All puppies love to nip and this was no exception last week while I was at a home dog training session in Buckhead with Penny, my client’s Maltese. That was one of the main reasons that he had called us out to provide him puppy training. There are few things less painful than a puppy nipping your skin and this Maltese seemed to have really sharp puppy teeth. My client told me that when the puppy nipped, he would give him a little slap on the nose and his puppy would simply nip more. If he didn’t do anything, his puppy would nip. He just didn’t know what to do.
Puppies and all dogs nip because of attention. It is part of their natural communication process. Puppies seem to nip at a greater rate than older dogs because their ability to use other, more sedate methods of canine communication have not yet matured. Hand nipping can also be caused through adrenalized play. We need to understand two things to make this habit stop. First we need to understand what our dog is trying to do through his communication and communicate in a way that does not require nipping. Next, we need to understand the adrenalized play that causes hand nipping and stop that activity.
First, let’s start with the communication. Puppies and all dogs will nip if they have been unsuccessful in getting your attention. Many times they will start the process with jumping on you or sitting in your lap. After that, they might give a “puppy whine” or bark. Becoming frustrated that those methods aren’t working, they will “ramp it up” to giving a nip. They aren’t trying to hurt you; they are just saying “Hey, why aren’t you paying attention?”
To fix this problem, we need to address them before they get to the adrenalized, frustrated level. If you see your puppy jumping or whining, you need to respond in kind. Stand up and give him a “response tone”. A low, stern voice often works quite well. This will tell him that you aren’t interested and that he shouldn’t be disrespecting you. You don’t need to go overboard with this because you aren’t trying to scare him. You are simply telling him “Not now”. He will normally turn away and look for something else to do.
In this instance, you have caught him as he was ramping up before the nip actually occurred. This is the best way of communication because it is accomplished before adrenaline spikes by both parties.
Now, let’s talk about the play nipping of hands. I have almost always found that play hand nipping takes place when the person has their hands around the puppy’s mouth or face. They are normally making high pitched sounds and moving their hands rapidly. One of the ways that puppies actively play is to get in each others’ faces and wrestle. We see this as rolling, jumping, and nipping. One of them will normally run off while the other chases until he catches the other one and they wrestle again. They find will repeat this until they dead tired and then fall down in two, little, tired heaps of puppy.
When your puppy experiences your hands all over his face, he thinks you are starting a wrestling match. He will start nipping your hands. You respond because you don’t want your hands nipped and remove your hands from his face. He sees this as “the chase” and continues to go after your hands. The more you push him away, the more he is adrenalized and wants to continue the “game”.
I always tell my clients not to play with their puppies by putting their hands around the puppy’s face or mouth. Also, don’t “play wrestle” with their puppy. These are the activities that might confuse the puppy into a nipping situation. Instead, calmly pet him, roll a ball, practice obedience exercises, etc. These are all activities that don’t provide the visual or physical stimulation of “let’s wrestle” and will remove your puppy’s wanting to nip your hands.
Paying attention to your rules and enforcing them before they happen is always the best way to teach your dog and keep your hands out of your puppy’s mouth.
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