Puppy Problems – Part I: Dealing with Puppy Nipping
So, your new puppy is home and you are totally in love. Unfortunately, along with all of this newfound mirth and joy, there are also challenges. We will examine these challenges one by one and offer solutions. First up, is dealing with puppy nipping.
What is Puppy Nipping?
What do we mean by “nipping”? Is your puppy sneaking sips from the liquor cabinet while you’re not looking? No, of course not, but you might want to start if your puppy keeps nipping your hands and feet – even your ears and nose! Of course, by “nipping” we mean play biting. Since dogs are mouthy creatures (their mouths basically do for them what our hands do for us), they also use them in play.
The problem with puppies playing like this is that their teeth are like tiny little razors and it can really hurt when they nip you. They don’t mean to hurt you, but you will probably consider that fact inconsequential as you bandage your big toe for the tenth time. Until you correct this behavior, you’re going to spend a lot of time saying “ouch!”
Puppy Nipping Control Method 1 – Telling your Pup to Stop
Actually, saying “ouch!” is a good first step towards stopping your pup from nipping you. Dogs do it with each other when they are playing, only they don’t enunciate that word as we humans do. When you see two dogs or puppies playing rough and one of them lets out a high pitched “yipe!”, usually when a sensitive area like the ear is chomped on or pulled, well, that’s the dog version of “ouch!”. It immediately sends a signal to the offender to back off the rough play for a bit, and that’s exactly what they do.
If your pup can regulate rough behavior from another dog, it stands to reason that you can do the same with your pup. Try this exercise at home:
- Begin playing with your puppy (it probably won’t be too difficult to get him or her engaged)
- A little soft biting is OK, but at soon as your pup nips too hard, let out a loud “ouch!” and pull your hand away
- If your pup responds by backing off, reward with an effusive “yes!” and treat immediately
- Repeat until your puppy listens to you three times in a row
This accomplishes two things. 1) It defines the audible cue to stop nipping, and 2) reinforces the good behavior of bite cessation on command.
Practice this at least once a day until the problem stops. You might want to wear a pair of light winter gloves to give your hands a break. Just make sure they aren’t your stylish pair, unless wearing gloves with dozens of rips, tears, and holes suddenly comes into vogue.
Nipping Control Method 2 – Giving an Alternative to Nipping
Method 1 showed you how to stop your puppy in the act of nipping. This method takes it a step further – giving them an alternative to nipping you. Remember, puppies are mouthy – they like to bite and chew. So, when you stop them from biting you, the desire to chew something is still there, they just agreed to give you a break for a moment, at least until you start playing again.
But of course, they will bite again when you resume playing until you give the audible cue again. Why don’t you give your hands a break and let them chew on something else?
Do the same exercise as in Method 1 above, but this time as soon as they stop nipping, give them a suitable alternative. These work great:
- Ball or chew toy. There are plenty of options here for teething pups, just make sure it is durable and can withstand heavy chewing without breaking or tearing. Hard rubber toys are ideal for this and are available at any pet store.
- Frozen treats. Freezing some peanut butter, Greek yogurt, soft dog food, etc. in a hollow chew toy can be a great way to keep your dog happy and occupied for a long time. This is also a good solution for pups that suffers from separation anxiety when you leave the house, but more on that later.
- Chew stick. Bully sticks are a good choice here, just watch that they don’t get too short, when they can become choking hazards. You probably want to avoid harder chews like antlers and bones, which can fracture puppy teeth if they are too hard.
- Frozen washcloth. Yes, you read that correctly. Ring out a wet washcloth, pop it in the freezer for an hour, and voila – you have a great chew alternative for your pup that will also help with teething pain
Now that your puppy has stopped chewing you and started chewing something else, you can relax.
Nipping Control Method 3 – Tiring your Pup Out
Your pup nips when she’s got pent up energy and wants to play rough. So, it stands to reason that if you burn that energy, the desire to nip dissipates. Puppies sleep a lot (16-20 hours is recommended), but when they don’t they want to play, so play with them, just in a way that doesn’t involve piercing your hands with needle like teeth:
- Go for long walks
- Play a nice game of fetch
- Have a vigorous tug of war
- Schedule a play date with another puppy(just make sure your pups are both up on their shots and supervise them while they romp)
The moral of this method: sleeping puppies don’t nip. Tire that puppy out! One of the best ways to tire them out is to send them to supervised dog daycare where they will have be able to play with their match.
Puppies bite and nip, it’s all part of growing up. That doesn’t mean your hands and feet need to suffer the consequences. Hopefully this blog has armed you with methods to stop this habit in its tracks while also serving your puppy’s needs while teething. Feel free to schedule a consultation with our of our puppy trainers if the puppy need more intense intervention.