialize, give your pup plenty of time to play with friendly, vaccinated dogs. Socialization is vital for puppy development. If puppies spend a lot of time and energy playing with other dogs, they will feel less motivated to play rough with you.
Playful mouthing is normal behavior for a young puppy. It can take time to make it stop the habit – be patient.
Contact an experienced dog trainer in St. Louis, Mo.
With the right approach, practice and positive reinforcement, you can teach your puppy to be gentle and prepare him for a lifetime of good behavior.
If your puppy continues to nip even after following these strategies, consider reaching out to a professional dog trainer. Enrolling him in a good puppy class with supervised puppy training and playtime can help him learn some important new skills. Ask about our training programs. Call us today at 636-352-3104 or email email@example.com.