It is pretty much a fact of life that all little puppies enjoy nipping and jumping. This fact was completely in play last Wednesday when I was in Roswell at the home of a new Home Dog Training client and his puppy Maltese named Mrs. Peele. The jumping and nipping were top on the list of “puppy things” my client had listed for our training session.
For anyone who has been nipped by a “cute, little puppy”, you will universally concur that there are few things less painful than a puppy nip on your hand, fingers, or arm. She “got me” once or twice and I have to admit that Mrs. Peele’s teeth were really, really sharp. My client said that when the puppy nipped, he would give her a little slap on the nose. He thought that this would get her to stop, but that was when her nipping actually began to ramp up. He said that he tried “the opposite approach” of ignoring her, but she still nipped. He was at his whit’s end and asked what to do.
I began my explanation by telling him that puppies and older dogs will nip to gain attention. This action is part of their innate communication process. Many puppies often nip at a greater rate than older dogs because their ability to use other, “less painful” methods of canine communication have not yet matured. Puppies also will nip at your hands because you and your puppy are engaged in adrenalized play. It is important to remember two factors to break your puppy’s inappropriate nipping.
First you must understand that nipping is a form of communication and determine how to become involved in your puppy’s communication that does not result in their nipping. Second, you need to identify the adrenalized play that is the impetus of the nipping and stop that activity.
Let’s first address the communication aspect. Puppies (and all dogs) will nip if they have not been successful in getting your attention. They will often start the communication process by jumping on you or getting onto your lap. If that doesn’t get your attention, they will verbalize a “puppy whine” or bark at you.
If you still “are ignoring them”, they will probably become frustrated and conclude that they have to “ramp up their game”. This will normally result in your receiving a little nip from them. Please understand that they are not trying to hurt you and they aren’t mad at you. When they nip other dogs, it doesn’t hurt the other dog. When another dog nips them, it doesn’t hurt them. They are just saying “Hey, why aren’t you paying attention?”
To resolve this nipping thing, we need to address them before they get to the adrenalized, frustrated level. As soon as you see your puppy jumping or whining, you must “respond in kind”. Stand up and give him a “response tone”. We have found that making a low toned “grrry sound” (like a bear) is often quite effective.
When your puppy hears this tone, it will tell him that you aren’t interested and that he shouldn’t be disrespecting you. There is absolutely no need to go overboard with this because you aren’t trying to scare him. All you are trying to communicate to your puppy is “Not now”. After hearing this tone, he will often turn away and look for something else to do.
In the above discussion, you had the opportunity to “catch him” before the nip actually occurred. This is the most appropriate and effective solution because you have properly communicated your intentions before the situation becomes adrenalized.
Second, we must address your puppy’s nipping of hands when playing. I have almost always found that when humans and their puppies are playing and the human’s hands are getting nipped, the playing involves having the human’s hands around their puppy’s face or mouth. The human is normally making high pitched “puppy play sounds” and energetically moving around.
Now, let’s step back for a moment and look at “this picture” from your puppy’s perspective. If you have ever watched puppies play, they get in “each others’ faces and wrestle”. We often interpret these actions as rolling, jumping, and nipping. One puppy will normally run off while the other chases until he catches the other one and they wrestle again. The puppies will repeat this until they become dead tired and then collapse in two, little, exhausted heaps of puppy.
When your puppy comes into direct contact with your hands in his face, he thinks you are beginning a wrestling match. He will naturally respond in kind by nipping your hands. You react by moving your hands from his face and mouth because you don’t want your hands nipped. 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”.
One of the many pieces of advice I provide my clients is not to actively play with their puppies by putting their hands around the puppy’s face or mouth. Also, don’t “play wrestle” with your puppy. These are the activities that will probably cause your puppy to nip. 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.
Please call or text us at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. You can also email us at [email protected]. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over eighteen years. We have trained over 6,000 wonderful dogs and excellent families and are ready to help you.