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Puppies and teenage dogs are so cute – and such a handful! Nipping is a common problem for many pet homes. In the vast majority of cases, nipping is an annoying phase that passes with some patience, training, management, and maturity on the dog’s part.
But what do you do in the meantime? How do you ensure that nipping is just a passing phase?
In today’s Ask a Behavior Consultant, we’re talking to Naughty Nipper about a 5-month-old border collie. Naughty Nipper writes that “he was ok as a puppy” but now “he keeps nipping my partner but not me.”
Why Is Nipping Worse at 5 Months Old than at 8 Weeks?
First things first… at 5 months old, this border collie is absolutely still a puppy!
It’s also not unusual for pups to get nippier around 4-6 months of age when they’re teething and gaining strength. In fact, this is also the age when many dogs are most destructive – even if they were perfectly placid puppies just a month ago.
It’s a bit cruel, isn’t it? Right when you think they’re getting older and wiser, their behaviors get worse! People often think they’re “out of the woods” as the puppy looks more and more like a dog, but biting and chewing are often worse later in puppyhood, not earlier.
So How Do We Curb the Nipping?
We have one clue for Naughty Nipper: the pup is worse with one member of the family than others. This tells us that human behavior is likely at play. No, the pup isn’t vying to rule the house in some Alpha Scheme. It’s unlikely that she’s “testing” the partner or hates him or targets him because he’s not the one who feeds her.
No… it’s probably much simpler than that.
Some people walk or move their hands in a way that makes them much more tempting to bite.
This is often a problem for small children who move erratically, but can also be a problem for the family member who plays roughest with the dog, is least consistent, or is most hesitant in their movements. Without seeing video of the dog and people interacting, it’s hard to say which is the problem in any specific case.
In most cases, we tackle nipping using a multipronged approach:
- Satiate the puppy’s need to use their mouth to play, shred, eat, chew, and tug. If your puppy isn’t given adequate outlets, they’re likely to use their teeth in “inappropriate” ways. We’ve got a comprehensive list of chews and other great teething toys for you to check out here.
- Ensure your puppy is adequately rested. Nipping often peaks when puppies are starting to get tired. The excitement of a visiting partner may be part of the problem here. Puppies, like toddlers, need TONS of sleep and often seem frantic or wild when they need a nap most. Use a Puppy Palace so you’ve got a way to put the puppy down for a nap.
- Calmly and consistently use negative punishment if your puppy nips. Negative punishment means REMOVING (negative) something the puppy wants to stop a behavior. In this case, you’ll remove your hands and attention from the situation. If the puppy bites, you put your hands in your armpits, stand up, and walk away. Don’t scold, swat, squeal, or spank your pup – while that may be effective in the moment, it doesn’t help in the long run.
- Make a plan after each “error.” Every time your puppy nips, it’s information on where your plan isn’t quite right. Make note of when the puppy bit you – was it right before a nap? They needed a nap slightly earlier. Was it long after their last chew? They may have needed more enrichment.
- Practice engagement and training skills so your puppy has other ways to communicate with you. Sometimes puppies learn that biting you is the best way to get you to grab a toy and start a game – or they find making you squeal fun! We want your puppy to learn alternative ways to engage with you and play. Check out our Puppy Raising Blueprint Course for lots of tips on that topic.
If you still need more help, we have a variety of other articles on chewing, teething, nipping, and common puppy problems. Check them out below!
- Dealing with Chewing in Puppies
- My Dog is Chewing Up the Whole House
- Why Does My Puppy Think I’m a Chew Toy?
- Ep. 11: Puppy Nipping with Ayoka Bubar
- 6 Strategies to Stop Puppy Nipping – Fast
Kayla founded Journey Dog Training in 2013 to provide high-quality and affordable dog behavior advice. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant who’s worked with hundreds of private clients, thousands of shelter dogs, and dozens of working detection dogs. Kayla’s dog and cat behavior advice has been featured in NPR, the Chicago Tribune, and Pet MD. She’s an avid adventurer who is currently doing #vanlife on the Pan-American Highway with her two border collies and a cat. Aside from running Journey Dog Training, Kayla also runs the nonprofit K9 Conservationists, where she and the dogs work as conservation detection dog teams. You can get 1:1 advice with a Journey Dog Training team member here.