Nipping and how to avoid it
Like any baby, puppies spend a lot of time chewing and biting things around them. Unfortunately those sharp little teeth may also be used to explore your clothes and hands (ouch!). Your puppy is not being aggressive but playful, as puppies usually mouth and nip when they play with each other.
It may be cute when they’re young and tiny, but not so much when they’ve grown up and gotten their larger adult teeth. The bites will probably become a lot more painful and can cause some nasty injuries. To avoid problems in the future, it’s better to stop your puppy from nipping as soon as possible.
Nip it in the bud
The aim is to teach your puppy to be gentle with his/her mouth. Puppies need to learn to control how hard they bite. This is difficult when they are young as they are still learning to control their body. Even when puppies play together, they sometimes bite each other too hard. Playtime actually helps puppies to learn self-control, as if one puppy bites another too hard, their playmate will yelp. Playtime stops, and the puppy learns that biting causes pain and interrupts play. The puppies will soon continue playing, but will be more careful when they play bite.
Your puppy will need to learn this same lesson with humans. You can replicate the lesson when you play with your puppy. If your puppy mouths your hand and nips you, yelp as if in pain. This will startle the puppy, and he/she will stop mouthing you. You can combine this with walking away from your puppy, effectively ending playtime for a minute or so.
Afterwards, you can return to playing with your puppy. If he/she nips again, repeat these steps. If your puppy plays gently, without nipping or mouthing, praise them. The lesson is simple: biting and nipping are painful, and mean that playtime is over. Gentle behaviour is good and leads to a great play session.
A lot of puppies and dogs do enjoy games that involve biting, so you can provide them with chew toys to channel this desire. There are plenty of chew toys on the market. You could also play games such as tug of war, which are a good substitute for nipping on human hands! You can also arrange play dates with other puppies once your puppy is fully vaccinated. Play with other dogs is a lot of fun, and your puppy will also learn bite control when playing with other pups. It’s also a good way to socialise your dog. Some people like to distract their puppies from mouthing by offering the puppy food treats.
Some dogs like to attack their human’s ankles and feet. To them it’s a great game – their humans tend to enjoy it much less! If your puppy loves to attack feet, you can distract them with a tug-of-war toy. An alternative to using a toy as a distraction is to freeze when your puppy ambushes you, and wait until he/she stops mouthing and nipping. The moment he/she stops, praise them. Your puppy will learn that they get nothing for nipping your feet, but get lots of praise for good behaviour.
Although nipping is usually part of playtime, if it escalates to aggressive biting you may need to seek help from a trainer. You will know if your puppy is being aggressive by looking at their expression and posture. An aggressive puppy’s expression will seem stiff, with tensed muscles in the muzzle. You can use some of the above techniques to teach a puppy not to bite aggressively, but if they do not help, be sure to consult your vet and a professional trainer.