Nipping is totally normal for dogs up to 6 months old but can be managed using different techniques. Here are the eight most efficient ones.
Puppy owners are often easily recognizable by the scratches and bite marks on their hands, left by the 28 razor-sharp teeth of their new dog. The reasons can vary. Their little baby shark could be teething, trying to get their attention, or using their mouth to discover the world. However, it is important to teach a puppy at a young age that biting hurts and isn’t allowed, so they don’t grow up into dogs who think biting is an acceptable behavior. Those are proven techniques to train away this irritating habit.
Teach the meaning of “yes”, “no”, and “leave it”
Puppies need to learn the most basic language to be able to understand what we want from them, and “yes” and “no” are the first steps for better communication between a dog and its owner. “Yes” can be taught by saying the word when rewarding a dog for good behavior. For example, if a dog sits when asked to, the treat should come with the verbal clue “yes”, associating the word to a good behavior. The same goes with “no”, that the dog will associate with a behavior for which he does not get any reward. “Leave it” should also be celebrated with a reward when the dog actually does leave what he is doing. Those simple words will be key to teach any behavior modification.
Offer an alternative chew toy
Keep a chew toy closeby at all times to be able to redirect the biting the second it occurs. When a puppy starts nipping at you, offer this option instead. If he bites at your feet or your ankles, stop moving and wave the toy in an enticing way, so your dog loses interest in your feet and redirects it to the toy. Only then, start moving again. Don’t forget to praise your dog if he actually substitutes biting you for this item, even if it is just for a few seconds.
Practice the cold shoulder
Your dog might be “play-biting” you because he is trying to get your attention and it was successful in the past. One very efficient way to change a dog’s behavior quickly is to turn your back on them when they show bad manners. We mean, literally turn your back on them. If your puppy bites you, stand up and leave the room. You might have to leave 20 times in an afternoon (hello, 10k steps a day!), but it will pay off fast. Your dog will quickly learn that this behavior equals losing your interest, which is the last thing he wants. This sort of “indifferent” treatment is a lot more efficient than negative reinforcement (like yelling) is, which should be avoided because it could make your dog fearful and more reactive as a result.
Start a training session
If your puppy has enough energy to play sleeves-tearer, it is the right moment to initiate a little training session. Grab some high-quality treats and make him earn them by teaching sit, roll, stay, or any other command you deem appropriate for his skills level. This will help ground him and refocus his attention toward a constructive task. He will leave your sleeves for a moment and learn something new. Everybody wins.
Help them calm down
Try to initiate some quiet time, depending on your dog’s personality. For some dogs, it could be going to their crate if they associate it with calm and sleep. However, it should never feel like a punishment. For other dogs, it could be a brushing session, a short potty break, or practicing the “sit” command. Some dogs will even respond well to classical music.
Let them know it hurts
Your puppy is not trying to hurt you, and he does not want to. Therefore, you will have to tell him that his biting is painful, something he would usually learn while playing with his littermates. An effective way to do this is to make a little high pitch sound of your choice, like a “oww” when your puppy bites too hard. We really mean little, not a yell. Think more of a squeak.
Burn off some energy
Your puppy might have so much energy that he is taking it out on you and your fingers. Go for a walk, a short hike, the dog park, play fetch or meet with another canine friend. The more tired your puppy is, the less likely it will be to have the energy to ruin your wardrobe. That being said, make sure that you don’t over-exercise your puppy and give him the proper amount of activity, based on your dog’s age.
Wait it out
To a certain extent. We have good news: puppy biting is a totally normal behavior, it is a phase, and it should significantly lessen around 6 months old. In the meantime, the techniques above will greatly speed up the process.
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