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All puppies are going to go through a stage of nipping.  Puppies don't have hands to help them explore the world around them, so naturally they are going to grab, taste and tug on anything new that is introduced to them.  Their mouth is their hands, so we need to help them understand from a young age what is acceptable to put their mouth on and what is not.  Please note that nipping may become worse around teething time as it is uncomfortable for the pup to grow in those adult teeth.  Refer to our post on Puppy Teething and how to help minimize the nipping with management of their pain.

Some puppies will go through a more intense period because of their genetics.  Dog breeds that are a working breed are more likely to have a more intense nip stage.  Examples: herding dogs: boarder collies, Australian shepherds, cattle dogs, etc; working dogs: German Shepherds, Malinois, Belgian Shepherds, etc.

There are a few different methods that we can try to help your pup understand that teeth on skin is not acceptable.  I will list the methods from least to most aversive for the pup.  This doesn't mean that we are going to abuse the dog - they are a puppy and need gentle guidance in order for them to understand what we want from them.

1. Yelp

When your pup is playing with you, if they miss the toy or intentionally nip your hands, yelp like a pup.  When puppies are with their litter mates, they use a squeal to show their brothers and sisters when they are being too rough.  If your pup nips you - let out a yelp.  Try to make it high pitched so that it catches them off guard.  The point of this is to startle the pup and get them to reassess the situation themselves.  If yelping alone doesn't work, you can combine it with any of the following options as well.

2. Stop all interaction

The likelihood is that your puppy is overexcited when they start nipping, so ending interaction with them can be a very helpful tool.  This can help them calm down.  If you are in the middle of playing with the pup and they nip, walk away.  By taking away the fun, you are telling them that this isn't acceptable behavior.  You don't have to stop for long - just long enough for the pup to miss the fun they were having with you.  When you go back to playing, encourage them to play with or mouth toys instead of you and if they nip again, stop again.

3. Time Out

This is generally a last resort and we want to avoid this if possible.  There is nothing wrong with a time out - it gives the puppy time to calm down before trying to play again.  There are a few rules when it comes to a time out.
    - Do not use their crate or "safe place".  We don't want to muddy their view of their kennel.  We want the kennel to be a safe place for them to retreat to if they are feeling insecure or just need some quiet time.  Sometimes, if you use the crate as punishment, the dog can start to resent it and not find it as a desirable retreat.
    - Time doesn't really matter.  We want to remember that puppies have a fairly short attention span - just like a toddler - so we want to try to keep their time outs just long enough for them to "think" about what happened, but not long enough that they fall asleep on us.  I like to use the guideline of up to 15 min for older pups/dogs.  If you have a pup under 6 months, I would suggest somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes.  Of course, if you go to let them out of time out and they are not relaxed, they stay there a bit longer.  You want to be able to release your dog from time out when they are calm, so if they are still fighting the time out, wait them out.  If you let them out when they are throwing a fit, they will learn that they can manipulate you.
    - Use a leash/tether.  The best way we have found to do a time out is by using a leash or tether of some sort that is still close to the play area.  You can use a leash over the handle of a door and then close the door so the leash is caught in the door jam.  This way your dog will be unable to unhook themselves.  The leash should be long enough for them to sit comfortably but not so long that they can lay down and fall asleep.  Alternately to the leash on the door, if you have a banister with bars and a dog that isn't going to take them with them, you can tie a leash to the right length on those.  We have larger dogs so we went and got a single hook from a hardware store and bolted it into a stud.  We use a piece of chain for our boys or a variable hands free leash.  Because they are different heights, this allows us to adjust for their difference in stature.

4. When Kids are Involved

Puppies and kids generally get along well because they both have energy for days!  But when your pup starts nipping at the kids it becomes a problem.  The best way to teach a child how to deal with nipping is to get them to play the "be a statue" game!  Kids have a tendency to try to run away from a nipping puppy and this can be very stimulating for the pup.  We want the kids instead to stop, put their hands above their head, and stare at the ceiling/sky.  This takes away the stimulus of a running child, keeps their hands out of the way of sharp puppy teeth and minimizes the chance of instigation via eye contact.  Once they are a statue, you as the parent/guardian/puppy parent need to step in and redirect the pup if they don't stop nipping immediately.  Generally, a puppy will loose interest very quickly if their game of chase becomes boring.

It is always better if you can curb nipping at a young age, but for those that adopt older dogs, these same techniques can be applied to successfully diminish the nipping.  If you are still having a challenging time with your pup/dog nipping you and your family, please contact us or a local trainer for extra help!


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