Nipping Puppy: OUCH!!

I was in an independent bookstore this weekend and the owner was there with a precious 3-month old Australian Cattle Dog. He was delightful; happy, wagging his tail and wanting to meet everyone. He trotted along behind his owner chewing and pulling on his blue nylon leash as though he wanted to start a game.

I said, “What a wonderful age,” and she quickly replied, “Oh yeah, you can have him!”   Fortunately, she was joking and she went on to say how much joy this puppy was bringing to her life. “But,” she said, “my hands look like pin cushions. I can’t get him to stop nipping and biting us.”

Here’s the scoop on nipping.  Much of this is a developmental issue, but with some planning and consistency, you can manage the behavior. One of the most important lessons your puppy should have learned from his canine “mother,” his dam, is bite inhibition. Bite inhibition is when a puppy learns not to bite too hard. If he does this to his dam while nursing, she will let him know it’s not acceptable. And so will his littermates when he plays with them.

When your puppy nips you, loudly say, “OUCH!”  This will let him know that biting is not okay. Do not jerk your hand away from a puppy who bites; you can damage his teeth and tear your skin.

Think about what behaviorists call “differentially reinforcing an alternative behavior.”  You may need to have enough safe chew toys around that your living room looks like a dinosaur dig for a while, or you might need to carry an acceptable chew toy. When the puppy starts to nip, immediately give him an acceptable chew toy.

Teach the puppy to respond to the word, “Easy.”  If he is so wound up that he is out of control, remove yourself from the activity. Your puppy will soon learn if he breaks the rules, the game is over.

Think about your children and other family members if nipping is an ongoing problem. Is anyone reinforcing this with rough-housing games? If so, you’ll need to provide the humans in your household with training.

Finally, consider attending an AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy class where you and your pup will both learn new skills.  See http://www.akc.org/starpuppy

Citizen Canine readers, do any of you have any favorite tips for handling a nipping/biting puppy?

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AKC Canine Good Citizen Director, Author of the AKC's official CGC book, "CITIZEN CANINE"
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7 Responses to Nipping Puppy: OUCH!!

  1. Kathryn Smith says:

    I’ve only had one ‘piranah’ puppy – but boy oh boy – I looked like Freddy Kruger had moved in with me for a while – he was removed from his litter/dam way WAY too early ( about 3 weeks ) and I didn’t obtain him until he was nearly 12 weeks – those interim days being spent in a Vet Clinic/Boarding kennel. Obviously he missed the ‘Bite Inhibition’ association w/ his littermates/dam.
    But he’s now the sweetest, non-mouthy, ‘easiest’ dog of my group – 12 years later! Many an OUCH, Stand up, walk away; time out in x-pen, etc., and grooming w/ a slicker brush worked best for a long time as brushes/combs were only a diversion for my fingers – he learned first time out of the box that a slicker brush was not ‘biteable’. (too bad I didn’t have Gloves made out of ‘slicker brush pins!)

    And Scottish Terriers are breed that can put a 90# dog to shame with the size of their teeth in proportion to the overall size of the dog!

    Trade off w/ appropriate toys/chewies, Standing up/walking away – GAME OVER – worked – we never play ‘hand games – but with this puppy, we couldn’t even really ‘pet’, or ‘scritch’, or TOUCH! – and it was never in defensiveness or assertiveness but just plain happy exhuberance – Big grin on his face, eyes smiling. tail going a mile a minute –

    Consistency – Trade-off’s and Game Over – by all members of the family – if there are ‘little’ kids they’ll have to really closely supervise the contacts as the child won’t be able to do these – they’ll just scream and cry which could escalate the behavior into something else again.

    • Mary Burch says:

      You are so funny! I like your ‘game over’ term and you are right that brief time outs work to help a puppy calm down when he is totally wound up.

  2. Gayle says:

    I deal with many puppies from all ages many coming from bad breeders and pet shops and tons from rescue groups. Although the Ouch works on a few ,it really depends upon the puppies breed,temperament and what temperaments are there genetically. I find many puppies actually will go crazier when you do the Ouch it actually makes them want to nip more especially in terriers and mixes of them. In those cases I teach a calm put the pup on it’s side and hold the head gently toward the ground rubbing between the front legs on the chest until the puppy has calmed down.Then reinforce the calmer and chewing on proper object by giving a chew toy and praise.

  3. Mary Burch says:

    Thanks, Gayle. Offer a chew toy and praise (alternative activity) works well. One idea I forgot to mention was redirect the puppy to another activity. Start playing with a ball, if you are sitting, stand up and start a training game, etc.

  4. Ashley Hall says:

    I’ve got a couple clients right now who called me about their puppies nipping. We all know that the puppies don’t mean us harm, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt badly. For nipping, I tell my clients to yipe like their puppy would when it got hurt. One short, high-pitched yipe will communicate to the puppy that you were hurt, and the puppy will let go (even if momentarily). In the moment that the puppy lets go, the owner should either turn around and ignore the puppy or leave the room. All of this tells the puppy that their playful nipping hurts their owner and the game stops when they do it.

  5. Vicki Winter says:

    I raise german shepherds and I have them bite trained before I let them go to their new home
    I also train them to not snap at food to take it gently. I always find that if you grab their nose
    gently and push it down and firmly say no each time they nip, consistancy is the key. getting a
    toy could encourage behavior because then your possibly making it a game with the nipping,
    if I nip I get a toy.

  6. Bobbi says:

    We bought an Aussie/Border Collie puppy that was taken away from his mom & siblings at 4 1/2 wks. He was an extremely sick puppy requiring constant care. He pulled through & has always been deeply loved, but at age 2 he still had a continuous desire/need to chew on our fingers. We tried everything, but what worked was getting another dog for him to play with!

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