Ashley Winder - July 7 2020
3 Proven Training Methods That Stop Your Puppy From Nipping
If you've recently adopted a puppy, you might be over the moon in love. From playtime to cuddles, there is nothing cuter than a puppy - with paws too big for its body - bounding over to you in utter excitement. You might be thinking that your biggest task is to potty train this new addition - that is until they've given you a playful bite with their surprisingly sharp baby teeth. Ouch!
Sure, a nipping puppy might be cute for the first 0.02 seconds, but it gets old quick. And it's certainly not something you want to experience every day for the foreseeable future if you can help it, right?
Now, training your puppy to stop nipping is definitely necessary, but it's by no means easy. It takes patience, consistency, and perseverance. But it can be done! And, with the right training, your puppy will stop nipping before you know it, we promise!
Why Do Puppies Bite?
Puppies, like babies, are easily satisfied, curious, and still learning about their new environment. Again, similar to babies, puppies are exploring the new world around them with the most convenient tool at their disposal - their mouth. The only difference between the two is that one has a mouth full of gums - the other has a mouth full of sharp little needles!
Puppies might be just exploratory nipping, biting during playtime, or they might simply be teething. It’s hard to know the difference sometimes. Just remember that puppies usually teeth anywhere from 3-4 months old and won’t develop a full set of grown-up teeth until around seven months.
In general, nipping is a completely normal puppy behaviour. But the main reason puppies nip is because they are excited, they want attention, or they have poor bite inhibition. Remember this during your puppy training as it will help you better understand your puppy’s nipping behaviour!
What Is Bite Inhibition?
Inhibited biting is your puppy’s inherent ability to control the pressure of their bite. Their bite inhibition is the difference between a bite that causes little to no damage and one that requires medical attention.
Puppies usually start to learn inhibited biting during their time in the litter. When a puppy bites too hard while feeding - the mother will get up and walk away. When the puppies in the litter are playing, and one of them gets too rough, the other usually yelps and stops playing.
When your puppy comes home with you, it’s important to maintain and reinforce those same boundaries when the puppy starts nipping inappropriately. That’s where you come in!
How to Train Your Puppy To Stop Nipping
Training your puppy not to nip is one of the first things you want to work on when you bring them home with you from the litter or shelter. Starting early is the best way to achieve the most success in discouraging (and eliminating) your puppies' nipping behaviour. Your fingers will thank you later.
1. Redirect Your Puppies Nip To Another Object
The first method we recommend in training your puppy to stop nipping is to redirect. Every time your puppy goes in for the nip, you want to divert their attention away from you (or whoever the nip is directed towards). What works best is redirecting their focus towards another object - preferably a toy.
When you play with your puppy during this training period - always have a soft chew toy at your disposal. Every time your puppy goes in for a nip, redirect their attention to the toy.
The best way to distract them from nipping you is to move the toy around and create noises to make the toy more exciting than you. Usually, your puppy will get distracted by the toy and redirect its attention to it, but this isn’t always the case. If they do focus on the toy - don’t forget to praise them as this will help reinforce this redirection behaviour.
When a toy doesn’t work or isn’t readily available, and your pup goes in for the nip, stop playing immediately and stay still. This means freezing where you are. Resist the urge to pull or walk away as quick actions and movements like this can excite your pup even more.
By freezing in place, you are essentially depriving them of your fun presence and making yourself boring to your pup. Eventually, their excitement will settle down, and they’ll move on - usually to the toys you are trying to redirect their attention to.
Remember, puppies nip because they are excited or want attention. When you stop playing, you are taking both of these benefits away from them. This teaches your puppy that nipping doesn’t give them what they want. When you repeat this training enough times, your puppy will start associating nipping with a boring situation that they don’t want to happen.
We don’t blame them!
2. Click Train Your Puppy
Another great way to start training your puppy to control their impulse to nip - especially when someone is stroking or petting them - is with a clicker and dog treats. Clicker training rewards good behaviour consistently by giving a cue - via the click - that your puppy has done something right.
We know trainers that use the word "YES", instead of a clicker, but for this post, we will stick with using a clicker during training.
Successfully implementing this training means you need to start training your puppy in small, steady increments. To start, move your hand slowly towards your puppy as if you were reaching to pet them. Pause your hand about half an arm's length away. If they do NOT react or reach for your hand, click your clicker right away, place a treat on the floor nearby and then praise them.
Repeat this exercise by moving your hand closer to your puppy each time. Reward your puppy every time they don't move their mouth towards your hand. This exercise helps your puppy learn and build boundaries on what is acceptable behaviour. You are teaching them not to nip at everything that comes near their face.
Remember, start slowly and gradually build up the ante during training sessions. Each round of this exercise should be consistent to help them build up their impulse control.
3. Socialise Your Puppy
Like humans, puppies pick up on good puppy behaviour when they are exposed to other dogs. Socialisation is absolutely necessary for their overall social development. Plus socialising your puppy from an early age can really help them curb their nipping instinct. It’s never too early to start socialising your dog.
Playing with other dogs will quickly teach them that playing too rough won’t be tolerated. Before domesticating dogs became a thing, they were pack animals. That means learning from their companions is an inherent trait for dogs.
Some great options for socialisation include signing your puppy up for a socialisation class or puppy kindergarten. If those options aren’t in the cards for you, don’t worry. Just introduce your puppy to other dogs in the dog park or invite your dog-owning neighbours or friends over for a puppy playdate.
Separate And Supervise Your Puppy Around Children
If you have children in the household, we highly recommend supervising and potentially separating your children from your puppy while they are in playtime mode. Most children under the age of 5-7 can’t reinforce training practices to keep your puppy from nipping.
Remember, consistency will help your puppy from slipping back into old habits!
Puppy and children playing together almost always end up in inappropriate nipping behaviour due to high excitement levels and the love of the chase. To avoid this from happening, you need to either be supervising them carefully to prevent nipping incidents or if your attention is elsewhere, use a doggy door to separate them from each other until you have the time for close supervision.
Does The Yelping Method Work?
To answer this simply: yes, for some puppies, it does work. Yelping when they nip you can signal to your puppy that they’ve hurt you and they should stop what they are doing. However, this is not a fool-proof method, and we recommend using the three recommendations from above before trying the yelping method.
Some puppies become over-stimulated when you yelp or make a loud noise, causing them to react to this excitement. This can potentially make matters worse.
In very rare circumstances, as your puppy matures, they might be nipping to show their dominance. Yelping indicates that you are backing down and that they are the leader in the relationship. You don’t want this to happen.
That’s why we encourage you to avoid or use caution with this method in training your puppy not to nip.
Things To Keep In Mind
In general, training your puppy is all about consistency. Dogs learn through repetition. Any break in the training process will give your puppy mixed signals and confuse them on what is good and bad behaviour.
We know it can be frustrating to train your puppy not to nip, but when done successfully, the rewards are a well-behaved (and adorable) companion for life.
It’s important to remember that some dogs take longer to train than others. Stay positive during the training process, but be prepared for hard work, because it isn’t going to be a walk in the park (pun intended). Puppies won’t catch on to the training process on day one. So don’t expect to see results straight away.
For quicker success, we recommend getting the entire household on board in the training process. Don’t give up! The behaviour of puppies is not predictive of their behaviour in the future.
Have you used any of these methods to train your puppy not to nip? How did they work for you? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.