Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We adopted our terrier-mix pup about a little more than a month ago and the nipping will not stop. She’s not a nervous dog by any means; she bites out of excitement mostly I would say. I have 3 kids, ages 6, 4 and 2. They know where not to touch her for safety, and to give her space. She also has a kennel. It’s gotten to the point where the kids can barely pet her or even want to play with her because she bites them or knocks them over.
I try having treats in our pockets when we play or pet her when she doesn’t bite, but it has not done much. We’ve also tried walking away from her, redirecting her or putting her in her kennel when she does bite. We then give her a 10 second count and have her try again. But, as I mentioned, it has not done much.
She’s also not so interested in playing with us. I’m wondering if she’s associating it now with punishment since she bites every time and the play stops. She’s now almost 7 months old and I do not wish to take her back to a shelter but I don’t know what more can I do to stop the biting and nipping. It’s beginning to become stressful because she jumps at the kids' faces as well and she’s only getting bigger. I try to give her as many energy outlets since she seems to be a high-energy dog, but even when she’s physically exhausted, she’ll still bite.
Puppies sample things with their mouth when they are younger, and this can cause some to develop a mouthing and nipping habit. Dr. Ian Dunbar, a world-renown dog behaviorist and author, says that developing good bite inhibition is the most important thing to teach any young dog.
Before I share tips to stop puppy nipping, I'd recommend you start with a few other things.
First, practice petting her when she is calm. Avoid engaging or petting her when she is excited since, as you've already determined, nipping is worse at that point. This is very common among puppies, and upping her exercise can help a lot. This video includes some indoor exercise options you may want to check out. When you interpret her as being “naughty,” it's likely she could use some exercise — something dogs need multiple times a day.
Second, jumping can be dangerous for a dog with poor bite inhibition, so you may want to practice this exercise to stop dogs from jumping up on people.
Finally, I'd recommend you start a journal. Start a new page for each day and make sure to include the date at the top and two columns below. On the far left column, write down the time. Next to that, note what exercise your puppy got. Be sure to note the time, length or quantity of the exercise. For example: We went on a 30-minute walk or she fetched the stick 44 times. You also want to write down any unwanted behavior, including the nipping.
By keeping a journal like this for a few weeks, you will start to see a trend. The puppy might nip more at certain times of the day or during the length of time since your last bit of exercise. Knowing when your puppy needs exercise or when she nips the most will help you plan accordingly.
Now, here are some tips you can use to teach your puppy to stop nipping:
Any time your puppy touches you with its teeth, yelp or cry out loudly in a high-pitched voice (it's OK to overdo it a bit). Then retract your arm and stop engaging with the dog. Doing this the instant your pup makes tooth contact with skin is key.
Play tug-of-war with your puppy. This is a game most pups like and it gives you the ability to drop the toy and stop playing when teeth touch skin.
If the puppy keeps nipping, pull out a Nylabone and tease the pup with it. Don’t try to give it right away; tease your puppy by flashing it on the right side, then the left, and lightly tap her with it. This will attract her attention. Once she gets it in her mouth, pull a few times so she thinks she’s won and taken it away from you. Immediately pick up another bone and put it in your pocket so you are ready for the next time.
If the yelping seems to make things worse, and your puppy isn't interested in your redirected toy, it's a safe bet the puppy is over tired and cranky. Put it in a long-term confinement area or a crate away from humans so she can get a nap. Dogs sleep an average of 17 hours a day, and a lack of sleep is often a big contributor to dogs who nip.
The last thing to do is something called a "negative punishment.” In this case, negative refers to removing something the dog likes — you.
At the first nip, get up and go into a room or area away from the dog so she can’t reach you. Be sure to do this right away. Wait a few minutes or until the dog settles down before coming back out. You will find yourself doing this a lot, so try to get your puppy to engage with you in a safe place you can leave her alone.
Make sure your puppy has plenty of chew toys. I mean at least 20, including a variety of different items as well as bully sticks, cow ears, peanut butter-filled Kong, cow knees, etc. Giving the dog plenty of things that are OK to chew is important.
I know this is a frustrating behavior, but it's very fixable if you up her exercise and are consistent with the steps I outlined above.
Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.
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