Puppy Biting And Puppy Nipping

Beagle "play-biting" a hand. It's OK
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Puppy biting and puppy nipping, known as bite inhibition, as well as general mouthing of your hands and clothes by your pup is common. It can also occur with older dogs who have not been taught proper puppy mouthing or bite inhibition and it can HURT.

Nipping and puppy biting does not mean the dog is agitated or intentionally trying to harm you.

Puppies and even older dogs explore the world using their mouths. A dog’s mouth is as important as eyes and hands are to humans. Puppy nipping is a different from aggression. It is a form of communication, interaction, exploration and play.

From birth, puppies use their mouths to explore the den, their mother, and their litter mates. From a few weeks old, they use their mouths to play with their siblings. Puppies play by mouthing and "play-biting" each other.

Some adult dogs with owners that get into rough play don't understand play biting very well and tend to clamp down too hard. Some of these dogs were removed from the litter at too early an age. They retain these same tendencies to nip during play. To them, adult dog nipping is a normal big-guy version of the little puppy nipping.

Sibling play is where puppy nipping and puppy biting becomes the first lesson to be learned. Let’s say during puppy play, puppy biting is taking place and one puppy bites another a bit too hard. If she bites too hard, the other pup yelps and the little nipper learns quickly to back off. It’s called “bite inhibition.”

Once the other puppy yelps loudly in pain, puppy biting begins to be controlled because the biter faces social isolation. When other puppies bite her, the biter, that’s when she realizes what the pain feels like and she begins to develop what’s known as a “soft mouth.”

From then on, her puppy nipping is done with a soft mouth and no one gets hurt. As she grows up, she knows the pain she can cause and so having learned from her puppy biting, she no longer clamps down on her owners hands. Thus, dog biting is done in fear, pain or anger, not in play.

This is one of the reasons taking a puppy from it’s mother too soon is so bad. Puppy biting and puppy nipping lessons need time to be learned by all the litter mates. If puppy nipping and play biting aren’t learned in early puppyhood, the puppies will grow up maladjusted and will not know how hard to bite down on your hand or play. As grown dogs, and you’ll have dog biting to deal with.

Sometimes pups that have learned basic bite inhibition from their siblings will need reconditioning again upon entering a new home.

Humans are much more easily damaged than dogs so it is necessary for us to intervene and refine the puppy’s bite even further. A dog with no concept of bite inhibition is dangerous to have around. A harmless play cession can easily become painful.

Puppies can’t inflict serious damage, although their teeth are razor sharp. However, when they grow up, the strength of the jaws and size of adult teeth will become very strong and will inflict serious damage. It will make no difference to the wounded owner that his dog “didn’t means to do it.”

Golden Retriever puppy chews on a toy.
That is the way puppy teething should be done.

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Dog nipping, Puppy nipping, Puppy biting, Hurting

Some thoughts on how to teach your dog good bite inhibition. (This same info is applicable for older dogs, although it may take a bit longer to get the same results.)

  • When playing with your puppy or dog, choose the level of mouthing (biting) acceptable to you. Some owners are satisfied if the dog touches their hands with their teeth. Others prefer no tooth contact at all. (I like my dogs to take my hands in play and wrestle around.)

  • As you reach your level of puppy biting tolerance with your puppy, he might give a good puppy biting or he might just grab your fingers in his mouth… SQUEAL and SHRILLY LOUDLY in pain and immediately turn your entire body away from him. Get up and walk away. Keep your eyes averted. Don’t talk to him, don’t touch the puppy.

  • The idea is for the puppy to be totally isolated for 20 to 30 seconds, long enough for the experience to sink in, but not long enough that he forgets what he is supposed to remember and start playing with something else.

  • If there are other people in the room, be sure they mimic your actions or you’ll be wasting your time. Don’t let them start playing with the puppy or paying attention to him.

  • To keep the focus off your hands and keep him from learning how good your fingers are to chew on, give him something better to chew on such as a rawhide bone, pig ear, Kong or squeezy rubber toy.

  • If the dog snaps at your hand or face while playing, correct him with a sharp “ACK” or “Naa!” He should be startled and stop. As soon as he stops, praise him. You are praising him for stopping, not for snapping at you.

  • Quickly redirect his attention to an appropriate chew toy and praise him again when he takes it.

    Use the technique above… a shrill scream in pain, turn your back and leave for a few seconds. Isolate the puppy for thirty seconds.

Physical force should never be used to correct your puppy or dog when correcting him for improper behavior. Puppy biting is kind of a natural thing and physical force will just make things worse. Puppy nipping, corrected by physical force, will just become worse so don’t do it.

If your dog is getting really excited and is making repeated attempts at his puppy biting on you despite cold-shouldering by you, he might need to cool down a bit. In this case, a “TIME OUT” is appropriate. Take him to his crate or a small room by himself and leave him there to “chill” for 5 or 10 minutes. When it’s time to bring him back into the household, resume playing. This time, tone it down until you feel he can play without the puppy nipping thing.

Dogs that need little encouragement to become overexcited and mouthy (high-energy herding breeds are prone to this), choose non-contact play when you can. Fetch with a Frisbee or ball is a fine choice. In some cases, tug-of-war is okay, as long as your dog knows “drop-it” on command.

Don’t get into slap-boxing and wrestling with your puppy or dog because these games just encourage puppy nipping and play biting. Those games also call a dog’s instinctive aggression into play which can have bad effects. Always keep games friendly and low key.

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