Puppy Biting, Nipping, Mouthing & Chewing

Biting, nipping, mouthing or chewing is your pup’s way of telling you her needs are not being met. Try to figure out why your dog is mouthing or nipping. She may need more attention, be bored or using the behavior to try to keep you from touching her. Whatever the reason, try to be proactive. Don’t wait until your dog is acting up and then try to fix it. Instead, be sure your dog has plenty of interactive food dispensing toys that she must earn with a spontaneous sit with eye contact and give to your dog on a regular basis, and make a point of playing (and chasing) your dog when she has something she is allowed to have.

  • Sensitivity to body language and hands reaching for her.
  • Some pups get anxious when you reach to touch their heads, necks or collars, and then mouth you in an effort to keep you away. If this is the case for your dog, you will have to condition her to love having hands approach her.
  • Reach towards your pup but don’t touch her. Mark and reinforce as you are reaching. Gradually work your hand closer to your dog. Repeat several times.
  • Touch your pup and mark and reinforce at the same time. After doing this exercise dozens of times, your dog will love having hands approach her.
  • Mouthing during play or to get attention.
  • Puppies explore their new world with their mouths! So it’s important that they learn to have “bite inhibition.” Let them mouth your hand and say a high-pitched “ouch” or yelp like a puppy when the pressure gets too hard. Then freeze and turn your head away or try the “be a tree” method. The high-pitched “ouch” or yelp can get some pups more aroused, so try saying it in normal tone of voice for those dogs. Gradually the pup will learn that we humans are delicate flowers and they can’t mouth us like they mouth other dogs.
  • Be a Tree: This method is especially good for children. When children run and scream, it gets dogs wound up. If the pup bites them, have the kids stand still, cross their arms and avoid eye contact until your dog calms down, then move slowly away. Adults can just yelp like another puppy and freeze in place until the pup disengages.
  • If the dog continues to mouth, say TOO BAD with the associated hand motion and leave the room and close a door between you and your dog for 10 seconds. Closing the door between you and your dog makes it very black and white to her. Poor behavior makes the resource–you–go away. Good causes you to return. After 10 seconds, return, as long as your dog is not barking or jumping on the door and try again. If the problem persists, repeat the above process. Be consistent. If you are, you will see a reduction in the bad behavior in a short amount of time.
  • Train an alternate behavior.
  • Start by just presenting your hand, and mark and reinforce your pup for not nipping.
  • Move the hand more, mark and reinforce.
  • Move hand vigorously, mark and reinforce.
  • When your pup can handle moving hands, try moving feet, breaking down the movement into small bits the dog can be successful with.
  • Basket Hold Settle.
    Interlace your fingers under the dog’s chest and lift the front feet off the ground. Tell pup SETTLE. Wait for pup to stop struggling, mark it, then reinforce by putting pup down.
  • Teach your dog OFF.
  • This will teach your dog to voluntarily disengage from mouthing you.
  • Be PROACTIVE NOT REACTIVE.
  • Much nipping/biting behavior occurs at a specific time of day. Usually late afternoon or early evening. If that is the case for your dog, plan to do a training session prior to that witching hour and preempt the poor behavior with the following short series of steps.

    1.  Train your dog for 3 minutes. Get your dog to do any behavior he knows how to do – sit, down, touch, etc., reinforcing after each successfully performed behavior. This mini training session interrupts the poor behavior and substitutes appropriate behaviors that you can legitimately reinforce your dog for.
    2.  Actively play with your dog for 2-3 minutes. Play after training has been shown to increase effectiveness and performance of a dog who is learning a new set of skills.
    3.  Do 2-3 minutes of mental enrichment (something like FIND IT).
    4.  Give your dog an appropriate chew toy or interactive food puzzle toy.

  • Leash Biting
  • Dogs usually bite leashes because they are frustrated and/or bored. For a busy adolescent dog, calmly walking is difficult to say the least. While calm walking is good because it teaches them to have some self-control, healthy active adult dogs really need to have daily aerobic exercise to burn off that excess energy. It’s important to keep them both mentally and physically stimulated. Then they will be more open to learning new things.
  • Train your dog to accept the presence of the leash.
    • Show her the leash. If she doesn’t go for it, mark and reinforce. Repeat several times.
    • Wiggle the leash in front of her. If she doesn’t go for it, mark and reinforce. Repeat several times.
    • Move the leash closer to her and wiggle it. If she doesn’t go for it, mark and reinforce. Repeat.
    • Touch her with the leash. If she doesn’t go for it, mark and reinforce. Repeat.
    • Lay the leash on her. If she doesn’t go for it, mark and reinforce. Repeat.
  • In class, the best thing to do is to sit calmly and reinforce your dog for ALL spontaneously good behavior. Class is a very exciting place to be. Reinforcing your dog for good, calm behavior will get them focused on you and working.
  • Don’t loom over your dog, crowd her or repeat commands. The more you lean over her and get into her space, the less she will want to interact with you. Imagine someone doing that to you. You would immediately back off and disengage from them, and that’s exactly what she does to you. So instead, step back and give her some extra space, and reinforce for a few spontaneous sits and you will be able to get her back in the game again.
  • Interrupt and redirect your dog
  • If your dog is biting someone else, interrupt her, possibly with a butt scratch or just calling her name, then try the following:
    1.  Train your dog for 3 minutes. Details above in be PROACTIVE NOT REACTIVE.
    2.  Actively play with your dog for 2-3 minutes.
    3.  Do 2-3 minutes of mental enrichment (something like FIND IT).
    4.  Give your dog an appropriate chew toy or interactive food puzzle toy.
  • Chewing a stolen item
  • When your dog steals something, that’s your dog telling you “I’m bored and need something to do.” The following suggestions should help prevent your dog from continuing to steal stuff. Personally, I would much rather my dog brought me stuff expecting to get paid for bringing it, rather than have her play keep-away.
  • Try one of two things: (1) If you need to get back a stolen item that your dog is chewing, grab her favorite toy and run away. Have a party in the other room with the dog’s toy, be loud and obvious about it to create curiosity in your dog. She will follow to see what the heck is going on. Once there, wait for a spontaneous sit with eye contact, then engage her with their toy. Play for 30 seconds or so, then go and retrieve the stolen item.
  • Use this same technique if the dog is chewing something inappropriate that she hasn’t stolen, like a piece of furniture.
  • (2) When you see your dog has something she shouldn’t have, instead of chasing her and yelling or telling her to drop it, try this: In a very fun and inviting voice, “good dog, what did you find?”, or something to that effect. Go get a treat, when the dog comes to you, do a treat trade, remove the item, spend 3 minutes doing some fun training with her, then let her have the appropriate toy.
  • Pay attention to when this is happening. If it happens at the same time all the time–that witching hour again–follow the suggestions in be PROACTIVE NOT REACTIVE.
  • No punishment for mouthing!!!!!
  • Above all, don’t punish this behavior by trying to close her mouth with your hands. That will only make her head/hand-shy and distrusting of you. All hands coming towards your dog’s head should = good things only.
  • Last resort – TIME OUTS
  • When you have truly tried to work through all the various options for amending your dog’s mouthing behaviors, as a last resort you can give your dog a time out. This time out is not in your dog’s crate for a couple reasons. (1) The crate should be a safe place and not equal punishment. (2) I don’t want your dog to be able to physically see you at all.
  • If you are at a point where you need to give your dog time outs, consider tying a short length of clothesline–called a dragline, about 3 feet long, tied to your dog’s collar. This dragline is NOT to be used to give the dog corrections. It is only a management tool which gives you a way to move your dog about without having to touch your dog and risk being mouthed. I generally recommend using lightweight clothesline because leashes are longer and have handles that can get caught on furniture. Also, if your dog chews the rope, you can just replace it. Rope is cheaper than a new leash. Do not leave this clothesline on your dog’s collar when he is unattended!
  • We don’t want your dog to think of time outs as punishment. It’s just information and a consequence for her. So above all, be calm, cool and collected when you reach to take your dog’s leash or collar for a time out. Do not ever grab your dog’s collar in anger. To accomplish this and help your dog learn that having her collar grabbed is a good thing, you must work on the Collar/Leash Pressure exercise. If you do, your dog will happily walk with you into the bathroom for a time out, instead of fighting it.
  • Matter-of-factly say “too bad” and take your dog into the bathroom and leave her in the room, by herself, for 10 seconds. Ignore her in all other ways–no eye contact, no extra talk, no touching her. Closing the door between you and your dog makes it very black and white to her. Poor behavior causes her to be isolated and lose access to the resource–you! Good causes you to return. After 10 seconds, let your dog out, as long as she is not barking or jumping on the door and try again. If the problem persists, repeat the above process. Be consistent. If you are, you will see a reduction in the bad behavior in a short amount of time. 10 seconds is plenty of time to make your point. And even puppies would be hard pressed to get into trouble in 10 seconds!
  • When doing time outs, I highly suggest that you use the leash only. Don’t pick her up to take her in the bathroom. Use only the leash so as to prevent the possibility of your dog becoming hand shy or begin avoiding you.
  • This is a critical piece of the puzzle: 90-95% of the time she must be reinforced for good behavior. Time outs can be abused. Time outs work best when they are used judiciously. It may be that initially you will accept, a woof or two, just not outright barking. Later in her training, you can eliminate the woofs or whining if you desire.

Collar/Leash Pressure

  • If your dog pulls hard on lead, doing this exercise will help her understand that it is more reinforcing to not pull than to pull.
  • Stand still. You will be putting gentle but constant pressure on the collar/lead, with the lead parallel to the ground. Don’t pressure up because she can’t release the pressure on the lead unless she jumps up. Always keep the lead parallel to the ground. Apply the gentle pressure on the lead until she gives (moves in to relieve the pressure) to the pressure. The second she does this, MARK and all pressure on the lead is immediately released, and she is given a treat. Don’t lure the dog with a treat. First the dog offers the behavior of moving in to release the pressure, then she gets a treat.
  • The reinforcement in this exercise is not just the treat but the release of the pressure. Apply the pressure in all directions. Repeat many times in all sorts of situations. She will get to a point where you can move her around with a string and one finger!
  • Start walking your dog around your house while holding her collar. This will prepare her for time outs that are not aversive.

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