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Nipping Puppy Biting in the Bud

August 13, 2009

Biting in puppies is a normal, though undesirable, behavior. Puppies often use their mouths for exploration and play, and this behavior can extend to the human family.

My biggest concern in these situations is that owners may be using or are being told to use physical correction (alpha rolls, leash corrections, holding the mouth closed, pinching the tongue, hitting or tapping the muzzle) as a treatment strategy. Using physical correction can cause a fear response and can result in the escalation of your puppy’s aggressive behaviors.

A better approach is to both address the biting at the time it occurs, and prevent biting as an option for the pup. Once you have ruled out any physical abnormalities that could be contributing to the behavior, your approach should include teaching your puppy simple obedience commands from Day 1, ample playtimes, frequent short leash walks, and puppy socialization classes.

It is often a challenge to convince a new enthusiastic puppy not to bite the hand that feeds him, pets him, and plays with him. Nipping and mouthing is a very common and very normal puppy behavior.

When puppies play with each other, they use their mouths, so they tend to do the same thing when they interact with people. This is rarely an aggressive behavior intended to harm you, but it can be a difficult habit to break without some good, practical tools in your “puppy training tool bag.”

The worst thing you can do is physically punish your pup for this natural behavior, although many people incorrectly do so.

Most normal puppy mouthiness just goes away on its own, regardless of how much or how little puppy parents do to stop it, once puppies acquire their adult teeth

Instead of punishment, the use of positive distraction and the encouragement of acceptable behavior are far better approaches, yielding much better results. This article is intended to help you manage puppy nipping effectively, while at the same time helping you build a good relationship with your puppy, based on trust rather than fear.

How to Tell Normal Play from Problematic Aggression

Most puppy play consists of chasing, pouncing, barking, growling, snapping and biting. So how can you tell the difference between normal play and true aggression?

According to DVM online magazine, in normal play, a puppy will “play bow” (lower his head and raise his hind end), present his front end or side to you, hold the front part of his body up, wag his tail, dart back and forth, emit high-pitched barks and growls, and spontaneously play-attack.

However, behaviors that may indicate early aggression include:

These aggressive behaviors may be related to fear, possessiveness, conflict or pain. Of course, even normal puppy play can become too intense, and when this happens, you must intervene appropriately.

If you have concerns about excessive mouthing or early puppy aggressiveness, consult your veterinarian or a board certified animal behaviorist.

Distraction Is the Best Prevention

Nipping or biting often occurs in puppies when they are being petted or played with. A quick and easy method for redirecting your puppy’s attention is offering a more acceptable object to gnaw on, such as a chew toy, at the same time as you start to pet him. One hand offers the toy while the other hand reaches out to scratch him behind the ear.

One great toy to use is Mercola’s Clever K-9 Treat Release Dog Toy, filled with Beef and Bison Bites. Good training, good nutrition and fun—you can’t beat that!

This helps your pup learn that people and petting are wonderful, and also keeps his mouth busy. Try alternating which hand does the petting and which one offers the chew toy. Remember, the longer he is petted, the more likely he is to get excited and start to nip, so you may need to shorten play sessions, at least initially.

Encouraging Appropriate Play

When your pup does nip you, a good strategy is to imitate what another puppy would do if he were bitten. Make a high pitched “yipping” noise—or loudly say “OUCH!” and immediately walk away. Ignoring your puppy for a few minutes teaches him that biting you makes you go away, which is an immediate negative reinforcement for the behavior.

Then you can return a little later and try playing again.

It’s generally not a good idea to sit on the floor with your pup for prolonged periods of time. This tends to overexcite puppies and places family members in a vulnerable position, making it more difficult to control the puppy.

Here are a few other tips for encouraging appropriate play:

What Not To Do

You should never use physical punishment with a puppy. This includes:

Some pet owners are still using remote training collars out of frustration, since they don’t know what else to do. But most people are unaware of how powerful these tools are and how easy it is to misuse them.

The average pet owner does not use these remote collar devices with the impeccable timing and consistency required to be effective.

And they should never be used as punishment devices.

A study was done in Germany in 2006 in which dogs were given high intensity electrical stimulation, delivered with poor timing (meaning inconsistently with regard to the dog’s behavior). These dogs showed severe and persistent stress symptoms.

Therefore, ordinary use of these devices will most likely cause your puppy to grow into a dog that is fearful, aggressive, and asocial.

Research has shown that most aggressive dogs are actually fearful, rather than attempting to achieve dominance.

When physical punishment is used, several things may happen, depending on your puppy’s temperament and the severity of the punishment. According to the Humane Society, a puppy who is hit or slapped in the face for biting can react in the following ways:

Tots and Pups

You should carefully monitor all interactions between your children and your dog. It is very difficult for children under the age of eight or nine to practice the kind of behavior modification outlined in this article.

Your child’s first reaction to being nipped is probably to push the puppy away, and this will most likely be interpreted by the puppy as play, causing him to nip and bite even more.

By teaching your puppy good behavior, and teaching your children proper interventions, your pup will grow into a well-behaved and happy part of the family.

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