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How to Stop Dogs From Nipping and Play Biting

Updated on April 1, 2010
Play biting in dogs, southpoint, morguefile.com
Play biting in dogs, southpoint, morguefile.com

Nipping and play biting may be a typical behavior observed during puppy hood but if not redirected and corrected on time, it may persist until adult hood. Of course, at this point the small milk teeth found in young pups will have eventually fallen out being replaced by the razor sharp permanent teeth potentially known to cause substantial damage to a human's skin. Fortunately, there are many effective ways to stop a young puppy or older dog from play biting or nipping.

How Puppies are taught ''bite inhibition''

When puppies are left with the mother and litter mates for a sufficient amount of time, they learn important social rules that will shape their future as a dog. Indeed, among these social skills is a very important lesson: bite inhibition. This lesson is taught when the puppies are around the age of five to eight weeks of age. Indeed, it is highly recommended to avoid separating a puppy from its mother and litter mates before eight weeks of age because by doing so he will be deprived of these important lessons.

What really happens is that at this critical stage, puppies learn a great deal about bite inhibition when playing with their litter mates and mom. If one observes carefully, it will be noticed that at times a bold puppy will play and bite hard a litter mate. The poor litter mate will therefore yelp in pain and withdraw from the game. The biter therefore will bite again and the puppy will react in the same way, squealing in pain and ignoring the puppies further attempts to play. The biting puppy at this point learns that biting hard is not acceptable. The message is clear: ''If you play rough, you will lose a play mate and that's no fun''.

This message is further absorbed when the mother shows she will not take rough play as well. Upon being bit by a pup, the mother will take the pup by the scruff and shake him until he submits or will lay a paw on him and pin him to the ground until he stays still. The puppies at this point will shriek but they are not hurt, just surprised. The lesson is learned quickly, softer mouths are on the way.

If you own a puppy that has been taken away from its litter mates to early, it is up to you to teach bite inhibition. You do not have to resort to shaking him or pinning him down. Rather, simply squeal 'ouch' and turn around without giving any attention. The puppy will learn that in order to play with you he will have to resort to his ''soft mouth''.

How to Stop Play Biting or Nipping in Puppies and Dogs

Adult dogs that nip therefore are often dogs that have been separated too young from the litter or that have not been taught proper bite inhibition from their owners. Even puppies that have been taught this important lesson from their mother and litter mates will need corrections in their interaction with their owners. Puppies must learn that humans are not ''tough skinned '' as dogs and that instead they have quite some thin skin requiring the most delicate touch. 

A good leadership program may teach an unruly dog its place in the pack. Mouthiness towards owners, indeed at times may indicate a lack of respect. Leadership training programs can be very helpful in such cases. The dog must learn its place in the pack and respect the owner.

One big mistake from owners of nipping dogs is to withdraw from the bite frantically. Doing so may over excite the dog which may be attracted to such sudden movements increasing the dog's natural prey drive. Owners at this point are perceived as exciting ''toys'' to''animate'' when their day becomes boring. Children often react this way further enforcing the nipping behavior. 

A strong ''no'' may be helpful at times followed by redirecting the nipping behavior to a chew toy. This way the dog is told to stop the nipping behavior towards humans and to redirect it instead to the proper outlet: a toy. 

Playing rough by having the dog grab toys from you such as allowing a dog to jump up to retrieve a toy from your hands or playing tug of war are games that may ultimately encourage nipping and that therefore should be avoided. There are better games such as retrieving and having the dog release the toy on command or playing hide and seek that do not  encourage nipping behaviors. 

The secret for a well mannered dog that has a soft mouth thanks to bite inhibition is therefore to ''nip'' the problem in the bud when the dog is a puppy. Never think it is normal for a puppy to bite its owner's hands even if for play. Doing so is the ingredient for a dog that misbehaves and that can deliver painful bites when those tiny teeth have grown into sharp skin ripping canines that leave long lasting impressions. 


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    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 

      8 years ago from I'm outta here

      WOW, cute puppies, I have a pug who always want to snap food out of anyones hands who gets near him. He an other wise sweet heart. This is a helpful hub and i'm so glad I found you. Thanks and Peace :)

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 

      8 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Love the picture, they are so cute. I have never had a dog that did this, but you are such a good animal trainer. Love your hubs, thumbs up...

    • thevoice profile image

      thevoice 

      8 years ago from carthage ill

      great great work thanks

    working

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