How To Stop Puppy Nipping, Biting & Play Snapping
Updated: Feb 15
Problem Solving That Tootsie Chewer
The Ankle Biter
Puppies can become hyper-stimulated creatures of habit and nip for attention, while playing, out of boredom, because they are overtired or not worn out and challenged enough. If you can determine what the cause of the nipping is then you have a better chance of helping your pup communicate its needs in a more productive way, this is where it may be helpful to speak with your local behaviourist for some help determining what your puppy is thinking.
This behaviour is very similar to babies and children, babies need plenty of opportunities for nap time in their cot, otherwise they get over tired and cranky. Small children also need naps and structured time during the day, otherwise they become unruly and wild. Dogs and puppies work very much in the same way, you know you have the right mix of physical and mental stimulation in a day because you dog is very happy to lay quietly at the end of the day.
There is an order of escalation for these sorts of behaviours and you should always work your way down the list and you can repeat any step more then once, choosing when you feel you need to move it up a notch. be careful you don't come to the end of your tether before you are able to get to the end of the list or you might find you skip a step or behave in a way that isn't teaching your pup.
Prevent the behaviour from happening.
Distract pup from nipping and redirect their attention appropriately.
Withdraw your attention.
Time to calm down.
We go into this in a lot more information but first lets talk about some of the causes and some fixes.
At 8 weeks old when a puppy first comes to its new home they spend anywhere between 18-20 hours sleeping a day, decreasing slowly until at 6 months (or when puberty hits) they sleep between 16-18 hours in 24hrs. So the first question and easiest one to eliminate is.... 'Is our puppy getting enough time out, and a good opportunity to take a siesta?
We have a house rule that could help families, children and playful parents -
If your puppy is asleep, leave them alone! And if they go into their bed or crate, leave them alone!
Their bed is their safe space, even in the middle of play if your puppy takes their toy to their bed stop play and wait for them to come out on their own, it wont take long for them to realise this is a place that you cant go so will feel completely at ease in their space. You can of course praise them with gentle stroking and place treats in between their paws when they are in their bed but no roughing up, picking them up or telling them off and sending them to their bed.
You can actually jackpot this natural behaviour, if they chose to go to their bed and lay down or if you are in the kitchen and they choose to move away to chew on their bone then you can calmly walk over and just place a treat in between their legs (so they don't have to move to eat it) then walk away. This is something I like to call 'Common Sense Training' I will talk more about this another time but for now, why is this helpful for nipping? I hear you say... you are teaching your puppy to be calm and choose to act in a way that gets them rewards.
A behaviour rewarded is a behaviour that will happen again and again.
Watch the Clock
Dogs are creatures of habit so do a clock watch and see if the nipping starts around a pattern such as 20 mins after he has been fed or 4 o'clock every day etc... The best way to eliminate this type of nipping for attention and boredom is to mix up your routine. Some days go for a walk at 2pm and others at 4pm, sometimes go threw the motions of leaving your house but sit on the sofa and have a cuppa, keys in hand and coat on. Try to get in there before the nipping starts by engaging your puppy in something productive such as training, a walk, play, a nap or encourage lone playing.
Puppies can get over stimulated either threw play or by a stimulus trigger such as your feet moving on the floor (aka walking), walking towards the door to leave or by entering a room after being away for even a short time. With these forms of overexcited nipping we must take away the trigger to allow the dog to calm down. To do this lets say your puppy starts nipping when you go to leave the house, start your process of going to leave and as soon as your dog gets STARTS to get excited stop at that stage or take it back a step, if you have put your coat on and your pup starts looking ramped up sit and wait for them to calm down again, you can use words like No if you need to but the aim is to not let them get to that point and take away the excitement in the trigger by regular and gradual calm exposure.
If this happens during play, in your games you can do things to help your puppy with control at the same time. Try playing a game of tug of war and practice a 'give' before your puppy might get too excited, you could then practice a 'sit' and 'wait' (1 or 2 seconds is plenty of control in the middle of play) before you continue with play. You can help your puppy to not catch your hand accidentally by holding your toys in a safe way (see below) and make sure every time you play with your puppy have a couple of toys to hand, always play with a toy and not with your hands. Check out our other blogs for games to play to help with development.
Don't be afraid to give your puppy a little time out to calm down by you exiting the room or leading your pup out of the room with minimal physical contact. It only takes 10 seconds for your dog to reset their behaviour, wait until they are quiet and then just open the door and ignore them as they re-enter the room, after 30 seconds you can continue with play or invite them onto the sofa for cuddles and continue as normal. Repeat this process if needed but remember, we want to help our puppy make good choices and not get this hyped up if we can help it.
One word..... LOCKDOWN, we have all been there and been confined to our houses for a crazy amount of time. Do you remember what it felt like to finally get out of the house? Well, our dogs are the same. They need to leave the property not just for the sake of exercise but because cabin fever is a very real problem with dogs that never go further than their own backyards.
Dogs love to go places and see other people, dogs, animals, get some fresh air and it doesn't have to be to the park for a walk it could be to your local outdoor cafe, going with you to work when possible, or running errands in the car (when the weather is not too warm). These are all things our dogs not only need but love to do and help in the bigger picture by stimulating our dogs minds.
Stay Engaged with your Puppy
Is there a challenge in place, something fun and exciting for him to think about and do, is this something he can do on his own or with you productively? Dog enrichment toys can be great to encourage lone playing and keeps your puppy out of trouble, remember you may need to show your puppy how to play every step of the way until they know the rules of the game.
By motivating and properly supervising your puppy you not only preempt the development of wild behavior, you are wisely and effectively making use of your time together. This way you will be able to keep track of their tiredness levels and know when your puppy needs an opportunity to nap and recoup. Both you and your pup will be happier because you are providing what is necessary for him to blossom into a great friend for life and you are setting your puppy up to succeed.
When you are bossing the puppy daily routine and every effort to keep your puppy successful you should see a decline in wild biting and nipping behavior. Isolated incidents may be solved successfully with the following suggestions.
Problem solving for nipping and biting
If your puppy is wild and biting you need to give him feedback to let him know this is not acceptable.
have treat jars dotted around the house ready to arm yourself should the bitting start.
Ouch in a loud, sincere tone works for some. but for others it can become a game so you need to think about using a No or Ahh!! noise, this alone will not teach your puppy anything, you need to capture the moment they stop and direct their attention onto something else.
Direct your puppy to an activity that is acceptable then reward.
Make a delicious chew toy available to him something more delicious than chomping on your leg or arm, you may need to get them interested in the chew by running it around the floor like you would a toy.
Lure a sit or a down or both with rewards, It is less likely for a pup to be wild and rambunctious if he is sitting.
A quick time out by folding your arms and walking away from the puppy or leading them from the room may be the most effective solution. Only do this if it is safe to do so.
learning doesn't happen when the dog stops, the learning begins when you praise.
When it comes to nipping and biting there is no single easy solution for all puppies. This type of problem solving requires you to be creative. You need to stay engaged with your puppy and set him up for success by getting in there first and assessing each situation on an on going basis and coming up with an appropriate solution.
Remember: Dogs explore the world with their mouths. It is very important to keep in mind that biting is a natural behavior for your puppy and to get angry with him or punish him is not solving the problem and just damaging your relationship. You need to teach a young puppy what is acceptable this takes patience, persistence, praise and consistency.
We have a saying at 121dogtraining, get angry before you get angry, by this i mean to act as if you are on your last warning while you are still in complete control of your self and your actions. If you get angry or frustrated you have perhaps been trying for too long and we send all sorts of mixed signals when we get frustrated so you will be lucky if your pup learns anything and you would be better to take a break, some space and tackle it again once you are in control of your emotions and actions.
Your dog never wants to hurt you and cause you to be upset, its most likely a missed communication