Nipping and biting are easily the most common of the complaints I hear from those living with puppies. The nipping is bad enough, but with razor sharp teeth, it is even more painful. While the worst of it tends to occur when puppies are losing their baby teeth, for some adolescent dogs the nipping and mouthiness continue.
In some cases, the nipping will significantly subside once the teething stage is done and the adult teeth are in place. However, you can’t always count on the mouthy behavior to end on its own, especially if you live with a breed that tends to be mouthy.
Whether you have a puppy or an adolescent dog who is nipping and mouthing you, your objective is the same: to teach your dog the APPROPRIATE things to nip, chew and bite. You will be much more successful in stopping the nipping of human skin (or clothing) if you redirect the activity to an appropriate outlet. Too many people focus on stopping the behavior altogether which is largely unsuccessful. Redirecting their natural behaviors toward suitable outlets is always the better choice.
In most cases, puppies or dogs are wanting to play or wanting some form of attention. They are doing what comes naturally, and if it works, then there is no reason to do anything differently. Even if you are yelling “Ouch!”, saying “No bite!”, pushing your dog away, or doing anything else that involves talking to, looking at or touching your dog, guess what? You are giving him attention which is what he wants! Often the things we think are negative really are not. Scolding, yelling, pushing away, and other things are often seen as play invitations. We get fired up (because we’re upset) and we get our dogs more fired up because they are getting a reaction from us.
Stay calm – at least, as calm as you can when you are under siege from a four-legged creature packing razor blades in his mouth. Prevent him from biting you in the first place, or redirect as quickly as you can. Ensure your dog has plenty of appropriate options to bite. Make his toys more inviting. Rotate out toys every few days. Drag long toys around so when you are moving, he has a moving object to target other than you. Tie a toy to the end of a string and the other end of the string to a stick or pole that you can use to drag and toss the toy around while keeping your hands as far from the toy as possible.
While you are redirecting your dog toward biting at his toys, also make sure you are teaching him more appropriate ways to get your attention and invite you to play. Then be careful that your play style is not inviting more biting behavior. Keep your hands out of his face. Anything coming near his mouth should be fair game to grab – so make sure you have toys in your hand when playing.
Finding an appropriate playmate who enjoys the nipping – like another puppy with a similar play style – is also an excellent option.
There are lots of other things we can do to teach our dogs not to nip and bite at us, but providing acceptable alternatives is the first step.