Many puppies nip or mouth. They’re like babies–as they start to grow and teethe, their gums hurt! The only way puppies know to handle that is to chew on things. Puppies also love to explore the world and their surroundings by using their mouths, because it allows them to taste and more closely examine things in ways that can’t with their paws. It seems cute when they are small and doesn’t hurt that much, but when puppies grow into adult dogs with bigger mouths, these bites can hurt! It’s important to stop this behavior early before puppies age.
To keep your puppy from turning into a grown dog that still nips, it’s important to teach them bite inhibition when they are still young.
If your puppy mouths or nips at you at any time, the most important thing that you can do is to immediately remove yourself from the situation.
The thing that your puppy wants most in the world is your attention, and by taking that away, you are telling them that what they just did is not okay and will not get them what they want! Yelp, or give an OW, stop any interactions with your puppy, and leave the room for at least fifteen seconds. Then come back! If the nipping occurs again, leave again. Repeat this until the puppy realizes that nipping stops any and all interactions that they can have with you.
Never hit or scold your puppy for nipping or mouthing; this type of negative reinforcement can intensify the unwanted behavior. Instead, redirect your puppy to appropriate behavior. Make sure that your puppy has lots of toys to chew on! This will help them to redirect their urge to mouth onto things that are appropriate rather than you and your clothes! All of the desire to mouth goes onto the toy instead of onto you and your clothes. Avoid wrestling with your dog, as tempting and cute as it might be, as this can encourage more unwanted mouthing behavior. Teach your puppy the leave it command, as this will help them because masters of impulse control.
If your puppy is relentless in their nipping, try using a spray like Bitter Apple, which is a taste deterrent. Spray the spray on whatever the puppy is nipping (clothes, shoes, furniture, etc.)
Sometimes puppies just get too excited; in situations like this, give your puppy a time out for a few minutes in an area where there are no people or dogs to give them attention and stimulation. Certain breeds of dogs, like Shelties and Australian Shepherds, are born to herd and will frequently nip at people’s heels and feet. If you have kids that like to run around and play, this can draw that behavior. The same positive reinforcement techniques for redirecting this natural behavior apply.
Taking these simple steps of positive reinforcement will teach your dog that mouthing and nipping are not effective ways to get attention, and will help you to maintain a lifelong relationship with your furry child!