6 Strategies to Stop Puppy Nipping – Fast

puppy bites kids

Nipping is one of the most common concerns that puppy parents have. It can be frustrating and painful. Puppy teeth are very sharp! Unfortunately, nipping almost always gets worse before it gets better.

Puppy nipping is a normal behavior. All puppies explore their world with their mouths. This is especially true for herding (Heelers and Australian Shepherds) and retrieving breeds (Labs and Goldens), as well as bitesport breeds (Malinois, American Bulldogs) – all of these groups have been bred to bite as part of their “job!”

This doesn’t mean nipping is something you have to live with or something that requires a different type of training to prevent. Just know that is natural and instinctual.

In today’s Ask a Behavior Consultant, we are discussing puppy nipping.

Potty Training, sit, lay, stay, come are all going well. But we can not get [my 5 month old Aussie puppy] to stop biting, even when she’s not playing, she is very nippy, and it’s getting more concerning the older she gets. I am worried about having her around [people] or other pets.

– Sincerely, Aussie Mom

When teaching a puppy impulse control and how to interact without nipping us, we should keep in mind that changing this behaviour won’t happen overnight, but over time. Let’s explore the reasons that puppies nip everything and everyone.

If you need extra help with puppy nipping, be sure to check out our online dog training services.

Why Do Puppies Nip?

Plain and simple, it’s fun! It’s a natural and innate behavior. Puppy nipping is not the same thing as a dog biting because it is acting aggressively.

Here is a list of why your puppy is nipping you and not just chewing on their toys:

  • Attention. I bet that every time Aussie Mom’s puppy grabs ahold of a pant leg, sleeve, or finger (ouch!), she gets some type of reaction. That reaction can be enough to make that behavior more and more fun over time. And let’s be honest, sometimes ignoring a puppy who is latched onto your sleeve is impossible to simply ignore. It is also not addressing the issue.
  • Play. If you watch puppies play with each other, they often use their teeth, clamping onto ears and legs. However, they learn just how much force they can use before it’s no longer fun. When they nip too hard, the fun generally comes to a halt, temporarily ending the play session.
  • Overly Aroused. This is very common, and often overlooked by new puppy parents. Aussie’s Mom may not be aware of the signs that her puppy becoming overly aroused. She also may not realize that certain things can create over-arousal, such as coming home after walks or evening routines.
  • Teething. Puppies generally loose all of their deciduous (baby) teeth by six months. So for this Aussie puppy, teething is still in full swing.

How do I teach my puppy to stop nipping?

Preventing a Puppy from Nipping You

Prevention is a key element in teaching your puppy not to nip, and often this is the most overlooked component. Preventing the unwanted behavior (nipping) before it occurs will help to teach your puppy new, appropriate habits and outlets.

The first thing to do: Observe!

Keep a journal or mentally take note of what precedes the nipping behavior.

  • Is it made worse or caused by playing with certain people, in a certain way, or with certain toys?
  • Is it happening more frequently in the evening, after a walk, or after a meal?
  • Or maybe nipping is happening more when you walk to another room of the house?

If you know what might trigger it, think of ways you can intervene before she begins nipping in the first place.

Remember, the more she practices the nipping behavior, the better she will get. So, prevent her from getting the opportunity.

The 6 Best Ways to Prevent Nipping:

1. Barriers.

Use baby gates, crates, or exercise pens to keep her separated from people before she becomes hyper-aroused. In other words, intervene before it’s too late! If you know what sets her off, or makes it worse, this is an easy intervention. You can do so by direct her to her kennel with a stuffed Kong (something REALLY tempting and delicious).

2. Tethering.

Her leash and a harness can also be a useful tool. This can work in a few ways:

  1. If it is a visitor she wants to interact inappropriately with, you could tether her to yourself and reward her (at a repeatedly high rate) for staying calm. This means, a bit of cheese or meat every 2-3 seconds while she demonstrates self control.
  2. Tethering can also be used to keep distance between yourself and your puppy. However, I caution, make sure she is content with something to do like a delicious Bully Stick, stuffed Kong, or a puzzle toy to avoid frustration.

3. Avoid activities that cause over-arousal.

New puppy parents generally love to get down on the floor and roughhouse with their new puppies.

Cease and desist this activity immediately if you’re struggling with puppy nipping!

I often get a lot of chuckles in puppy class when I mention this. Or finger pointing to the culprit in the family. But until your new puppy has learned enough impulse control, you are simply exacerbating the problem!

Don’t get me wrong, play time is important for your puppy’s health and bonding. But use toys. Immediately after a play session, have your puppy enter into their confined space with something to redirect their energy onto (like a Kong).

Even better, choose interactions that do not cause any hyper-arousal, like a clicker training session! It is mentally stimulating, tiring, and will really help you bond with your puppy.

Plus it can be a really fun and constructive game. For example, teach your dog to fetch using the cues “drop it” and “take it.” Or teach your dog to “place.” There are some great ideas and how-to demo videos in this article!

There are also all kinds of tricks you can teach your dog. Check out some books and DVDs to get you started!

4. Enrichment.

You have heard me say this several times already, because it is quite possibly one of the most important things you can do for your puppy. Enrichment goes beyond just a toy (which is rarely fun unless you’re on the other end).

These items are interactive, they satisfy innate behaviors in your puppy, and provide an outlet for them.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on puzzle toys and Kongs (though I do suggest you have several on hand to rotate through daily).

All you need to do is try some DIY dog enrichment!

5. Teach calm.

Being calm is a skill, especially for young dogs. Rewarding your puppy for being calm can create positive habits and less hyperactivity overall. I use this exceptionally effective method.

6. Teach hand targeting.

Teaching a puppy to touch your hand without nipping your fingers is a great alternative! Watch this video on how to successfully teach this behavior, and all of the useful ways to use it!

What Do I Do If She Is Already Nipping Me?

This is bound to happen. Even if you have been diligent in your prevention!

REDIRECT. Redirect your puppy from you to something appropriate for them to chew on, play with, or nip. If needed, go back to step one or two above, and remove yourself. Confinement tools and barriers are you friend!

Keep in mind, progress is never linear. There may be exceptional progress one day, and then it feels like you’re back at square one the next. That’s normal. Just keep on the path to success!

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