how to address dog nipping and biting

Dogs use their mouths in many ways.  Sometimes it’s love bites, other times it’s out of frustration or fear, and sometimes it is unfortunately aggression.  Puppies hardly ever bite due to aggressive behavior, but adolescent and adult dogs obviously do. Let’s discuss puppies first.  Most puppy biting is actually normal behavior – they are exploring their world with their eyes, ears, nose, paws, and yes, mouths.  Sometimes puppies bite as a result of having a temper tantrum, like when they don’t get what they want – much like a toddler.  Regardless of the reason, it’s important to address it early on.

Bite inhibition – prior to getting your puppy, she has spent weeks with her litter-mates and mom.  During that time, your puppy learns very quickly when she bites too hard – either from her litter-mates via a loud yipe!, a corrective bite in response, or withdrawal from the play.  Momma has lots of patience, but when enough is enough, she let’s her pup know it by a swipe of the paw, a growl, a quick nip or withdrawal.  Eventually, your pup comes to understand that her intensity of her bite matters, and will curb her enthusiasm, to coin a phrase.    When humans are involved, your pup will again test her limits through biting and it is important to let her know just what those limits are.  I recommend a hybrid three-step procedure in response to a puppy bite.  Step 1:  When she bites, let out a loud yelp just like her litter-mates did, and cross your arms up high on your chest for 4 seconds.  Fifty percent of the time, this will be enough and your puppy will move on to her next activity.  If yelping doesn’t work you can try step 1A:  say “leave it! (assuming you have taught this command) and cross your arms for 4 seconds.  If your puppy continues to bite, step 2:  stick a chew toy in her mouth.  If your pup continues to go after your fingers and toes, step 3:  time out!  Tie her up with a metal leash (so she can’t chew through it) to something solid for 3 minutes, giving her no attention, treats, or toys during those 3 minutes.  In time, after being tied up multiple times, she will come to understand the consequences of her biting and will begin to cut it out.  It’s even more helpful to put a name to the time out, calling it, for example “timeout” or “the chain” or whatever else works.  So when your pup bites, you can tell her “do you want the chain?” so that she associates the timeout with the name of it.

Dogs – adolescent and adult biting.  It gets a little more complicated to identify why a dog is nipping or biting.  As mentioned above, there are many reasons.  To start, your dog could just be bored and needs more stimulation – perhaps he is not getting enough exercise or he gets a burst of energy.  When that happens, you can do a few things – you can start a mini training session to use up some of that excess energy, or you can start a game of fetch or tug o’ war, or load up his puzzle toy, walk him or let him run in the back yard.  Basically give him something to do to absorb that excess energy.

Sometimes dogs mouth or nip because they are overtired and just need some downtime.  Having a crate is helpful during these times – give him an hour to sleep it off.  Other times your dog may nip when he doesn’t get his way with something – “leave it!” is a good command at this time.  If he doesn’t leave it, you haven’t baked the command into his brain enough and continued training is recommended on this command.

Prey Drive – some dogs with high prey drive will accidentally nip or bite when a child is moving quickly or perhaps you are.  If this happens, introduce a toy and play tug o’ war or fetch.

Fear – perhaps you startled your dog when he was sleeping and he instinctually acted to protect himself.  Or he hasn’t been properly socialized with people and has become afraid of them.  If your dog bites a stranger (or nips), you should probably bring in a dog trainer or behaviorist.  If you decide to correct this behavior on your own, you will need lots of patience.  First, you need to make sure he is on leash.  Next, give the stranger some treats and ask her to toss a few your dogs way.  Your dog may not eat the treats.  If this is the case, you definitely need a trainer.  But if he does eat the treats, you can start the process of counter-conditioning, which is addressed in another blog – just search counter-conditioning to find it.

Finally, your dog may just be testing the pecking order in the home.  If this is the case, you will need to either reset your obedience training or commence a fairly intensive obedience training program.  This would involve all the basic commands, but in addition, you will need to make sure that at every turn, your dog understands that your in charge.  This is done through proper commands at the proper time, and not through physical dominance.  For example, your dog should wait in a sitting position before he is allowed to eat his meals.  He should wait to go through any door threshold until you go first, and most importantly, he should walk by your side and not in front of you.  If you do this in addition to the obedience training, your dog will eventually come to understand the proper pecking order, and will cease his nipp

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