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  • Kristyn Frohock

Ouch! How to Address Puppy Nipping


You decided to open your home to a new puppy. Congratulations! It is an exciting time and will be filled with many fun and rewarding experiences. However, it is not all flowers and sunshine. One of the most common issues puppy guardians experience is puppy biting. Those little teeth hurt and when your puppy is excited it's hard to get them to stop. Here are some tips to help you get through this stage in your pups life.


Understanding Why Your Puppy Is Nipping


Before we address solutions, we need to understand why your puppy is nipping. Dogs naturally explore their world through their mouths. Putting their mouths on something is a way for them to learn about their environment. Additionally, biting is a self-reinforcing behavior, it feels good (for them). Remember that puppies go through a teething stage roughly between 2 weeks to 8 months of age.


Playtime Rules


Most puppy guardians have nipping problems when the puppy is excited or playing. You need to teach your puppy that playtime comes with rules namely that when they puppy nips you, play stops. Here is how you practice:

  1. Practice this by playing with your puppy either in an enclosed penned area or in an area that is gated off.

  2. Grab a toy and play with your pup (never play with your hands!)

  3. When you feel your puppy's teeth on your arms or clothes, stand up quietly, don't make eye contact, and walk out of the gated or penned area and out of sight.

  4. Wait 5 seconds and come back into the gated or penned area to play.

  5. Repeat if your puppy nips you again.

If you repeat this exercise 5 times and your puppy is still nipping, that is a sign they are past the point of learning due to their high intensity. They need a break to decompress. Set your puppy up with your preference of chew bones and leave them alone in a crate or penned area.


Enrichment


Your puppy is less likely to nip if they have tired. Providing mental as well as physical outlets for their energy is essential. Think of their natural behaviors and try to find a way for them to replicate them appropriately.


Is your dog a breed that loves to dig? Set up a sandbox or designated area in the backyard as an outlet for that behavior. Have a scent driven breed? Play nose work games by hiding boxes filled with treats around your house and supervise your puppy while they find them. Food puzzles are also a great way to allow your puppy to work/hunt for their food. Your puppy will tire out faster when they have to use their brain to solve problems.


Training


Teaching your puppy how to appropriately ask for your attention is another step in preventing an increase in nipping. Puppies have learned that when they nip, you pay attention to them. Even when yelling "no!" your puppy sees that as reinforcement because you gave them your attention.


Teach your puppy to sit and start asking for that sit anytime you are providing something your puppy wants. Your puppy wants you to throw the ball? Ask your puppy to sit first. Does your puppy want their dinner? They have to sit before you put the bowl down. They will get the message that sitting means reinforcement while nipping means all good things go away (see Playtime Rules). Remember that behaviors that are reinforced will be repeated while behaviors that are ignored will decrease.


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