I always hear a note of worry in my client’s voices when they tell me that their new puppy is “nippy”. So lets be very clear, nipping is not aggression, and it is does not mean your puppy is going to bite or be aggressive in the future. Nipping is a completely normal behavior for a young dog.
Puppies use their mouths to explore their world. They use their mouths to play, and feel, and chew. Puppies don’t have a lot of experience with impulse control and they also don’t know that humans think puppy nips hurt!
Puppy nips hurt because a puppies teeth are extremely sharp. But nips rarely cause damage because a puppy has a very week jaw.
It is important to teach a puppy self control, and bite inhibition in order for them to be “appropriate” with their mouths.
One of the ways to do this is to use time-outs, a time out will give the puppy an immediate consequence for their normal, but inappropriate, nipping. Do this by gently playing with your puppy, using your hands. When the puppy starts to mouth your hands and arms, continue the play until you get a slightly harder nip. When this happens, make a noise like a high pitched “yip”, and move your hands away. This will make a strong impression on some puppies and they will immediately start inhibiting their bites and becoming more gentle.
Their are quite a few puppies that will not initially seem to notice the painful “yip” noise and may try to continue to play. When this happens stand up and leave the room for a few seconds.
If your puppy is a bit older and is now a dog who’s nipping is painful, then your work will be a little harder. In this case your adolescent has been playing without enough bite inhibition and has not practiced being gentle. Now that he is older his jaw is a lot stronger and those nips now hurt, A LOT!
You will still need to practice bite inhibition but you may want to start with a toy instead of your hands! This is practice that needs to be done regularly, and by adults (of course).